Autonomous robot saves lives, but don’t piss-off his friends.

SAFFiR: the autonomous, firefighting humanoid robot

It took six years, but at long last, Anna Konda has a formidable firefighting partner. SAFFiR, also known as the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot, is being shaped by scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory. As the story goes, it’s a humanoid robot that’s being engineered to “move autonomously throughout the ship, interact with people, and fight fires, handling many of the dangerous firefighting tasks that are normally performed by humans.” Outside of being stoic (and brawny)

from tip to tip, it’s also outfitted with multi-modal sensor technology for advanced navigation and a sensor suite that includes a camera, gas sensor, and stereo IR camera to enable it to see through smoke. We’re told that its internal batteries can keep it cranking for a solid half-hour, while being capable of manipulating fire suppressors and throwing propelled extinguishing agent technology (PEAT) grenades. Wilder still, it’ll be able to balance in “sea conditions,” making it perfect for killing flames while onboard a ship. Of course, it’s also being tweaked to work with a robotic team, giving it undercover powers to eventually turn the flames on the folks that created it. Paranoid? Maybe. But who are we to be too careful?

Via http://www.engadget.com/2012/03/11/saffir-autonomous-firefighting-humanoid-robot/

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Babblefish! Microsoft demos translator — uses your own voice!

Microsoft has demonstrated new software that can pull together real-time multilingual vocal translations using your own voice.

Monolingual TTS currently handles 26 different languages, although it’s not instant just yet — it takes about an hour of training to get the experimental software acquainted with your own utterances.

Demonstrated at Microsoft’s TechFest 2012 showcase, the software can even mix up foreign language pronunciation of place names with directions in your native tongue. It also complements those efforts with a 3D image of your head, animating your lips along to the foreign words you’d otherwise butcher.

Via http://www.engadget.com/2012/03/12/microsoft-demos-vocal-translator-at-techfest-2012-uses-your-own/

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IBM’s Watson is Going to Med School

IBM’s Watson may have trounced former champion Ken Jennings in Jeopardy, but now it’s facing an even bigger challenge: proving that it can make money for its creators.

It’s well on the way. Last week, IBM said that it was working with Citi to “explore how the Watson technology could help improve and simplify the banking experience,” but for the past six months, Big Blue has also teamed up with health insurer WellPoint to turn Watson into a machine that can support the doctors of the world.

IBM isn’t saying too much about what Watson will be doing at Citi. The two companies plan to build “the first consumer banking applications” for the supercomputer. WellPoint is a bit more forthcoming. In December, the health insurer said that it was working with Cedars-Sinai Hospital’s Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute to help physicians treat cancer patients.

That kind of context is hard to get nowadays using internet sources. Last summer, when Gondek was exploring the idea of using Watson for medical diagnoses, he ran into a San Diego doctor at a health conference in California. “He said nowadays when he is dealing with patients, he spends the first 10 minutes talking to them about all the diagnoses they found by doing searches,” he says. “It’s just human nature. They will focus in on the most severe or life-threatening one. They will have a few mild systems and will decide that they have some horrible cancer. And so he has to talk them down.”

Gondek’s dream is that Watson could somehow help doctors and patients get a better context on their healthcare — and help financial service customers get the same kind of weighted context on their investments. “What if something like Watson could get you more involved with your health?”

Emergency Medicine Resident Physician Iltifat Husain believes that Watson could never replace a doctor, but he says that it could be turned into a useful medical triage system, where patients tell Watson their symptoms and it figures out whether they need to come into the hospital for treatment.

There’s a lot that Watson isn’t going to be able to do, no matter how hard it crams, says Husain, who works at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He’s taking about the very human act of getting a read on a patient: How does their voice change when describing symptoms? How do they sit? What do their eyes say? “One of the first things I learned about medicine once I actually started practicing as a physician was medical texts only provide you with 50 percent of the education you need,” he says. “The rest you learn on the job.”

WellPoint says its medical learning application is still a year away. In the meantime, Gondek and the IBM researchers are putting Watson through its own machine learning bootcamp.

“It’s a little like sending Watson to medical school. We don’t just push a button and instantly Watson can offer medical advice,” Gondek says. “We need experts to show us what’s important in the domain. We need experts to come up with test scenarios that Watson can learn from.”

