Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Google Plus Connect on Flickr

Future sex with gynoids and guynoids

Wednesday, 3 August, 2016 0 Comments

The word “gynoid” was used by Gwyneth Jones in her 1985 novel Divine Endurance to describe a female robot slave character in a futuristic China. Does this mean, then, that the male equivalent is a “guynoid”? Not quite. Gynoid is created from the Ancient Greek prefix gyno– (of or pertaining to women or the female reproductive system) + android, a Greek word used to refer to robotic humanoids regardless of gender. However, the Greek prefix “andr-” means man in the masculine sense and because of this android is used to describe male-styled robots. Given the established etymology, it’s going to be a battle to replace androids with guynoids.

All this is by way of saying that sex with robots is very much in the news. Let’s take three of today’s headlines, starting with The New Scientist. “Could sex robots and virtual reality treat paedophilia?The Daily Mirror is more of a mass-market publication: “Expert to publish ‘how to build your own sex robot’ handbook after Scarlett Johansson lookalike success,” while The South China Morning Post brings us back to the gynoid world of Gwyneth Jones: “Sex and robots: How mechanical dolls may press all the right buttons for lonesome guys.”

Actually, that last headline is quite topical in light of the work being done by Kathleen Richardson, a Senior Research Fellow in the Ethics of Robotics at De Montfort University in Leicester. Last September, she published a position paper titled “The Asymmetrical ‘Relationship’: Parallels Between Prostitution and the Development of Sex Robots.” Snippet:

“Following in the footsteps of ethical robot campaigns, I propose to launch a campaign against sex robots, so that issues in prostitution can be discussed more widely in the field of robotics. I have to tried to show how human lifeworlds of gender and sexuality are inflected in making of sex robots, and that these robots will contribute to gendered inequalities found in the sex industry.”

The debate about the gendering of robots and the sexualized personification of machines is on.

Ex Machina


The Robolution federator

Tuesday, 2 August, 2016 0 Comments

The Fourth Industrial Revolution’s upgrading of English vocabulary is a regular theme here and the prospect of public presentations on the subject in October and November is concentrating the mind, to paraphrase Dr Johnson. We’ve had some gems recently and more are to come. Central to the revolutionary stuff going on right now is robotics.

Definition: “Robotics is the branch of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science that deals with the design, construction, operation and application of robots, as well as the computer systems for their control, feedback and data processing.”

If you create an €80 million private equity fund dedicated to robotics, you’re going to need a name for the venture; one that combines the essence of the business with its revolutionary role in 21st-century industry, ideally. Robolution The result is… Robolution. Or, more precisely, Robolution Capital. But there’s something slightly unmelodious about the word “Robolution,” with its hints of ablution and absolution. Sure, it’s an attempt to capture an element of “revolution,” but the “robo” bit at the front doesn’t quite make a harmonius unit, does it? Perhaps it sounds better in French because Robolution Capital is based in Paris.

Along with robotics, Robolution Capital is focussing on artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), two very hot areas right now, and this is why it defines itself as a facilitator, an accelerator and “a federator at the heart of the ecosystem of entrepreneurs, corporates, public organizations, universities and research centers.” What’s a federator? The usually indefatigable Wiktionary does not have an entry for the word and Techopedia offers “Federation” from the world of enterprise architecture that allows interoperability. The word, however, is a version of fédérateur, the French noun that means “unifier.” And with its philosophy and its focus on robotics, AI and the IoT, Robolution is true federator.

News: 360 Capital Partners, an early-stage VC business based in Milan and Paris has just done a deal with Orkos Capital, also based in Paris, to manage Robolution Capital.


WoTD: Servitization

Monday, 1 August, 2016 0 Comments

“I spent the past week at the University of Birmingham in England with a group of 16 Operations and Economics Professors from across Europe,” wrote Rosemary Coates on 6 July in Supply Chain Management Review. She was there to lecture and to represent the Reshoring Institute, which provides “research and support for companies bringing manufacturing back to America.” As we know, manufacturing jobs will be one of the hottest topics in the so-called Rust Belt states during the US presidential campaign, and both candidates have made their positions on the subject clear.

In her blogpost, Ms Coates noted, “Some of the biggest buzz of the week was around the idea of Industry 4.0 (the Internet of Things) and Servitization.” What might appear to some as a misspelling there, “servitization,” is a real word. But what is it?

“This is the process of companies transforming from simply producing a product to including service in the total product offering. The complete product package includes field service, service level agreements and pricing for spares and replacement parts. European manufacturers are way ahead in Servitization.

Some American companies such as Cisco Systems have been including product services and consulting services in their product offerings for many years. But US companies like Cisco, that understand a fully integrated product offering and co-sell product and services, are few and far between.”

The etymology here involves creating a word from “service + -ization.” One assumes “serviceization” was considered unspellable and so we got “servitization” instead. In jargon-speak, “servitization is a transformation journey that involves firms developing the capabilities to provide solutions that supplement their traditional offerings.”


Language acquisition à la Goldman Sachs

Sunday, 31 July, 2016 0 Comments

The noun is returnship (plural returnships) and it’s a blend of return + internship. Definition: “A returnship is an internship-like program for experienced workers seeking to re-enter the workforce after an extended absence, often in a new line of work.”

