Robots under threat from child bullies

Despite the legitimate fears of the combination of artificial intelligence, algorithms and robotics potentially bringing us closer to the Technological Singularity, robots will face some substantial risks themselves. Particularly from a breed of young and curious potential John Connors. Turns out Edward Furlong might have been a bit older than the real risk to our robotic overlords – children.

The robot had to be programmed to evade smaller humans and head towards those over 4 feet 6 inches. Lets hope the tiny robot tormentors don’t discover stilts.

But there’s some interesting and possibly disturbing research in a paper “Why Do Children Abuse Robots?” (PDF).

some children frequently obstructed the robot’s path regardless of the robot’s utterance requesting for the children to stop the obstruction, covered up the robot’s eyes with their hands, and beat the robot’s head … we found that the majority of [the children] did not regard the robot as just a machine, but a human-like entity.

Aside from the recognition from my own childhood that kids can often be evil little beings seemingly for the sake of it, and that the same cruelty has been inflicted on insects, animals and other kids, it does have implications for the future. If nothing else, at least the next generation will be well-prepared for careers on Youtube in gadget teardowns and destruction.


The new Kindle Paperwhite looks good…

I’ve had a Kindle for several years, but for the first time, I’m tempted to upgrade to the New Kindle Paperwhite. And it’s largely for the new Bookerly font being used.

I have an Old Kindle, which does the job (And is now £69.99 without Special Offers on the lock screen). And it still does the job more than adequately.

But it is a little tiring to read, and a lot of that is down to the font.

Plus the new Paperwhite has a higher-resolution 300 ppi display, and has a built-in front light which means I don’t have to find a decent light source every time I want to read a few pages.

And the best thing is that it’s still a dedicated E-reader. No apps, emails, notifications etc to distract me from what I’m actually reading… It’s rare that I even use any of the features – although being able to search through books to find a particular passage did come in handy for my last blog post.

I’ve even come round to the idea of paying the one-off £60 extra for 3G connectivity – I don’t often need it, but considering my current Kindle shows no signs of becoming irrelevant after a few years, it’s not such a big cost to be spread over the course of a few years…

Now to decide whether the Bookerly font and other improvements are worth the difference between the previous 6th Generation Kindle Paperwhite at £99, or the New Kindle Paperwhite at £119.99. The longevity of the Kindle suggests it is…


Capturing audio won’t help personal lives

I’ve just been reading about a new wearable called Kapture which is a wearable wristband which will save a 60 second audio clip from within a 5-foot radius on your wrist.

It’s similar to existing smartphone apps but being implemented in a wristband means it’s easier to use and doesn’t flatten your phone battery. It had a successful Kickstarter campaign a couple of years ago and will begin shipping soon.

But I couldn’t help remembering a passage from one of my favourite books, Makers by Cory Doctorow

One of the main characters, Perry, talks about the fact his mum would often change her mind, so he recorded her on a mini tape recorder. Rather than solving the issue

“…she said it didn’t matter what she’d said that morning, she was my mother and I had chores to do and no how was I going anywhere now that I’d started sneaking around the house with a hidden recorder. She took it away and threw it in the trash. And to top it off, she called me ‘J.Edgar’ for a month”

It’s part of a conversation about using RFID tags to remind people about their chores and why it’s not a great idea for a harmonious household.

And having had plenty of disagreements with family members over whether someone said a particular phrase, or how they said it etc, I can testify that the facts don’t matter as much as the perceptions people already have…

Obviously there are useful applications for recorders – business meetings, conferences etc. But I wonder whether it’ll be perceived in the same way as Google Glass if the end result is made public – obviously the big difference is you can record people in secret and they will never know unless you share it somewhere.


Incidentally, the pricing on Amazon has long been a subject of debate and discussion when it throws up unusual prices for specific books. And it happened when I was researching the link above: Weird Amazon Pricing for Makers

If you go to the Kindle Edition, the other formats range from 1p for a hardback. But in the search listings, the paperback comes in at £25.25 and the Hardcover is £54.73! And both routes lead to a hardback page with the same October 2009 publication date. Signed and first edition copies are currently less than £20…

The other alternative is to go direct to Cory Doctorow’s site and enjoy the fact his work is usually licensed under Creative Commons. Fortunately, having downloaded a free copy of Makers originally, I bought a few hardcover copies for people as presents, so I just need to retrieve them and apparently cash in!