Via http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2012/03/ibm-watson/

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Tag, You’re it! How The Enemy Uses Social GeoTagging for Targeting

Location-based apps are all the rage these days: "check in" services are becoming more and more popular, your photos can be easily geotagged, and that's not even to mention a little scandal Apple dealt with last year regarding exactly how much location information the iPhone stores. While this trend might not materially affect the average citizen, it can literally be a life-or-death situation for a certain segment of the population — the armed forces. The US Army has issued a statement warning the troops against using locations services on their mobile devices, noting that deployed service members need to be more aware of the world of social media and potentially security concerns surrounding the use of apps like Facebook and Foursquare. For example, the simple act of uploading a photo to Facebook (something most people do without even thinking about it) could tip off the location of an entire unit.

While this may sound obvious to those familiar with the intricacies of location services, the army already has at least one example of the danger of uploading sensitive photos to the internet. Back in 2007, soldiers took photos of a fleet of new helicopters that arrived at a base in Iraqi and posted them online — enemy forces were able to determine the exact location of the choppers and destroyed four of them in an attack. The Army isn't forcing its soldiers to avoid these services entirely, though it does recommend excersizing due caution, like not sharing location with anyone you don't know in real life and disabling the geotagging features on your smartphone. While geotagging features are certainly handy sometimes, they certainly aren't worth risking one's life over, especially if you're an active soldier in the armed forces.

Via The Verge (http://www.theverge.com/2012/3/11/2859789/us-army-smartphone-geotagging-warning)

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Deportation: There’s an app for that.

PHOENIX -- A group of pro-immigrant rights activists in Arizona aim to develop a smartphone application that would help immigrants notify friends, family and their attorney if they are detained and arrested during a traffic stop.

Arizona was the first state to pass a law to make it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant (SB 1070), leading to an increased crackdown and climate of fear among immigrants. A recent Department of Justice investigation on racial profiling of Latinos by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office found that Latinos were four to nine times more likely to be pulled over in a traffic stop than non-Latinos

“When someone gets pulled over the first thing to worry about is the family,” said Lydia Guzman, the president of the nonprofit Respect/Respeto.
For years, the nonprofit’s emergency hotline has monitored cases of possible civil rights violations against Latinos by local law enforcement, provided information about rights, and tracked down missing family members in immigration custody after undocumented drivers are detained.

“It’s difficult. We try to get all of this information from them to reach their family, while at the same time we’re trying to advise them about their rights,” she said.

It was Guzman’s experience with Respect/Respeto and the increased crackdown on undocumented immigrants by local police using state laws that inspired her friend Todd Landfried, a spokesperson for Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform, to come up with an idea for a smartphone app that could do what the group does and more.

The app will allow users to notify family, friends, attorneys and even their consulate when they get pulled over by law enforcement or when they are facing an emergency situation that puts their safety or civil rights at risk.

With the touch of a button, Landfried says, the “Emergency Alert and Personal Protection” app will send a pre-set list of people information about the person’s location using GPS technology and date and time of the incident. The app will also have an option to record audio and video, which is a common function on most mobile phones, but it will take it a step further by sending the audio and video to a “web interface” where the data can be stored and accessed by lawyers, for example.

It will also inform them, in English and Spanish, of their civil rights if they are arrested during a traffic stop; for example, reminding them that they have the right to remain silent and have an attorney present during questioning.

Guzman says the app could help people make split-second decisions at a crucial moment about who to call and how to get help. She says it would also provide immigrant advocates a starting point to search for undocumented immigrants once they are in the detention system – a search that can sometimes take days.

In order to take the app from idea to reality, Landfried and Guzman recently launched a 30-day crowdfunding campaign to support the development of the app. If they reach their goal of raising $225,000, they will work with a software developer to have the app ready by July. Donors would get the app, which will cost about $2, for free.

The app is similar to the “I’m Getting Arrested” app that launched in response to the arrests of protestors involved in the Occupy movement. Landfried and Guzman say their app would be designed to specifically address the situation of undocumented immigrants pulled over in traffic stops. They say it would consolidate functions on the phone to allow users to document, store and send photos, audio and video to web interface that can be used to document racial profiling or violations of civil liberties.

Landfried says he believes Latinos are well-positioned to make use of such an app based on recent trends of Latinos' usage of smartphones.
According to a 2010 Nielsen Company report, 45 percent of Hispanic mobile users have a smartphone compared to just over a quarter of white mobile users.

Landfried and Guzman say they hope the app can be a tool for tracking statistics of potential instances of racial profiling.

