There is a lot of work on virtual heads, or avatars, at the moment – you can even use Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect system to create a virtual you to put in a game. But the team behind Zoe believe they have gone a step further by giving Zoe a range of human emotions expressed in her face and voice.


Professor Cipolla says Zoe is “the interface of the future”, part of a trend towards abandoning the keyboard and mouse and finding new ways of relating to computers.


Dr Bjorn Stenger, once one of Professor Cipolla’s doctoral students and now employed at the Toshiba lab, sees a number of uses: “Sending messages to your friends with your face on it,” he suggests. Virtual actors or game characters are another possibility – and then there is the prospect of virtual carers or call centre employees.

IBM For Fashion


The I.B.M. solution, at least at this point, involves tracking biometrics through a mini camera in a mannequin’s eye or placed somewhere in a store.

There are two tests going on in Milan, one for a fashion company’s flagship store and the other, in an electronics store. The clients have sworn I.B.M. to secrecy for fear of customer backlash, although I.B.M. promises that the data is collected only in aggregated form and cannot be traced to any individuals.


I.B.M.’s applications are different. At the pilot in the Milan fashion store, for example, the client noticed that almost all Asian customers enter the store through one particular door, even though five are available.

“We thought it was a mistake, but we checked it out and it was right and it continues to happen,” Mr. Bozzi said. “We don’t know why yet but, in the meantime, the store is considering positioning products by that door that are known to appeal particularly to Asian shoppers.”

Once shoppers can be tracked, the next step could be advertisements selected to match biometric triggers: A customer walks into a shop and a piped-in voice asks if the jacket she bought last time has been satisfactory and would she like to see something similar from a new line. (Tom Cruise’s character received the same treatment in the 2002 movie “Minority Report.”)


Ref: Biometrics Take on a New Style – NYTimes
Ref: Les yeux du mannequin – Le dernier des blogs (via Beta Knowledge)

Talk to Esquire


Speaking to Businessweek, Croen said, “If this is done well, we’ll create the experience of talking to a real human being.”

It’s not hard to see how far the technology could go. Anyone who is an expert could virtualize themselves through video to address user questions as a way of promoting themselves. Beyond simply advice seeking, fans could also download their favorite musician, writer, or movie star and conduct virtual interviews that feel like real experiences. It’s hard not to think of an industry that couldn’t utilize this tech — even politicians could utilize it to get their message across or communicate their stance to constituents.


Ref: Smartphone App Lets You Carry Human Experts Around In Your Pocket – Singularity HUB



In the paper, which now appears in Physical Review Letters, Harvard physicist and computer scientist Dr. Alex Wissner-Gross posits a Maximum Causal Entropy Production Principle — a conjecture that intelligent behavior in general spontaneously emerges from an agent’s effort to ensure its freedom of action in the future. According to this theory, intelligent systems move towards those configurations which maximize their ability to respond and adapt to future changes.


Ref: Entropica
Ref: How Skynet Might Emerge From Simple Physics – io9

Losing Humanity: The Case against Killer Robots

On November 21, 2012, the US Department of Defense issued its first public policy on autonomy in weapons systems. Directive Number 3000.09 (the Directive) lays out guidelines for the development and use of autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems by the Department of Defense. The Directive also represents the first policy announcement by any country on fully autonomous weapons, which do not yet exist but would be designed to select and engage targets without human intervention.

The Directive does not put in place such a preemptive ban. For a period of up to ten years, however, it allows the Department of Defense to develop or use only fully autonomous systems that deliver non-lethal force, unless department officials waive the policy at a high level. Importantly, the Directive also recognizes some of the dangers to civilians of fully autonomous weapons and the need for prohibitions or controls, including the basic requirement that a human being be “in the loop” when decisions are made to use lethal force. The Directive is in effect a moratorium on fully autonomous weapons with the possibility for certain waivers. It also establishes guidelines for other types of autonomous and semi-autonomous systems.

While a positive step, the Directive does not resolve the moral, legal, and practical problems posed by the potential development of fully autonomous systems. As noted, it is initially valid for a period of only five to ten years, and may be overridden by high level Pentagon officials. It establishes testing requirements that may be unfeasible, fails to address all technological concerns, and uses ambiguous terms. It also appears to allow for transfer of fully autonomous systems to other nations and does not apply to other parts of the US government, such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Finally, it lays out a policy of voluntary self-restraint that may not be sustainable if other countries begin to deploy fully autonomous weapons systems, and the United States feels pressure to follow suit.


Ref: Review of the 2012 US Policy on Autonomy in Weapons Systems – Human Rights Watch
Ref: Say no to killer robots – The Engineer
Ref: Losing Humanity: The Case against Killer Robots – Human Rights Watch

Quantified Self


A transformation is happening.

People, like you, are taking control of something conventional wisdom has told us is not ours to understand: our health. Why are we fat? What makes us feel sluggish? What causes our disease? How can I improve? Today, we ask our doctors. Tomorrow, we will ask our data.

Watch Ari Meisel explain how he cured his Crohn’s disease by following data. Here’s Larry Smarr doing it as well. Even Tim Ferriss tracks data in his life to hack his way to better health.

This is the Quantified Self. In short, it is self-knowledge through self-tracking.