End of the Silk Road

Ross Ulbricht, also know as the Dread Pirate Roberts via his dark web marketplace Silk Road, was sentenced to life in prison today.

It’s hard to feel particularly sympathetic about someone who paid for the murder of six people, even if most of ‘murders’ were never actually perpetrated (1 was faked by law enforcement, 5 appeared to be a scam targeting Ulbricht).

But it gets more intriguing that Secret Service and Drug Enforcement Administration agents allegedly stole millions of dollars from Silk Road, and may have also engaged in blackmail.

It’s also notable that the maximum sentence, harsher than even the prosecution were requesting, was explicitly done to send a message to anyone else contemplating running a ‘Dark Web’ site.

Much of the Silk Road case appeared to focus on the role Silk Road played in the sale and distribution of a huge variety of drugs, and whether it made the drug trade safer for buyers or resulted in more widespread drug use and fatalities.

But essentially Silk Road isn’t purely about drugs, or any other specific product. It’s about the fact that it was possible to set up a relatively hard to track and anonymous Dark Web marketplace which took years for law enforcement to finally catch out. And numerous similar sites have since appeared, including Silk Road 2, Evolution and Agora.

If it wasn’t for the decision to pay to murder up to 6 people, it would be easy to draw parallels with the deterrent punishments handed out to hackers. Although he’s probably the antithesis of the civic awareness and activism undertaken by Aaron Swartz, a disproportionate sentence was threatened in that case, leading to Swartz suicide.

The creation of a Dark Web marketplace, even with the motive of accruing a fortune in Bitcoin, is not an immoral decision, but paying for multiple people to be killed certainly is. And it’s that point which makes it hard to have sympathy of Ulbricht, or see popular support for an appeal against a sentence which keeps him locked up for life.




Has Bloomberg killed its long articles with video?

I’m not a regular reader of Bloomberg, but I noticed something new to me on their website. And then found that it was frustratingly impossible to ignore.

Bloomberg Live video stream in the top right distracts from reading anything

Bloomberg Live video stream in the top right distracts from reading anything

That box in the toolbar across the page is streaming live video constantly from Bloomberg.

Or to put it another way, it’s constantly using up some of the bandwith available to me with something I didn’t request, and which makes it increasingly difficult to read the article I wanted.

I’d intended to read a quite interesting and lengthy piece on Evan Speigel and Snapchat.

What I ended up doing was skimming to the end whilst repeatedly being distracted by something catching my eye, and left feeling stressed.

I was actually irritated enough to try and leave website feedback. Even that took a while due to the almost endless succession of articles set up to seemingly imitate an endless scrolling website.

By the time I came across the feedback form, I realised it’d be easier just to avoid the site in the future….


A new era of bad neighbour disputes

The rise of modern, cheap technology has brought new issues for politicians, lawyers and those disrupting the future. But it also bleeds into everyday life as these tools and toys become commonplace.

We’ve already become used to seeing news about drones flying where they shouldn’t, or invading the privacy of those around us, or being used to replicate cool Star Wars speeder racing. Let alone the uproar over selfie sticks, Google Glass, wearables and constantly checking your phone in company. I had a rather pleasant experience of the future of motorcycling when KTM invited me to check out some of their new electric off-road bikes.


Photo by Joseph Barrientos (CC Licence)

It means that we’re going to have all sorts of new disputes on a non-technical, urban neighbour level. And many aren’t obvious.

For instance – the fact that robot lawnmowers annoy astronomers won’t be a huge problem – but what happens when we have everyone using as much radio frequency as possible to control every autonomous home gadget? How do you settle the problem of interference with 20 neighbours? When I raced radio control cars, we’d carry a bag of RC Crystals which meant we could change frequency in the event of conflicts, but it still took a bit of juggling at times, and the occasionally car launching itself into the distance until the problems were resolved.

