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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.

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The nice people at Google have put together a “neural network” of computers which is capable of learning.  In three days it learned to spot cats in pictures, even though it had never been told what one looked like.

Ah, neural networks.  Everyone’s favourite method of creating supercomputers and robots.  Say, Matt, how do you feel about doing a post on different types of robot-brain?  Is there enough variety out there to make it interesting?

The thing that really gets me about it, though, is that right at the very end there is this sentence:

As well as spotting cats, the computer system also learned how to pick out the shape of the human body and to recognise human faces.

A one line throw-away at the end of the article?  I guess they thought people would be more impressed by kitties

Should we be worried that robots can learn to speak through interaction with humans?  This seems to be one of the first steps in making them sound more human, a process which could end up creating robots which are indistinguishable from humans.

I, Robot springs to mind.

On a side note, I was in Spain when I, Robot was released on DVD, with a huge cardboard cut-out of Will Smith in every video store, and now every time I see it I can’t help but think of the spanish title… Yo, Robot.

If you can’t see why, think about how The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air would say it.

In the shallow waters of Gijon harbour, in northern Spain, a large, yellow fish cuts through the waves.

But this swimmer stands apart from the marine life that usually inhabits this port: there’s no flesh and blood here, just carbon fibre and metal.

This is robo-fish – scientists’ latest weapon in the war against pollution.

The fish-shaped robot can swim in shallow water and weedy water, which would normally snag on propellers, and contains sensors to hunt down pollution.  The advantage is that it can be left in the harbour all the time – far better than testing the water once a month.  And with live data-streaming to its control centre, leaks and illegal dumpings can be spotted and fixed in record time.

Not only that, but these fish have teamwork down pat.  They use acoustic signals to communicate with each other, and use AI to find the source of the pollution.  Not advanced, general AI, I hope, because otherwise they might rise up and overthrow their creators.

Current problems include the cost (£20,000 per fish!) and the fact that they need to be recharged every 8 hours.  But the researchers expect to have those problems fixed soon.  So, next time you have fish for dinner, make sure you check it for wires and sensors!

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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