On robots and the internet of things

A collection of interesting links, mainly for my future reference:

This Crunchgear post on connected medical devices at the GSMA Mobile World Congress 2011 earlier this year.

This post summarizing Matt Webb‘s talk ‘Botworld’ at the Royal Institution which I attended in February.

This very engaging article in GQ which includes a conversation with a robot.

– The news about President Obama signing the Patriot Act with an autopen, which many news organisations, including ABC News, are calling his ‘robot hand’. (It’s not as crazy as it sounds – there is legal precedent for it).

This post by Tom Saunter on the potential for branded robots (no conclusion yet).

– I was at this event, but I think Gregory Povey has written this up much better than me (Secret Robot House).

This post by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino on ‘future making’.

– This presentation, also by Alex on the internet of things.

The rise of the robot writers

Narrative Science is a startup that creates editorial content automatically from data. They say that their app ‘generates news stories, industry reports, headlines and more — at scale and without human authoring or editing’. Last week, they attracted $6 million in seed funding.

I’m sure they will never really replace journalistic content, but I’d love to see how they progress. News organisations today are under a lot of pressure to go digital and find better monetisation models – could this be one of them?

As this article says:

I suppose some people might get queasy about the idea of robot writers, but I think it makes perfect sense. There’s lots of content-making that machines can and should do much faster than humans, and at least as effectively.

Meanwhile, the push to produce more copy for less has been underway for a long time, even for publishers that don’t get labeled “content farms“–Reuters moved some of its financial-reporting resources to India years ago, and you never hear a peep about that.

Secret Robot House

A couple of days ago, I was one of a small group of people who went to Secret Robot House, an event hosted by LIREC, (LIREC is a research project exploring how we can live with digital companions, mainly in the form of robots, in the years ahead). It was a fascinating evening, mainly because though robots are something that I have been interested in for a while now, this was the first time I actually saw a live demonstration.

Nicolas Nova from Lift Lab gave a presentation about robot fiction which I’m embedding below. From evoking a sense of nostalgia (Rosey the robot from the Jetsons cartoons that I used to watch as a kid) to the present (Nabaztag) and the future (the robot demo we saw that day), it was a very interesting summary of the relationship between science fiction and engineering research.

Patrick Bergel, a Research Fellow at UCL who was also part of the group who attended, asked why humans don’t stop research into robotics for a few years to allow technology to catch-up with what we want to do. Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn, whose presentation followed Nicolas’ with a more technical explanation of the LIREC research project, responded that it was because the project was a moving target. Technologies keep changing and evolving every day and so, therefore, does their research. I suppose that’s true of any project involving technology nowadays – at the most, you can hope to achieve a part of what you set out to do because the rest would have altered substantially by the time you get to your deadline.

I was also struck, as Nicolas said, by the meaning we have now come to attach to the word ‘android’ – one automatically thinks of the operating system. In fact, when you do a Google search, the literal meaning of the word, which is ‘possessing human features’, comes nowhere in the top 10. How times have changed.

Anyway, here’s a small clip of the Sunflower robot that I took at the event. There are also some photos in LIREC’s Flickr group pool.