Arctic Sea Ice

This here map from the NASA shows that despite cold and snowy winters in North America the north pole ice cap didn’t grow as much as it usually does in January.

This image shows the average Arctic sea ice concentration for January 2011, based on observations from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS (AMSR-E) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite. Blue indicates open water; white indicates high sea ice concentrations; and turquoise indicates loosely packed sea ice. The yellow line shows the average sea ice extent for January from 1979 through 2000.

On a lighter (warmer) note, this here astronaut photograph from the NASA shows that as it gets hotter, crop-circle-like islands pop up for peeps to vacation. If you have the money, if you have the will, the bottom four islands/fish have not begun construction.

At the southern end of Bahrain Island, at the furthest point from the cities of the kingdom, a new complex of 14 artificial islands has risen out of the sea. Designed for residential living and tourism, and aimed at a cosmopolitan clientele, the Durrat Al Bahrain includes 21 square kilometers (8 square miles) of new surface area for more than 1,000 residences, luxury hotels, and shopping malls. The complex has been designed to include: The Islands (six “atolls” leading off five fish-shaped “petals”), The Crescent, Hotel Island, and Durrat Marina in the north.

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Most Human Award

The March issue’s cover story in The Atlantic by Brian Christian is an exploration of the relationship between man and machine, and not just any machine, but rather thinking machines, robots. James Bennet introduces the issue in the editor’s note :

“What a piece of work is a man,” Hamlet—who knew a piece of work when he saw one—observed. “How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!” The last century’s experience left us with a less exalted sense of ourselves not only because other entities turned out to share some of our powers, but also because we often didn’t act much like angels when we applied those powers, including new ones supplied by technology. Could computers move us closer to Hamlet’s vision of our potential? Christian argues that the contest with computers will compel us to hone those qualities of our intelligence that do distinguish us: our suppleness and sensitivity, our creativity and wit. And according to Schmidt, an alliance with computers (Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist, has speculated that within 10 years, implanted devices might communicate directly with our brains) will free us from rote memorization and other menial tasks.

Free us to do what, is I suppose the underlying question—to play Angry Birds or learn another language; to act like angels, or not at all like them. The choice is still going to be ours. For a reasonably long time, at least.

Brian Christian participates in the 2009 Turing Test as a confederate or human subject. His goal is to be as human as possible, assuring the judges that his conversing could only be human.

The thought of going head-to-head (head-to-motherboard?) against some of the world’s top AI programs filled me with a romantic notion that, as a confederate, I would be defending the human race, à la Garry Kasparov’s chess match against Deep Blue.

The computer program receiving the most votes and highest ranking from the judges (regardless of whether it passes the Turing Test by fooling 30 percent of them) is awarded the title of the Most Human Computer. It is this title that the research teams are all gunning for, the one with the cash prize (usually $3,000), the one with which most everyone involved in the contest is principally concerned. But there is also, intriguingly, another title, one given to the confederate who is most convincing: the Most Human Human award.

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Huge Battle Router

This Wired article by Spencer Ackerman, “U.S. Has Secret Tools for Internet on Dictators,” suggests that the internet can be the future battlefield for dealing with Mubarak-like dictators and civic oppression. When a country’s internet connection is suspended, Americans can sail their fancy WiFi boat near the dead zone and revive her.

Consider the Commando Solo, the Air Force’s airborne broadcasting center. A revamped cargo plane, the Commando Solo beams out psychological operations in AM and FM for radio, and UHF and VHF for TV. Arquilla doesn’t want to go into detail how the classified plane could get a denied internet up and running again, but if it flies over a bandwidth-denied area, suddenly your Wi-Fi bars will go back up to full strength.

“We have both satellite- and nonsatellite-based assets that can come in and provide access points to get people back online,” Arquilla says. “Some of it is done from ships. You could have a cyber version of pirate radio.”

If the fanciest of routers does not work, there are other possibilities to disrupt, or rather fix, a places communication infrastructure.