Or off-road motorcycles. The normal problem is noise, but the electric bikes are so quiet you can barely hear them – removing a big problem for locating purpose built tracks. At the same time, it might mean you end up with enduro riders ‘sneaking’ up on your while you’re walking – and wildlife might take time to get used to the quieter risks as well.


Me riding a KTM Freeride E-XC

It’s going to be fun seeing how all these problems manifest and hopefully get solved for non-technical people trying to live their lives. Most people are still trying to avoid having to figure out how routers, wifi and smart phones work in favour of just having a working television, computer and Xbox whilst fixing their meals and doing the laundry.


Learning for leisure…

I’ve planned to brush up on various skills and things I’ve wanted to learn for ages, and one of the joys of the joys of the internet is that there’s almost always a guide somewhere…



Photos of a walk from Upnor to Hoo along the River Medway

Various photos taken on a walk along the side of the River Medway, from Lower Upnor along to Hoo.

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Cockham Wood Fort, Nr Hoo and Upnor on the River Medway

Cockham Wood Fort, Nr Hoo and Upnor on the River Medway

Cockham Wood Fort, Nr Hoo and Upnor on the River Medway

Cockham Wood Fort, Nr Hoo and Upnor on the River Medway

Cockham Wood Fort, Nr Hoo and Upnor on the River Medway

Cockham Wood Fort, Nr Hoo and Upnor on the River Medway

Cockham Wood Fort, Nr Hoo and Upnor on the River Medway

Cockham Wood Fort, Nr Hoo and Upnor on the River Medway

Cockham Wood Fort, Nr Hoo and Upnor on the River Medway

Cockham Wood Fort, Nr Hoo and Upnor on the River Medway

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Made some changes…

I recently realised how I’d let myself drift along without being particularly happy for a while. My business life wasn’t progressing as quickly as I’d like, and despite making various plans when I resettled in Medway for a while, I hadn’t made much progress with them either.

Instead, I’d settled into some of the same old ways and routines, and somehow expected things to magically change.



Trying to get fitter and healthier does have some perks…

A combination of recent illness and spending time with my son provided some wake up calls that nothing is going to change unless I actually make it happen…

And at the same time, I need to record the small improvements to keep myself motivated to keep going. That’s easier with logging work in the business apps we use, but my phone is too old to handle a bunch of additional fitness apps on it…

So to remind myself that I’m heading in the right direction…

  • Getting up earlier (7am or earlier is the target), and as a result, getting to sleep between 11am-midnight.
  • Making sure I have a list of important tasks written out before sleeping, and getting in a little bit of stress-free non-work reading (There’s some research somewhere about reading before bed helping to reduce overall stress).
  • So far I’ve cut cigarettes down from 10-15 a day recently to not smoking most days (Even with a couple of weekend slip ups, I’ve gone from 140+ in the last 2 weeks down to 20, saving around £60, and meaning that I sleep better without my snoring waking up everyone in a one-mile radius even when not coughing).
  • Focusing on 1-2 big tasks each day which make a difference
  • Eating a decent, healthy breakfast, rather than skipping it for a cigarette, and then trying to eat fairly healthy throughout the day. More protein and vegetables – less snacks.
  • Exercise – either a 20-30 minute walk minimum late morning/early lunchtime, or a bigger bike ride. The plan is to start adding some gym visits shortly.
  • Less time chatting about stuff on social media during the day, especially if it’s non-work related, and more time on actually getting work done. The using social media in the evenings to actually sort meeting up with people away from screens again…
  • Actually throwing out old things I don’t use, need, or have emotional attachment to. And any clothes which don’t pass the ‘it’s OK to be seen in public’ test.

None of it has been massive. The biggest initial challenge has been ignoring the cigarette cravings in favour of a tasty nicotine lozenge, and forcing myself to get out of the house rather than kidding myself I’m being productive aimlessly clicking around Facebook and Twitter.

Hopefully I’ll have the impetus to update more improvements by the end of April, but if nothing else, the fact that my son was impressed with my non-smoking is enough to keep going when he’s not here…


Planning to escape…


Used to be on a card above my desk as a reminder which was too often ignored, until I finally sat down and started to replace old, bad habits with good new ones.

The trick is to know that the good new habits aren’t an end in themselves, and to be OK with the continual journey.