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Robots May Soon Be Able To Sweat And Get Goosebumps

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robot-goosebumpsArthur C. Clarke said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Techno-magician Marco Tempest would agree. In his TED robot demo, he acknowledges that one of the reasons robots make people nervous is that “we cannot read their intentions,” which also makes it difficult for us to work closely with them. Tempest suggests that one way to feel more comfortable with robots is to “add a layer of deception,” or the illusion that a machine is thinking or feeling before we have the actual technology to allow for those processes. Researchers at Japan’s Kansai University are doing just that — they’re building robots that react involuntarily, like humans, namely by sweating and getting goosebumps.

The researchers also acknowledge that one of the biggest challenges in robotics is that we don’t know what they’re “thinking.” Sure, robots can exhibit expressions or mimic behavior, but those are essentially illusions designed to put humans at ease. The goosebumps (pictured above) might be a result of a cold wind or a chill-inducing story. They’ve got a robotic head capable of sweating, which makes me think of one of my favorite scenes in Battlestar Galactica — just before Starbuck begins to interrogate Leoben in the first season episode “Flesh and Bone,” she notices that the Cylon is sweating. It gives her pause, as “Cylons shouldn’t sweat.” It’s a small detail, but it’s a huge invasion of the human realm. The Japanese researchers are intentionally transcending the boundaries between human and machine in small but significant ways.

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Smart Grills Are Here, Just In Time For Summer

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smartgrillYou wouldn’t know it by the 50-degree rainy days taunting the Northeast right now, but apparently it’s barbecue season (unless you’ve been bitten by a tick). Short of controlling the weather, one of the ways we can prepare for barbecue season is by practicing our outdoor cooking techniques, making sure we avoid accidentally sticking our food to the grill or overcooking it. Or, for those of us who don’t fancy sweating over flames and coal, we can use a Smart Grill.

I’m actually kind of surprised that it took this long for grills to enter the world of smart appliances, though I guess a grill harbors a little more activity than a refrigerator (unless we’re counting hacking). The gas-powered Lynx Smart Grill will cook your food just as you tell it to; it can also remember how you cooked a particular food last time and repeat the process. It is voice-activated, can ignite and adjust its temperature via a wiring system, and comes pre-programmed with recipes. It will also notify users via an app when the food is ready.

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Forget About Wheaties—Eat Your Insects!

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chirpsHere’s another reason I’m glad to be vegetarian: I have a solid excuse not to try foodstuffs produced in America’s first edible insect farm. Phew!

Six Foods (“because six legs are better than four”) is a company started by three Harvard graduates who waffled back and forth between vegetarianism and meat-eating, largely because of the constant battle to get enough protein when you’re a veghead, to which I can attest. On a trip to Tanzania, one of the founders ate a caterpillar (seriously, why start with the squishiest of insects?) and everything clicked into place. Not only was it apparently delicious, but the trio realized that eating insects is a sustainable and healthy way to get protein. I’ll admit I hadn’t thought of that.

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Human Suspended Animation Trials Are Set To Begin

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suspended animationBears will tell you hibernation is the best way to weather a brutal winter. It may also be the best way to make it through long-distance spaceflights or to survive life-threatening injuries. Researchers have figured out ways to induce suspended animation in worms, frogs, fruit flies, and pigs, and will soon conduct human trials.

While this may eventually become a way to get humans to the far-flung corners of the galaxy, Pittsburgh’s UPMC Presbyterian Hospital is experimenting with the technique to save lives. Placing injured patients in suspended animation is a way to buy time. The human body can’t last long—only a few minutes—without blood pumping to its organs, but suspended animation might increase survival time. Rather than externally lowering the patient’s body temperature, this trial involves replacing blood with a cooled down saline solution. This will slow down body functions and cellular activity, which also makes the body less dependent on oxygen.

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Air Force Shutting Down HAARP Program

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HAARPIn a move that will either disappoint conspiracy theorists or add fuel to the fire (or maybe both), the Air Force has announced that it will be shutting down the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, better known as HAARP, before the end of June.

The $300 million facility was established in 1993 in Gakona, Alaska by the U.S. Air Force, Navy, DARPA, and the University of Alaska in order to help scientists and meteorologists understand more about the ionosphere, the layer of air 53-370 miles above earth. But since its inception, conspiracy theorists have insisted that the program has other covert aims, such as controlling the weather and trying to harness and use the power of nature as a weapon. Hugo Chavez suggested that HAARP, or a program like it, caused the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Chavez argued that the U.S. was “playing God” with tectonic weapons and that the U.S. subsequently sent troops Haiti “under the guise of the natural disaster.” HAARP has also been blamed by some as the cause of global warming, Japan’s Fukushima disaster, tornadoes in the Midwest, and others.

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Smartphone Apps Can Tell How You’re Feeling—And Use It For Marketing

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muppet adWe all know of or use high-tech smartphone apps, whether they’re for help at the gym, for medical use in remote areas, or for helping keep bikes safe. Now, there’s an app that can tell how we’re feeling by using “emotion-tracking” technology.

Tracking emotions involves using the phone’s camera, and then analyzing the facial expressions of users. Researchers at MIT’s Media Lab launched a start-up called Affectiva a couple years ago, and the company recently released Affdex, which “reads facial expressions to measure the emotional connection people have with advertising, brands and media.” Those who are curious can try the demo on the website, in which users watch ads while their webcams analyze their faces to gauge how much the user connected with the ad and how that connection compares with others’ reactions. I tried a few, but ended up feeling a little emotionally manipulated — of course I “connected” to the Toyota ad featuring the Muppets rocking out. How could I not? The results of my expressions are on target — I was less than enthused with the ad when it was just a man driving a car, but more Muppets produced more smiles.