Monday, August 20, 2007

Readings, 20 August 2007

The text following each item is quoted material, except for editorial comments, which are in color.

Will John Wilbanks Launch the Next Scientific Revolution?
Enter John Wilbanks, executive director of the Science Commons initiative, and the six-year-old innovation of its parent organization, Creative Commons—an intelligent, understandable copyright that's revolutionizing how everything from photos to publications are shared. Wilbanks and his team (which includes Nobel Prize winners Joshua Lederberg and John Sulston) are focused on three areas where roadblocks to scientific discovery are most common: in accessing literature, obtaining materials, and sharing data.

Entrepreneurs See a Web Guided by Common Sense
From the billions of documents that form the World Wide Web and the links that weave them together, computer scientists and a growing collection of start-up companies are finding new ways to mine human intelligence.

Their goal is to add a layer of meaning on top of the existing Web that would make it less of a catalog and more of a guide — and even provide the foundation for systems that can reason in a human fashion. That level of artificial intelligence, with machines doing the thinking instead of simply following commands, has eluded researchers for more than half a century.

This is a December 2006 article by computer-savvy New York Times contributor John Markoff, about the still-evolving "Semantic Web".

The Real Transformers
I was introduced to my first sociable robot on a sunny afternoon in June. The robot, developed by graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was named Mertz. It had camera sensors behind its eyes, which were programmed to detect faces; when it found mine, the robot was supposed to gaze at me directly to initiate a kind of conversation. But Mertz was on the fritz that day, and one of its designers, a dark-haired young woman named Lijin Aryananda, was trying to figure out what was wrong with it. Mertz was getting fidgety, Aryananda was getting frustrated and I was starting to feel as if I were peeking behind the curtain of the Wizard of Oz.

Just in case (excusably) you can't infer what it's about from the title, this longish article is about "sociable robots".

Its Poor Reputation Aside, Our Fat Is Doing Us a Favor
We are now in what feels like the 347th year of the fastidiously vilified “obesity epidemic.” Health officials repeatedly warn that everywhere in the world people are gaining too much weight and putting themselves at risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and other obesity-linked illnesses, not to mention taking up more than their fair share of molded plastic subway seat.

It’s easy to fear and despise our body fat and to see it as an unnatural, inert, pointless counterpoint to all things phat and fabulous. Yet fat tissue is not the problem here[.]

Natalie's writing style isn't exactly my cup of tea – too flowery and gaudy for my taste. However, what she writes is interesting, informative, and generally sound.

Bonobos, Left & Right
Imagine that you’re a writer and you have decided to offer your readers a first-hand account of the politically correct primate, the idol of the left, known for its “gay” relations, female supremacy, and pacific life-style. Your focus is the bonobo: a relative of the chimpanzee, and genetically equally close to us as the chimpanzee....

But whatever we find out, a Hobbesian make-over of the bonobo is not to be expected any time soon. I just can’t see this ape go from being a gentle, sexy primate to a nasty, violent one. Japanese primatologist Takeshi Furuichi, perhaps the only scientist to have studied both chimpanzees and bonobos in the forest, said it best: “With bonobos everything is peaceful. When I see bonobos they seem to be enjoying their lives.”

Frans deWaal, the author of this piece, is generally considered the authority on bonobos. But were you aware that green-technology expert Amory Lovins is also interested in these primates? See this and the videos here and here.

Bonobos are celebrated as peace-loving, matriarchal, and sexually liberated. Are they?

This is the (rather long) article that Frans deWaal is responding to in the previous item.


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