“Keeping in mind you have to protect the attorney-client privilege,” Landfried said. “If data was made anonymous, we can track how many times people hit the button for traffic stops and they can fill in later what the outcome was.”

“This is about protecting people. Everybody has rights, whether you like it or not,” he said.

Via http://newamericamedia.org/2012/03/im-getting-arrested-app-aims-to-help-those-detained-in-traffic-stops.php



Malls track shoppers’ cell phones on Black Friday

He knows when you are sleeping...

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Attention holiday shoppers: your cell phone may be tracked this year.
Starting on Black Friday and running through New Year's Day, two U.S. malls -- Promenade Temecula in southern California and Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Va. -- will track guests' movements by monitoring the signals from their cell phones.

While the data that's collected is anonymous, it can follow shoppers' paths from store to store.
The goal is for stores to answer questions like: How many Nordstrom shoppers also stop at Starbucks? How long do most customers linger in Victoria's Secret? Are there unpopular spots in the mall that aren't being visited?

While U.S. malls have long tracked how crowds move throughout their stores, this is the first time they've used cell phones.

But obtaining that information comes with privacy concerns.

The management company of both malls, Forest City Commercial Management, says personal data is not being tracked.

"We won't be looking at singular shoppers," said Stephanie Shriver-Engdahl, vice president of digital strategy for Forest City. "The system monitors patterns of movement. We can see, like migrating birds, where people are going to."

Still, the company is preemptively notifying customers by hanging small signs around the shopping centers. Consumers can opt out by turning off their phones.

Via http://money.cnn.com/2011/11/22/technology/malls_track_cell_phones_black_friday/


Apple’s New Low Cost Gaming Console

First, I AM NOT a fanboy. My phone is an Android. Even when the iPhone was introduced, I steadfastly held onto my WindowsMobile phone, waiting for Palm to introduce something better. I have a Windows7 PC, laptop, AND netbook. When the iPad was first released, I thought it was gorgeous, but lacking. And, it was. Apple introduced an improved model a few months later, and a thinner, even more improved model less than a year later. Admittedly, I bought that one. And I love it. But I owned two Windows tablets well before the iPad was even a twinkle in Steve Jobs' eye. So I was predisposed, even before Jobs said it was the Next Big Thing.

Today at E3 in Los Angeles Nintendo showed the world the Wii U. Which looks and sounds like the birth-child of an Apple iPad and a LeapFrog LeapPad. (Yes, we own a LeapPad.) This, on the heels of Apple's WWDC where they emphasized major changes to Game Center that make it more XBox Live than Yahoo Games. At the same time, quietly and without any significant emphasis, Apple announced AirPlay Mirroring. Which, at first blush, sounds like someone accidentally left a slide in the Keynote deck from last year's WWDC. But, in reality, mated to a $99 Apple TV 2, it turns the iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch into an accelerometer-equipped wireless TV gaming console (minus the console).

But, I'm not buying each of my kids a $499 iPad, when I already spent $249 on the Wii 4 years ago. And then I spent $179 each for two DSi's a couple years later. Plus, each one of the Wii game disks cost me between $30-$50, and then each one of my kids' DSi cartridges cost me another $20-30. And, if they want to play each other, I have to buy two of the same game! Worse yet, once they've conquered a particular game, it's useless.

Do the math. If I'm lucky, I'm only into it for a grand, or so. Now Apple's going to try to get in on the game? Apple has been focusing more recently on price, but their products are not what I'd call the "budget option."

Even if I just bought each of the kids the cheapest iPod Touch, that would still be $210 a piece. Plus every game is going to be another $0.99 to $5.99. And then there's the Apple TV 2 for another $99. That would be close to $500, just to replace what they already have.

On the other hand, that is half what I spent on Nintendo products. And it means that every game they purchased could be played on or off the TV. Going forward, they could purchase anywhere from as little as 3 to as many as 40 times the number of games for the same money as a single cartridge or disk. Of course, the AppStore only has a little over 60,000 to choose from, compared to around 2000 total Wii and DSi titles. And, there's another 35,000 or so iOS educational apps. Each of which could never be lost or damaged -- even if the whole device was lost or damaged. And, by purchasing the apps from the same account, everyone in the house can play the same game, at the same time, together or apart, for just one single purchase.  It doesn't hurt either that the iTouch does more than play games. My son, for instance, could use the calendar for scheduling. And both my kids would love to have an MP3 player. Which, again, would allow them to share music under the same account. There are dictionary and thesaurus, flash cards, SAT prep, and other good apps. Plus, the Apple TV 2 also has a few tricks, other than being a slave to iPad, iTouch, and iPhone. It's certainly a competent media player and Netflix tuner (even before jailbreaking).

