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This Week in Tech

Self driving cars and morality

It finally happened. It was only a matter of time. A self-driving car has collided with and killed a pedestrian. The car belonged to Uber and Uber has pulled all of its self-driving cars off the road whilst the incident is being investigated.

Motherboard has a fascinating article on the hard decisions that have to be made when planning and coding the decisions that a self driving car has to make regarding safety and who gets hurt / who dies. This is a great read - and a really great topic for a class discussion / debate. This is an issue which is going to feature prominently in your learner's lives.

You can read about the incident itself here.

The Facebook drama continues...

Facebook is dealing with a massive backlash from the Cambridge Analytica data scandal mentioned in last week's blog. There is a concerted DeleteFacebook campaign complete with hashtag and all. Elon Musk removed the Tesla and SpaceX presence from Facebook. Vox has an interesting article that details 'The Case against Facebook' - taking it far beyond data breaches. CNN AMP points out that no matter how much he promises and how much he wants to, Zuckerberg cannot control or fix Facebook (and he knows it). It's become a monster beyond its creator's control.

It's so bad even their own investors are suing them.

Meanwhile Boing Boing says : Facebook, ShmaisBook --- you should see what your ISP is doing with your data!

Snippets:

Robots

Human Error

This week the SA Post Office web presence did not exist - because someone did not pay the R125 domain renewal fee....!!!!

Amazing Graphics

Meet Siren.

What's really special about Siren is that she is rendered in real time from a motion captured human using the Unreal gaming engine - and a PC with multiple graphics cards.

The video below shows a fish-man (actually Andy Serkis) created with the same technology.

This shows where 3D graphics and video are headed. Soon you will really not be able to distinguish virtual from reality.

World's smallest computer.

The older ones amongst you (those who saw the first PCs in the 90's) pay attention. That clunking desktop computer that you paid an arm and a leg for.. well it is now the size of a grain of salt and cost $0.20. IBM just announced the product and sees it as the ideal way to embed computing power in everything.

Left: 64 motherboards with two tiny computers in the top-left corner. Right: The tiny computer, mounted to a motherboard, atop a pile of salt.

Image: IBM

Mashable has the details.

That's it for this week. Holidays soon!

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A robotics edition

Strangely enough, the news this week has been full of stuff about robots. So, we'll run with it and let the blog focus on robotic topics.

UBI (Universal Basic Income)

Let's start off by talking about a concept that features in Science Fiction and has been in the news lately relating to Bill Gates' call for a tax on robots and Elon Musk's statements in support of the concept. A UBI is when the state pays every citizen, no matter what other income they may earn, a set amount each month (Wikipedia's explanation here, Wharton School of Business discussion here, Brookings arguments in favour of). Part of the motivation for calls for a UBI is the increasing loss of jobs due to automation (robots). Some places (Finland, Ontario) are actually trialling the concept.

The topic of a UBI is a great one for class discussion and a topic for 'Social Impact of ICT' that your learners can really get their teeth into. How about a debate? Why not make up a 'parliament' where speakers get to argue for and against a UBI and then the class has to vote? This is a topic that can fire up your learners, get them involved, make them talk after class to friends and family and make your class even more relevant!

Bionic Ants

A lot of robotic research is modelled on the insect world. Check out the teamwork of these bionic ants (via Hackaday) created by Festo (direct link to company video is bionicants-en-SD.mp4)


How big are robots, economically speaking?

According to an article by Fast Company, researchers put the economic value of all robots in America at $732 Billion - bigger than the economy of Switzerland!

Robotic ear surgeon.

Cochlear implants. Devices that help deaf people to hear. Wired has an article about a robot that can perform the operation to give someone a cochlear implant - by itself.

Robot Porter


CNet has an article detailing a journalist trying out a robot porter that followed her around New York for a day. The robot follows you around and can be used for things like carrying your groceries. Great for city life where you don't use a car.

Drone Pilots outnumber real pilots.

OK, so drones are not real robots. The combination of mechanised constructions under remote human control (with the distinct possibility of self control in the future) is enough of a grey area to qualify for inclusion in this blog. Digital Trends has an article detailing how the US air force now employs more drone pilots than pilots for real planes.

Robots and specialised AI chips

The world of the microprocessor is also being affected by the increased demand for more intelligent robots. AI performs better when running on hardware specially developed to support it. Google set the trend by developing the TPU (Tensor Processing Unit) last year and many other companies are working in this hot new area of tech research and development. Mobileye is just such a company, making chips and cameras for self driving cars. Intel just bought them for $15.3 Billion.

UWVs? Seafaring Drones? Whatever you call them, they are real and being tested in Norway.


Engadget has the details.

General News

PRINT THIS OUT AND STICK IT UP IN YOUR CLASSROOM - and email it to everyone you know!!!

Cartoon courtesy of XKCD.

  • Hard drives can be wiped of data using a powerful magnet (degaussing). Or you can physically destroy them using a drill and a hammer. But how do you destroy the data on a SSD? Magnets don't work. Physical destruction needs much more precision - you have to destroy every chip. Lifehacker has the solution - and it's not what you expect.

Fake news

EWN republishes and article from the World Economic Forum studying how to control fake news.

That's it from a full and busy blog for this week.

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