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Anyone who has spent any time on the internet will have come across the acronym “FAQ”.

Almost all websites (ones for companies anyway) have a FAQ section.  In theory, they list questions which have been (as the title suggests) frequently asked – so that people can easily find the answer to their question without bothering the admin staff with the same question as a hundred other people.

Fair enough so far.

However, I recently received a notification from a service I use that their process has been redesigned.  This is a new change, no public person has seen it – and yet I was provided with a list of FAQs.  My question is not answered in them, and is simply this:

Who has frequently been asking these questions?

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The Rapyuta Database is a project by European scientists – part of the Robo Earth project which aims to help standardise the way robots look at the world.  It can describe objects that they have met in terms they will understand, which means they won’t have to figure out how to deal with items they’ve never seen before.

…the goal of RoboEarth is to allow robotic systems to benefit from the experience of other robots, paving the way for rapid advances in machine cognition and behaviour, and ultimately, for more subtle and sophisticated human-machine interaction.

It can also help do complicated computations, helping those which need to do lots of number-crunching just to get around, like self-driving cars.

For those who understand what it means:

Robots can start their own computational environment, launch any computational node uploaded by the developer, and communicate with the launched nodes using the WebSockets protocol.

It is, the developers believe, a necessary step in getting robots out of the assembly line and into closer interaction with humans.  Otherwise each robot needs to do everything itself, and the cost of development and processing power would be enormous.

Which all sounds fine and dandy.  It’s hard to know what others think of the idea, since their blog doesn’t have much in the way of comments on it.

But to me it sounds eerily like the start of something bigger.

Something dangerous.

Something like a cross between this and this.

Afternoon Drama on BBC Radio 4 is quite entertaining sometimes.  They’ve done a skit about what would happen if all the pseudonyms on the internet were suddenly replaced by people’s real names.  Very funny.

The little bits of back-story and setting it up were as funny as the bits about the internet.  I particularly  enjoyed this:

“I don’t want her to vote if she can’t tell the difference between a preposition and an auxiliary verb.”

This could so very much be said by my husband.  Also this:

“Why is there a pen in this flowerpot?”

which is definitely my household.

How do you think the world would react if everyone used their real names on internet forums and so on?

On Friday 20th July, Syria disconnected almost the entire country from the outside world for 40 minutes.

Up until now, Syria’s internet connection has been relatively stable.  It’s not known (at least not by people who are admitting to it) whether the disconnect was sabotage or government-sponsored.

So here’s the question.  The internet is becoming so ubiquitous that access to it is beginning to fall into the same category as access to education, books, and free speech.  In the UK, it is as easy to get to the internet for free as it is to get to books – practically every library now has at least one computer that you can use.

In countries where those things are held sacrosanct, how long will it be before it is regarded as a right, not a privilege?  And how long before that spreads to the rest of the world?

And, Fahrenheit 451-style, how long before it is banned and ISPs turned to evil?

The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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