Until yesterday, I might have been worried that they'd fight over a computer to sync. But, come Fall, not only will that be unnecessary, but -- with the addition of a Bluetooth keyboard and the Apple TV -- each practically becomes its OWN computer, portable and home video and MP3 player (also capable of wirelessly streaming from my iTunes library), handheld game machine, gaming console, PDA, and videoconferencing device. To do it up right: $210 iTouch, $99 ATV, add a nice screen for less than $200, and a $69 Bluetooth keyboard. Effectively, the same price as purchasing each of them a desktop computer, but one that fits in their pockets. Even the Apple TV 2 is pocket-sized.

Fine! I take back what I said about the "budget option."


Police Search Cell Phones During Traffic Stops

ACLU seeks information on Michigan program that allows cops to download information from smart phones belonging to stopped motorists.

The Michigan State Police have a high-tech mobile forensics device that can be used to extract information from cell phones belonging to motorists stopped for minor traffic violations. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan last Wednesday demanded that state officials stop stonewalling freedom of information requests for information on the program.

ACLU learned that the police had acquired the cell phone scanning devices and in August 2008 filed an official request for records on the program, including logs of how the devices were used. The state police responded by saying they would provide the information only in return for a payment of $544,680. The ACLU found the charge outrageous.

"Law enforcement officers are known, on occasion, to encourage citizens to cooperate if they have nothing to hide," ACLU staff attorney Mark P. Fancher wrote. "No less should be expected of law enforcement, and the Michigan State Police should be willing to assuage concerns that these powerful extraction devices are being used illegally by honoring our requests for cooperation and disclosure."

A US Department of Justice test of the CelleBrite UFED used by Michigan police found the device could grab all of the photos and video off of an iPhone within one-and-a-half minutes. The device works with 3000 different phone models and can even defeat password protections.

"Complete extraction of existing, hidden, and deleted phone data, including call history, text messages, contacts, images, and geotags," a CelleBrite brochure explains regarding the device's capabilities. "The Physical Analyzer allows visualization of both existing and deleted locations on Google Earth. In addition, location information from GPS devices and image geotags can be mapped on Google Maps."

The ACLU is concerned that these powerful capabilities are being quietly used to bypass Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches.

"With certain exceptions that do not apply here, a search cannot occur without a warrant in which a judicial officer determines that there is probable cause to believe that the search will yield evidence of criminal activity," Fancher wrote. "A device that allows immediate, surreptitious intrusion into private data creates enormous risks that troopers will ignore these requirements to the detriment of the constitutional rights of persons whose cell phones are searched."

The national ACLU is currently suing the Department of Homeland Security for its policy of warrantless electronic searches of laptops and cell phones belonging to people entering the country who are not suspected of committing any crime.

Via http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/34/3458.asp


iConfess: Penance, There’s an App for That

I confess, though I consider myself a spiritual person, I'm not very religious. People born of a particular faith have all kinds of excuses for their lack of observance. But, usually, it just boils down to a matter of convenience. That's not my problem. I take my kids to religious school every week. I Facebook with a rabbi, a minister, a Jogye, a couple Hasidim, and members of an entire profession that most modern religions have determined to be Satan's disciples. I have plenty of opportunity, and ample reason, to pray and ask for forgiveness.

But, for those of you still searching for excuses, here's one less: If you happen to be Catholic, you no longer have to schlep your tuchas to the confessional. Now the "Jesus Phone" will bring the power of the confessional to the palm of your hand. What's more, this app not only received the coveted blessing of St. Jobs himself, but it even got the Pope's blessing for goodness sake. Which is impressive and shows great benevolence on the part of the church, considering that this app clearly duplicates existing ecclesiastical functionality.

I'm impressed that the Vatican is willing to embrace technology with open arms. Science, after all, is not their strong subject. The only question I have is, should one's iPhone become an item of evidence in a legal context, is it possible that this app will confess your sins to the police as well?


OT: The Arraignment

I would not believe this, had I not witnessed it with my own eyes. Of course, the caricatures have been changed to protect the confessed. In reality, no cartoon could do the actual characters justice. (Pardon the pun.) What it proves is that the right to remain silent is, perhaps, the greatest legal tool in the entire box.

Props to ToonDoo.com for building an online tool that even a right-brain can use.


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