I’m getting a bionic hand

I’ve been keeping this a big secret because it’s fairly awesome. I research in artificial intelligence and robotics and have had a research project in development for a while now. It involves replacing my right hand with a robotic bionic hand. Needless to say I’ve had quite a mission getting this past Auckland University’s Human Participants Ethics Committee. They were totally against it for months, but eventually realized that the only way I could develop the capabilities of the robotic hand and its neuro-computing control link was by replacing my own hand, given that I couldn’t find any other willing volunteer locally.
   The hand is quite advanced and initially will be controlled by an Emotiv Epoc headset. The plan is to replace the headset with smaller and more discrete sensors on my forearm and to test case-based reasoning software that will enable the hand to learn how to move more precisely. To the right is an X-ray of my right hand and wrist, which was taken today and which my surgeon will be using for the amputation tomorrow. This research will be the first of it’s kind in New Zealand and is being conducted in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Needless to say my wife is not very happy with my decision.
   More information about the project is available here.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2012/04/im-getting-bionic-hand.html


#Anonymous will shut down the Internet this Saturday

Well, that’s what the media are claiming. Members of the hacktivist collective, known as Anonymous, will shut down the Internet this Saturday, in Operation Global Blackout, by attacking the Domain Name Servers (DNS) servers that run the Internet. When you type http://www.anyname.com into your browser the DNS servers translate this into an numeric IP address, like, which is the actual physical address of the web server you want to reach. Every computer on the Internet has an IP address, including the one you are reading this on. But, you’d struggle to remember these numbers, so the DNS servers translate, from easy to remember domain names, to hard to remember IP addresses. For example, http://www.google.com is actually,
   DNS servers are organized into a hierarchy. At the top there are 13 root servers. These contain the master database of all the world’s IP addresses and domain names. Below these are tiers of increasingly more local DNS servers that contain copies of the root server databases, right down to DNS servers in you local ISP, to which your computer is connected. Anonymous will not be targeting the root servers, these are very secure, but will be attempting to take down DNS servers in local ISPs and regional telcos that control the backbone of the Internet. Will they succeed? A professional computer security friend of mine (a.k.a a hacker called FOSM) says “they will be at least partially successfully. Lots of old unpatched top level DNS servers out there.
   You can learn more about the shadowy world of hackers in chapter 12 “Digital Underworld” of The Universal Machine

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2012/03/anonymous-will-shut-down-internet-this.html

What’s in a name – #Apple’s #Siri

Siri on an iPhone 4S

I saw several articles yesterday, like this one, claiming that Apple’s intelligent agent Siri is named after a Norwegian goddess and that Steve Jobs didn’t like the name. Frankly I don’t believe Siri is named after a Norwegian goddess. This seems like post-justification. Siri was a company, which Apple purchased, that was spun out of Stanford Research International, commonly known as SRI, which sounds a lot like “Siri” to me. The new company Siri Inc. called its product “Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface” or Siri. The history is all explained here in an earlier post on this blog. Wikipedia makes no mention of Siri being named after a Norwegian goddess and there doesn’t even seem to be a Norwegian goddess called Siri. Sigrid is a Scandinavian female name, for which Siri is a diminutive, and it does mean victory, wisdom and beautiful according to Wikipedia, but there’s no mention of a goddess.
    Personally, I’ll continue to believe that Siri derives from SRI, which at least is supported by historical fact. I have no opinion on whether or not Steve Jobs liked the name. Incidentally I asked Siri the origin of its name and it was evasive and refused to answer.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2012/03/whats-in-name-apples-siri.html

The Machine that Changed the World – documentary

I’ve come across a really great documentary series from 1992 about the history of computing. I hadn’t seen this before I wrote my book, but I wish I had! It almost perfectly follows the structure of my book – at least up to the mid 1990s.
   The Machine That Changed the World was a five episode documentary about the history of computing, produced by WGBH Boston and the BBC. It aired in 1992 and was released on VHS but is long out of print and the only remaining copies are old tapes floating around school libraries or in the homes of fans who copied the original shows as they aired.
   The show is remarkably accurate and corrects most of the myths surrounding the history and development of the computer. One of the series sponsors was the Association for Computing Machinery, who I guess ensured correctness. So far the only error I’ve spotted is claiming ENIAC as the first electronic programmable computer in 1946. As we all know, Colossus was actually the first computer and was working in 1943. Colossus however, was top secret and it has only been recently that the history has been corrected.
   There’s lots of footage I’ve never seen before and many interviews with the people involved. I highly recommend this. I’ve indexed this excellent series on The Universal Machine’s YouTube channel (it’s filed under “Computer History“). You can watch the first episode here.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2012/03/machine-that-changed-world-documentary.html

In praise of Mies van der Rohe

Google Doodle for Mies van der Rohe

I’m a big fan of modern architecture and it doesn’t get much better than Mies van der Rohe who was born on March 27 1886. Isn’t that remarkable; the icon of modern architecture was born 126 years ago! His modern buildings are now historic. The Google doodle appropriately honored him yesterday.
    I’m always surprised by people who say “I don’t like modern architecture.” It seems to me a bit like saying “I don’t like bread.” Sure you might not like one particular building, but there’s so much variety; like bread, try a different flavor and you might find something you like. I don’t want to live in a world where all the buildings look the same, I like being surprised, sometime horrified, but I don’t want to be bored. I love the simplicity and lightness of Mies van der Rohe’s buildings – he famously said “less is more,” which clearly shows in his architecture.

Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2012/03/in-praise-of-mies-van-der-rohe.html

#Turing and his Times – at Bletchley Park

To mark the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing, The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC)  is hosting an open meeting “Turing and his Times” on 26 April 2012 at 5pm at Bletchley Park, where Turing worked as a codebreaker during World War II. The TNMOC event is the second of three Turing-themed events linking three of the top computing museums in the world.

   Turing and his Times will feature a talk by computer historian Prof Simon Lavington on Turing and his Contemporaries, a simulation of the Pilot ACE computer by TNMOC trustee Kevin Murrell, and the first formal public showing of a video commissioned by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) of the recollections of two of Turing’s colleagues. The event will be chaired by highly respected journalist, commentator and technology critic, Bill Thompson.
   Simon Lavington is author of the new book “Turing and his Contemporaries“, will trace Alan Turing’s ideas from 1945 onwards and his imaginative but difficult interactions with his computing colleagues in the period leading to his tragic death in 1954. At the end of 1945 Alan Turing produced one of the earliest detailed specifications for a universal stored-program computer when he was working at NPL. It was confidently expected that NPL would build the world’s first modern computer, but things did not go according to plan. By 1948 Turing had resigned from NPL and by 1949 innovative computers designed by others had burst into life at the Universities of Cambridge and Manchester.
   Kevin Murrell will demonstrate a simulation of the Pilot ACE, the computer developed by Turing and his team at NPL in the late 1940s. Operating an accurate representation of the front of the Pilot ACE, he will  demonstrate how complex and quick it was compared to other early computers.
   There will also be the first formal public showing of a ten-minute video made by Harriet Vickers and commissioned by NPL featuring vintage and very recent footage of Tom Vickers and Mike Woodger recalling their time working with Turing at NPL.
   Tickets for the TNMOC Turing and his Times event are priced at £10 each (plus £1 booking fee) are available at www.etickets.to/buy/?e=8174  A ticket includes entry to TNMOC from 1pm on the afternoon the event. The event itself will be in the Bletchley Park Mansion from 5pm – 6.30pm and followed by networking in the bar area.
   Early visitors to the Turing and his Times event will be able to see a display about Turing and the Pilot ACE at TNMOC in Block H at Bletchley Park, Brian Aldous, TNMOC volunteer Archivist and former NPL employee, has compiled a display about Turing which includes a copy of Turing’s 78-page Pilot ACE proposal to NPL, the original NPL patent for acoustic delay lines and some examples of the use of the Pilot ACE .
   Bletchley Park Trust’s Turing display will also be viewable during its normal opening hours at the additional cost of a Bletchley Park entrance fee.
   This sounds like a great event, sadly I live in New Zealand, which is about as far away as I could be. If you go let me know what happened.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2012/03/turing-and-his-times-at-bletchley-park.html

You could earn a $100,000+ as a hacker!

As chapter 12 “Digital Underworld” of The Universal Machine explains, hackers come in three varieties: white hat hackers, these are the good guys who are employed by organisations to find vulnerabilities in their systems and software; black hat hackers, the bad guys who attempt to find vulnerabilities and exploit them for their own nefarious purposes; and grey hat hackers, who are not employed by companies to find vulnerabilities, but will sell the exploits for a fee. You could think of them like freelance white hats, who are not on a contract, but get a finders fee.
    As a fascinating article in Forbes explains there is now a growing international market in zero-day exploits. When a hacker finds a security vulnerability in a piece of software, Internet Explorer for example, and a means of using that vulnerability, it’s called an exploit. If the manufacturer of the software doesn’t know of the exploit it’s called a zero-day exploit (i.e. no days have passed since it’s known about and presumably patched). Zero-day exploits are inherently valuable since bad people can do bad things with them and a company if it’s aware of the exploit can patch the vulnerability before it’s used and not receive bad PR. Here’s a price list for zero-day exploits, from the Forbes article.

iOS exploits are the most valuable because of Apple’s reputation for security, but conversely Mac OS X exploits are relatively cheap compared to Windows because fewer people use OS X, so an exploit might not be as useful. The Forbes article is well worth reading as it gives you an insight into the secretive and lucrative world of the hackers. Perhaps you should consider a new career?

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2012/03/you-could-earn-100000-as-hacker.html