Thursday, April 16, 2015

Should "killer robots" be banned?

Lethal autonomous weapons systems, or "killer robots" as the public prefer to call them, are almost a reality. In fact in certain cases, such as Israel's Iron Dome rocket defence system, they already exist. Should the ability of a robot to identify a target and execute an attack without human intervention be outlawed? Many people believe it should, arguing that a robot can never act morally, whilst others argue that in certain circumstances robots may be less dangerous than frightened, stressed and fatigued soldiers. A week long meeting at the UN in Geneva is currently considering the issue. The UK government has already declared that it opposes an international ban on developing "killer robots" as described in this article in the Guardian. An international coalition of NGO's called the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is lobbying to have a ban established before the technology is upon us. What do you think?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Alan Turing's manuscript sells for $1,025,000

The auction house Bonhams in New York have just sold a handwritten scientific document written by Alan Turing, in which he worked on the foundations of mathematical notation and computer science, for $1,025,000. Before the auction Bonhams described the document as "Made up of 56 pages contained in a simple notebook bought from a stationers in Cambridge, UK, it is almost certainly the only extensive autograph manuscript by Turing in existence, and has never been seen in public. From internal evidence, it dates from 1942 when he was working at Bletchley Park to break the German Enigma Code, and provides remarkable insight into the thought process of a genius."

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

My computer was stolen!

Last week at 3am thieves broke into my house and stole my MacBook Pro and my wife's MacBook Air. After we called the police we immediately logged into iCloud's "Find My iPhone" service and locked and erased both Mac's. Both of the machines were password protected from the lock screen and their hard drives were encrypted with FireVault. Consequently we were reasonably confident that the combination of lock screen password, encryption and iCloud erasure would keep our data secure.
   When my wife got her replacement MacBook Air (within two days from her employer, I'm still waiting on mine) I installed SugarSync (our preferred cloud storage and back-up service) and voila! Within an hour her documents folder and desktop were populated with all her original files. No work was lost. In the last week we've noticed no unusual activity an any of our accounts and we're confident our data and identities are secure. What could have been a disaster, thanks to taking reasonable precautions and ensuring our machines were backed up in the cloud, has merely been a minor inconvenience. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Backyard cricket - the official rules

Despite the Black Caps loss to Australia yesterday many people in New Zealand have been drawn into the game over the last 6 weeks. So now you may feel inclined to have a knock in your own backyard or beach. So here are the official rules for backyard cricket as stated by Wikipedia. Basically there aren't any, for example: "The wicket may be any convenient object – a chair, a cardboard box, a set of long twigs or sticks, a rubbish bin, tree or a drawing on the wall."

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The GNU manifesto turns thirty

Maria Bustillos, writing in the The New Yorker, has marked the 30th anniversary of Richard Stallman's GNU Manifesto with a very interesting article called The GNU manifesto turns thirty. If you are interested in the open  source movement this article is recommended.
[My colleague Mark Wilson brought this to my attention]

Friday, March 20, 2015

Stuxnet - the first digital weapon

Radio New Zealand National had a great interview with Kim Zetter who has written a book about Stuxnet, the world's first digital weapon. You can listen to the interview here or read about Stuxnet in chapter 12 of my book The Universal Machine. It's certainly true that quietly over the last few years we have crossed into a new age where cyberwar is now a reality.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Could you fly a fighter jet with your mind?

Jan Sheuermann can and she is quadriplegic, owing to a neurodegenerative disease. As part of Darpa’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics research track Jan was first trained to control a robotic arm with her mind alone and has recently been flying a F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (the US military’s next-generation attack jet) using a flight simulator. You can read more about this in a Wired article there's also a video.