Alternatively, operatives could smuggle small satellite dishes into a country. Small dishes were crucial togetting the internet back running in Haiti after last year’s earthquake. It’s how cameramen in war zones rapidly transmit high quality video from the middle of nowhere.

Of course it sounds peaceful, non-violent and even reasonable; but if we are talking about a situation much like the recent protests in Egypt, where the presence of international journalists bothered Mubarak-thugs and was enough for politicians to blame the protests on international meddlers, then any interference will be considered hostile and could have violent consequences.

The trouble is, if a government follows Egypt’s lead and turns off the internet, it’s not going to be keen to see a meddling foreign power turn it back on.

That act might not be as provocative as sending in ground troops or dropping bombs. But it’s still an act of what you might call forced online entry — by definition, a hostile one.

Pfannkuchen

From the blogs at Big Think (Frank Jacobs), this map shows that how a German says ‘it is ten fifteen’ will give away from where in Germany they hail.

But 10:15 is not the only giveaway:

Other isogloss maps at this page of the Philologisch-Historische Fakultät at Augsburg University show a similar diversity of geographic distribution for such concepts as Pfannkuchen (pancakes), Hefegebäckmann (a traditional German pastry in the shape of a person), and Hausschuhe (indoor slippers).

The gringo equivalent would be the way that people refer to carbonated beverages across the U.S. Some call it soda, some call it pop, some call it soda pop, and apparently some places in the south will call all carbonated beverages coca-cola. This is the isogloss map equivalent:

Via DAN JURAFSKY from The Language of Food

In sickness and in health…

While having an interesting discussion with a friend this holiday season I learned there is a new television show gaining a lot of attention.  A reality show that combines two great American traditions, marriage and plastic surgery, is now being featured on E!  The new show titled “Bridalplasty” features a group of brides to be that are actually competing to go under the knife in order to perfect themselves before exchanging their sacred vows.  Click here to see the show’s ridiculous trailer.

I will admit to watching a healthy dose of reality television.  For example, puppet master Bret Michales provided my friends and I with endless entertainment as we watched him search for his “rock of love” by narrowing down a mixture of ex-strippers and strung-out groupies.   I watched Snookie get punched in the face, and have seen plenty of “The Situation’s” abs.  Still, after learning about this reflection of our culture (as expressed by reality T.V.) I find myself giving the wag of the finger to modern medicine.

Plastic surgery has evolved into something that extends far past its original purpose.  No longer used for patients dealing with life altering deformities, plastic surgery has become the money-maker of the surgical world.  At first, women just wanted a good pair of fake tits and a Paris Hilton nose.  Now, it is literally anything and everything possible to make sure these women look exactly as their twisted minds think they are supposed to.   Skilled surgeons are whoring themselves out to anyone who has the slightest case of low self-esteem.  This “practice” is actually breeding a new form of addiction and finds itself entering people’s personal delusions (Heidi Montag comes to mind.)

“Bridalplasty” is not only demonstrative of a corrupted form of medical enhancement, but also shows an odd intersection of medicine and love.  To take someone in sickness and in health used to mean that no matter the circumstances we will love each other until we die.  These brides that are undergoing painful, expensive, and just plain petty surgeries are already sick!  Their concept of love is based entirely on the way they look and plastic surgeons allows this skewed ideology to manifest. What sort of groom, television station, or society allows this to take place? In protest, I will never watch this show- even if I find myself perversely fascinated. Congratulations to science…for  literally creating Brides of Frankenstein.

Can somebody page the Robot?