The notion of “returnship” is central to The Return Hub, recently launched by Dominie Moss, who has spent 20 years in London’s financial services industry as a commodities trader and then in executive search. According to the “mission statement,” The Return Hub is “a campaign to raise the profile of returning women with employers in the financial sector.” Naturally, it’s got a hashtag: #timetoreturn

If one scrolls to the end of the extensive homepage, this appears: “*Returnship — a term trademarked by Goldman Sachs.” And it’s a fact. Goldman Sachs started its returnship program in 2008 and trademarked the term. “We are committed to help facilitate the ‘on-ramping’ process” is how Goldman Sachs puts it in “Start Your Journey Back to Work with the Goldman Sachs Returnship® Program.”

What’s the real meaning of that ® symbol there? Well, it indicates that a trademark has been federally registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which defines a trademark as a “word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of goods of one party from those of others.”

Note: Trademarks protect the words and symbols that identify the sources of goods and services. Patents, on the other hand, protect inventions and improvements to inventions, while copyright protect artistic or literary works. Unlike copyrights and patents, trademarks can be perpetual, as long as a company keeps using its trademark. The only way to lose a trademark is if it becomes the generic name for a product or service. A trademark does not mean, however, that no one else can use your word, phrase, or symbol in connection with any and all goods and services. It means only that somebody else can’t use a similar trademark with similar goods or services.

One imagines that our learned friends in the City considered this matter in detail before advising The Return Hub to embellish its offering with the applicable asterisked notice at the bottom of the page: “*Returnship — a term trademarked by Goldman Sachs.”


Is machine learning magic?

Saturday, 30 July, 2016 0 Comments

That’s the question posed by Adam Geitgey, a “guy who does @programminglanguage at @company.” What is machine learning? Adam Geitgey defines it thus:

Machine learning is the idea that there are generic algorithms that can tell you something interesting about a set of data without you having to write any custom code specific to the problem. Instead of writing code, you feed data to the generic algorithm and it builds its own logic based on the data.

“Machine Learning is Fun!” says Adam Geitgey in what he describes as “The world’s easiest introduction to Machine Learning.”

How is this stuff related to the real world? Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai devoted much of Thursday’s second-quarter earnings call to the two “Ms” — the mobility that is Alphabet’s present and the machine learning that is its future. Quote:

“Machine learning is the engine that will drive our future, but it is already making our products better, and we use it every day. In fact, more than 100 teams are currently using machine learning, from StreetView to Gmail to voice search and more.”

Make that three Ms: magic, mobility, machine learning.


A single candle can defy the darkness

Friday, 29 July, 2016 1 Comment

Today, we remember, with sadness and joy, the birthday of Catherine O’Donnell-Fitzgerald (29 July 1928 – 6 September 2015). Her generosity, wit and hospitality were legendary and her legacy of love is a permanent reminder that some families are blessed by goodness and some are not. It is true that when the sun has set, no candle can replace it, but it is equally true that a single candle can defy the darkness.

Blowing the candles out

“If you don’t grieve for the dead, how can you mourn for the living?” — John le Carré, Smiley’s People


Pilgrims

Thursday, 28 July, 2016 0 Comments

Justin Gomez says: “This is a video of a couple friends and I walking the Camino de Santiago during the month of August… We started in France and walked about 800 km to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.” Talking of pilgrims, more than one million are now in Kraków to join Pope Francis at the 2016 World Youth Day.


Yahoo and the end of Web 1.0

Thursday, 28 July, 2016 1 Comment

More than a billion people now check Facebook on their phones every single day. The social network revealed this new milestone last night when it released its impressive second-quarter earnings. What’s that got to do with Yahoo and the headline on this post? Well, context is important. Consider these stats:

Facebook now owns a $17-billion-a-year mobile ad business. In the second quarter, mobile sales made up 84 percent of its $6.24 billion in advertising revenue. Overall, the social network reported $2.05 billion in profit, up 186 percent year-over-year, on $6.43 billion in total revenue, which rose 59 percent compared to the same period last year. And Facebook ended the second quarter with 1.71 billion monthly active users.

Which brings us to Yahoo, which was was acquired on Monday by an American telephone company, Verizon, which paid $4.8 billion for the brand and its internet properties. The cause of this ignominious end was simple: Yahoo became irrelevant for adults quite some time ago, and young people don’t use it at all. They spend their time now on Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Spotify and Facebook.

Yahoo’s major missed opportunity was the rise of the mobile web. That failure had a lot to do with the short stint as CEO of Scott Thompson, who departed in a cloud of controversy. Distracted by its internal troubles, the company took its eye off the ball, as it were, at a critical moment. Thompson was replaced in July 2012 by Marissa Mayer, who bought Tumblr for a billion dollars in an attempt to attract younger internet users. A blogging platform is not what the yoof wanted, though.

Note: Yahoo had the chance to buy Google for $1 million and Facebook for $1 billion.