The only difference today is the technology. Advancements have not only made data collection cheaper and more convenient, but is allowing us to quantify biometrics we never knew existed. Want to know your insulin or cortisol levels, or sequence your DNA, or learn what microbial cells inhabit your body? You can quantify that now.

Self-trackers are pushing the limits of personal health. By using a scientific approach, they are shedding light into a dark unknown. As they discover hidden insights, it is the entrepreneurs who are bringing their findings—and their tools—to the masses.

As self-trackers are pushing the movement forward, entrepreneurs are helping it scale.


Ref: The Beginner’s Guide to Quantified Self – Technori

Google Search Terms Can Predict the Stock Market

A new study published today in Scientific Reports by a team of British researchers, though, harnesses Google Trends data to produce investing strategies in a more nuanced way. Instead of looking at the frequency that the names of stocks or companies were searched, they analyzed a broad range of 98 commonly used words—everything from “unemployment” to “marriage” to “car” to “water”—and simulated investing strategies based on week-by-week changes in the frequencies of each of these words as search terms by American internet users.


The strategy was relatively straightforward: The system tracked whether a word such as “debt” increased in search frequency or decreased in search frequency from one week to the next. If the term was suddenly searched much less frequently, the investment simulation bought all the stocks of the Dow on the first Monday afterward, then sold all the stocks one week later, essentially betting that the overall market would rise in value.


During the period of time studied (2004-2011), making investment choices based on a few of these words in particular would have yielded overall profits several times higher than a conservative investment strategy of simply buying and holding the stocks of the Dow for the entire time. For example, basing a strategy solely on the search frequency of the word “debt,” which turned out to be the single most profitable term in the study, would have generated a profit of 326% over the seven years studied—compared to a profit of just 16% if you owned all the stocks of the Dow for the whole period.


Ref: Google Search Terms Can Predict the Stock Market – Smithsonian
Ref: Quantifying Trading Behavior in Financial Markets Using Google Trends – Nature

The End of Insight


I worry that insight is becoming impossible, at least at the frontiers of mathematics. Even when we’re able to figure out what’s true or false, we’re less and less able to understand why.

An argument along these lines was recently given by Brian Davies in the “Notices of the American Mathematical Society”. He mentions, for example, that the four-color map theorem in topology was proven in 1976 with the help of computers, which exhaustively checked a huge but finite number of possibilities. No human mathematician could ever verify all the intermediate steps in this brutal proof, and even if someone claimed to, should we trust them? To this day, no one has come up with a more elegant, insightful proof. So we’re left in the unsettling position of knowing that the four-color theorem is true but still not knowing why.

Similarly important but unsatisfying proofs have appeared in group theory (in the classification of finite simple groups, roughly akin to the periodic table for chemical elements) and in geometry (in the problem of how to pack spheres so that they fill space most efficiently, a puzzle that goes back to Kepler in the 1500’s and that arises today in coding theory for telecommunications).

In my own field of complex systems theory, Stephen Wolfram has emphasized that there are simple computer programs, known as cellular automata, whose dynamics can be so inscrutable that there’s no way to predict how they’ll behave; the best you can do is simulate them on the computer, sit back, and watch how they unfold. Observation replaces insight. Mathematics becomes a spectator sport.

If this is happening in mathematics, the supposed pinnacle of human reasoning, it seems likely to afflict us in science too, first in physics and later in biology and the social sciences (where we’re not even sure what’s true, let alone why).

When the End of Insight comes, the nature of explanation in science will change forever. We’ll be stuck in an age of authoritarianism, except it’ll no longer be coming from politics or religious dogma, but from science itself.

– Steven Strogatz


Ref: Explain It to Me Again, Computer – Slate
Ref: The World Question Center – Edge

Quantified Spouse


[…] Asprey’s significant others haven’t escaped his drive for data. At night, he and his wife strap Zeo sleep bands on their foreheads to track the quality of their rest, and they have started sleeping in separate beds several nights a week to avoid disturbing each other’s rest. He encourages husbands to track their wives’ ovulation cycles along with the frequency of their fights to better understand what disrupts marital bliss. In a previous relationship, Asprey tracked everything his girlfriend ingested, then correlated it with her moods.

The goal is self and spouse improvement by gathering personal data that can reveal unseen patterns and bad habits, explains Asprey, who runs a blog chronicling his efforts to “hack” his body and mind.

“Data brings you the power to change your relationship, and that’s huge,” Asprey said.


Elliott Hedman, a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab, affixed skin conductance sensors to a date he took to a classical music concert in order to track her physiological reaction to the music. The data, which revealed the young woman’s lack of enthusiasm for the concert, allowed for a more honest and specific conversation about the experience than would have been possible without it, Hedman argued. Instead of exchanging generic pleasantries about the concert or masking their true opinions to spare the other’s feelings, they could dive into details and use data — an impartial judge — to be straightforward about how they’d each perceived the event.

“Even more than discovering hidden secrets, the data is actually just providing a tool for communication,” said Hedman. “When we’re talking about a graph — about data and numbers, not personal opinions — we can be more honest with each other. It’s less accusing. It removes the personal feelings.”


Ref: The Quantified Spouse Movement Has Couples Tracking Weight, Sleep And Even Orgasms To Find Bliss – Huffington Post
Ref: Love is a journey. And we’re the GPS. – Medstart