Computer engineers believe their robot assistants can be of service in an emergency room near you!  A few weeks ago, Vanderbilt University posted an article on their Facebook page about how their trauma unit might be ready to accept this new technology.  The new “TriageBot” was invented to provide a kind of relief for the often busy and chaotic atmosphere of the unit for both patients and employees.   Those who do not come through the doors of the emergency room with an immediate or life threatening condition can be serviced by this handy new robot, cutting down on time. The robot can check your blood pressure and pulse-making sure you are indeed alive at the time of entry.  It can ask questions about age and height, or any other protocol type information that needs to be gathered from an incoming patient.    TriageBot may also become mobile and be given the responsibility to check in on patients, checking for consciousness and asking patients to gauge pain levels.  The bot will be programmed to report potential problems to the emergency room staff. Of course, the machines will not be left on their own- they will have a human supervisor.  Still, will patients have the same sort of trust for these time-saving machines that they would for a human?

People often enter trauma units in a state of chaos.  An unforeseen event has taken away a person’s health, making them fragile and in need of a professional.  Whether someone has a baby that will not stop coughing, or has been mangled in a car accident, human attention is deserved.  How will the trauma unit make the decision of who is worthy of a human and who is not?  Kazuhiko Kawamura, a professor of engineering and computer science who was quoted in the article admits that the robot’s success will be determined by the patient’s reaction.  I wonder if he would be surprised to find that patients might not warm up to the idea of having a robot asking them questions about how they feel.

ROBOT: What is your pain level on a scale of 1-10?

PATIENT: I’ve hit my head.  I feel like I have a migraine and I don’t understand why I can’t see straight.  This is the worst head pain I’ve ever had.

ROBOT: What is your pain level on a scale of 1-10?

How is a robot to understand pain, tears, or urgency?  How are patients to understand and be comfortable with the care they are getting if they are speaking with a machine? A hospital employee might begin by asking a patient to explain their pain level using numbers, but then be able to better understand the situation based on how the patient responds- maybe even taking knowledge of how to help from a previous experience.

Kawamura also seems to be under the impression that the emergency room is the “perfect way to test” a new type of cognitive architecture within the machines- attempting to develop a working memory for better and faster robot decision-making.  Perhaps computer engineers should spend more time with the patients and employees to understand what sort of space these robots would be entering.  Maybe they would find that the emergency room is no place to be testing anything.  People are rushed through these doors in need of help, not a quick fix.   Will the robots offer a warm touch to the man with the confusing head wound?  Would it be able to understand a mother desperately trying to explain that something is wrong with her baby…something she might know instinctively? 

There is a lot of potential for computer technology in the world of medicine, but we need to express caution in how we use it.  A robot used to check a patient in might save on time, but also might disregard the very fragile state this person is experiencing.  Overall, the field of medicine needs to keep asking: What kind of healers are we becoming?

Hey Babe

I cannot be certain about whether my existence is artificial.   I am aware that for years my parents had sought help from various doctors while trying to conceive.  Either none of it worked and I am 100% all natural, or it just took a little time to kick in.  I like to consider myself a miracle baby.

Artificial Reproductive Technology (ART) has a booming market.  And why not?  Now that women are more “liberated” and out in the work field the possibility of having a child might not occur until late thirties, mid forties.   I feel like there should have been a memo explaining  that drying up would be the consequence of trying to keep up in a man’s world.   Science, in its typical god-like fashion, has a solution.  It can create babies.  Even though we always claim that one could never put a price on life, a pretty penny will be spent trying to bring a child into the world.  Approximately $60,000 will get one fertilized embryo placed in position for expected growth.   No guaranteed success, and the price goes up each time.  The next cocktail will put you back over $100,000.  Over the age of 40 there is only about a 9% chance that this procedure will work.  Geneticists also want in on the action.  Before an embryo is chosen for insertion geneticists are now able to tell you the sex and which one is the healthiest-even going as far as giving the parents the actual percentage of a possible disability (such as spina bifida).  Selection.  How would a couple interested in the procedure go about making such a choice?  And what gives them the right?

An interesting side story: I recently encountered ART serving as the actual branch between life and death when the parents of a brain-dead male patient wanted to extract sperm from their son so that they could impregnate his girlfriend.  The parents of this young man happened to be wealthy horse breeders from Kentucky.