There’s an abundance of Technology in Unexpected Places (TUP) out there on the Internet. It is just amazing. For April 2016 we present three more TUP’s for your amazement and amusement.
Three unexpected places for technology to show up.
- National Literary Prize
- Giant Beetles
Unlikely group? I should hope so! These small drops of information are designed to water the unexpected dry bed where technology has already begun to bud and flower.
There is, of course, a point to each of these pretentious pretenders so that you will prize what they perform. Please pursue!
- National Literary Prize
The technology in this case is AI – Artificial Intelligence. As amazing as it may seem, a Japanese novel written by Japanese AI software made it through the first round of a national literary prize.
The short-form novel was “coauthored” by humans and an artificial intelligence program. Perhaps the coauthoring gave the novel an edge in making it through that initial screening process. Two things are significant here. The fact that the novel had been written using AI programs was not known to the judges, and the book did not win the final prize.
You might also be interested to know that decisions regarding plot and gender of characters were decidedly human. But with that strong start, the AI program wrote the novel by selecting words or sentences that came from a human prepared library. So a little more help along the way.
Satoshi Hase, science fiction novelist, said, “I was surprised at the work because it was a well-structured novel. But there are still some problems [to overcome] to win the prize, such as character descriptions.”
And finally there an article comment which is a poignant reminder of our humanity.
Why? Why? Why!? Some of us have enough trouble making a living when our only aptitudes are in the creative. If they take our jobs and our art, what are we going to do with ourselves?
- Giant Beetles
To be more specific, we are talking about giant cyborg beetles which are remotely controlled. Cybernetic insects are the substance of late night horror shows. Flies and spiders and others of the same ilk. In fact, couldn’t we include giant beetles as … something of horror?
What’s the point? A team of engineers published a paper (April 2016) in The Journal of the Royal Society Interface, where researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and Nanyang Technical University in Singapore detailed their ability to control the limbs of insects remotely.
Insect robots have some practical advantages to man-made robots. There is the obvious matter of scarcity. Beetles are not scarce. Robots, more so. Beetles also have the upper hand in needing no assembly. But more importantly, they have a fraction of the power consumption rate as man-made robots and have no need for complex control algorithms to direct them.
The controllability of the beetle is pretty straight forward. And for all you “animal lovers” the methodology is not cruel or harmful. So far.
The beetles are equipped with a miniaturized microchip on their backs that connect to electrodes plugged into their leg muscles. “With subtle impulses, these electrodes allow researchers to manipulate the insects’ movements.”
Subtle impulse is key. The high-tech insect robots are free to roam outside signal range and stay alive once the electrodes are removed.
We learn of some of the practical uses by a similar program for cockroaches. These insects can comb through disaster areas quickly and thoroughly. The “lights on” test demonstrates how quickly and how thoroughly!
Equipped with electronic equipment capable of picking up sound, they “hear” cries for help. The electrode connection enables navigation through stimulation of the cockroach’s antennae. A drone is used to create a series of invisible radio fences which confine the cockroach to the search area and helps keep the swarm together. Unexpected!
- Transparent Wood
Yes. I did leave out a critical word. This is wood that is transparent. And it is very useful, whether used to make high-rises, bicycles or foam insulation. We commonly think of wood as strong, plentiful and inexpensive.
It also happens to be a renewable alternative to conventional building materials. Maybe even an alternative to windows. Or solar cells. The two are connected if you consider transparent wood as an inexpensive substitute for silica based glass.
Developers (Lars Berglund, head of researchers at Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology) first removed one component of the outer membrane of the wood cell – lignin. This left a white material useful in some situations but not transparent.
Transparency was achieved by altering the refractive index of the mixture without lignin. You might have guessed, but let me rephrase “refractive index.” That is a number (index) that shows how much light passes through a substance (refraction). Basically, they used a chemical (PMMA) to increase the ability of light to pass through the wood-like substance. Something like editing your photo to make it look colorless and washed out so it passes as background.
A lot of scientific jargon there. But the bottom line is that the substance that comes from wood is now a substance that can be used in translucent windows and solar cells. Less expensive. More abundant.