The new benchmark is that more than a billion people check Facebook on their phones every day. The old benchmark was Yahoo’s directory of websites and this week began with the purchase of the gravestone. Yahoo belongs, with the rotary phone, to another era, and its departure marks the end of Web 1.0. Those riding high on the Web 2.0 wave now should remember, however, that “the bubble fame” does burst and voice-based interfaces on devices such as Amazon’s Alexa are moving the web beyond browsers and smartphones. Blink, and you miss it. Yahoo fell asleep and its legacy includes happy memories of the “Site of the Day” feature. The web was young then. It’s mobile now.


Buongiorno! Amazon’s wake words in Italy

Wednesday, 27 July, 2016 0 Comments

Amazon apre un nuovo centro di sviluppo per l’intelligenza artificiale e il Machine Learning a Torino. That was the welcome news for Italy’s battered economy earlier this week. Translation: “Amazon to open a new artificial intelligence and machine learning development centre in Turin.” The charming capital of Piedmont will soon be home to a batch of software engineers and linguists developing machine learning capabilities for Alexa, Amazon’s cloud-based data and analytics service. This sentence in the press release stood out:

“Alexa usa l’apprendimento automatico in campi come il rilevamento delle parole di attivazione, il riconoscimento vocale basato sul cloud e la comprensione del linguaggio naturale.”

Question: How does one translate parole di attivazione? The available online Italian-English dictionaries are not up to the job and Google Translate offers “words activation” as its best shot. Close, but no cigar. In fact, parole di attivazione are “wake words”. Eh?

Amazon Echo To understand the function of wake words, get an Amazon Echo. This hands-free speaker connects to the Alexa Voice Service to play music, provide news, sports scores and weather forecasts. When you want to use your Echo, speak the word “Alexa” and the device comes to life instantly. That’s the “wake word”. If you have more than one Echo, you can set a different wake word for each. You can pick “Amazon” or “Echo” as the wake word. And that’s it. Why the paucity of wake words? Well, according to Veton Kepuska, author of Wake-Up-Word Speech Recognition, the challenge is to:

“Detect a single word or phrase when spoken in an alerting context, while rejecting all other words, phrases, sounds, noises and other acoustic events with virtually 100% accuracy including the same word or phrase of interest spoken in a non-alerting (i.e. referential) context.”

See the problem? In its search for usable wake words, Alexa needs ones that are not only easy to pronounce and remember, but are also rare enough that they’re not even used at the start of sentences. Very tricky. As things stand, it’s doubtful Echo owners will be able to choose their own wake word for a long, long time to come. The best hope of the Turin project is that the team there will create an expanded list of words that are unlikely to lead to too many false wakes. No false dawns. No hurry, in other words.

Turin is an ideal location for this venture. It’s the home of the slow food movement.


Evil is neither awful nor tragic. It is the enemy.

Tuesday, 26 July, 2016 0 Comments

Another day, another dreadful deed: Nineteen residents at a Japanese care centre for people with mental disabilities killed in a knife attack. Police have arrested a former employee. He is reported to have said he wanted people with disabilities “to disappear.”

The number 19 was central to another report, one equally dreadful, which went under-reported at the time, perhaps because the source was the Iranian Shia Ahlolbayt News Agency. “ISIS burns 19 Yezidi girls to death in Mosul” was the headline. After reading it, William Dalrymple, the English writer and historian tweeted yesterday, “This is so awful and tragic.” His choice of words was criticized by some who felt that “awful and tragic” were timid synonyms for such a monstrous crime.

Quite simply, “awful and tragic” do not cut it when we’re talking about deeds that “constitute a direct negation of human liberty, and vent an undisguised hatred and contempt for life itself.” So said the late Christopher Hitchens in The Enemy, his meditation on the death of Osama bin Laden.

According to Hitchens, “this force”, the one we have seen at work recently in Sagamihara, Ansbach, Nice, Mosul, Orlando, Brussels, Paris… “absolutely deserves to be called evil.” Here’s the full quote:

“I thought then, and I think now, that Osama bin Laden was a near-flawless personification of the mentality of a real force: the force of Islamic jihad. And I also thought, and think now, that this force absolutely deserves to be called evil, and that the recent decapitation of its most notorious demagogue and organizer is to be welcomed without reserve. Osama bin Laden’s writings and actions constitute a direct negation of human liberty, and vent an undisguised hatred and contempt for life itself.” — Christopher Hitchens, The Enemy

UPDATE: In Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, two IS adherents murder Fr Jacques Hamel, 84, by slitting his throat while he was saying Mass. Evil is now ascendant in Europe.


The Feast of Saint James the Great

Monday, 25 July, 2016 0 Comments

Today is the Feast of Saint James, patron of pilgrims. His symbol is the scallop shell, which marks a network of pilgrimage routes that leads to the Romanesque cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, where his remains are said to buried. Saint James’ Day is a public holiday in the autonomous communities of the Basque Country and Galicia, and the feast day is celebrated in the Canary Islands, Castile-Leon, La Rioja and Navarre.

This magnificent scallop-shell door handle was spied last week by a pilgrim in the Benedictine Abbey in Schäftlarn, which is 2,208 km from Santiago de Compostela.

The pilgrim door