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Transhumanistic will continue to remain on long-term hiatus for the foreseeable future, but will remain online. Please email me if you would like to get in touch.


Researchers merge human tissue with nanoscale wire “scaffold”

Scientists at Harvard have created a new system for using nanoscale wires to create scaffolds upon which human cells can grow into tissue. The combined “cyborg tissue” will enable researchers to measure chemical or electrical changes in living tissue. From the Harvard Gazette:

The process of building the networks, Lieber said, is similar to that used to etch microchips.

Beginning with a two-dimensional substrate, researchers laid out a mesh of organic polymer around nanoscale wires, which serve as the critical sensing elements. Nanoscale electrodes, which connect the nanowire elements, were then built within the mesh to enable nanowire transistors to measure the activity in cells without damaging them. Once completed, the substrate was dissolved, leaving researchers with a netlike sponge, or a mesh, that can be folded or rolled into a host of three-dimensional shapes.

Once complete, the networks were porous enough to allow the team to seed them with cells and encourage those cells to grow in 3-D cultures.

Takeaway quote from Charles M. Lieber, Mark Hyman Jr. Professor of Chemistry at Harvard: “Ultimately, this is about merging tissue with electronics in a way that it becomes difficult to determine where the tissue ends and the electronics begin.”

“Superhuman” exhibition showcases human enhancement through history, into the future

“Superhuman” – an exhibit currently showing at The Wellcome Collection in London – is showcasing art and displays focused on human enhancement throughout our history. The undeniably transhumanist exhibition will also examine how technology “stretches our ability to perform in the world.” From the site:

Glasses, lipstick, false teeth, the contraceptive pill and even your mobile phone – we take for granted how commonplace human enhancements are. Current scientific developments point to a future where cognitive enhancers and medical nanorobots will be widespread as we seek to augment our beauty, intelligence and health.

Superhuman takes a broad and playful look at our obsession with being the best we can be. Items on display range from an ancient Egyptian prosthetic toe to a packet of Viagra, alongside contributions from artists such as Matthew Barney and scientists, ethicists and commentators working at the cutting edge of this most exciting, and feared, area of modern science.

“Superhuman” will run through October 16, 2012.

“Blade Runner” to compete at 2012 Olympics

Track athlete Oscar Pistorius – a double amputee nicknamed “Blade Runner” because of the prosthetic carbon fiber “blades” he uses for competition – has been selected by South Africa’s Olympic committee and national track federation to run the individual 400m and the 4×400 meter relay at the 2012 Olympics in London.

The announcement comes after Pistorius originally missed out on qualifying for the individual 400m by only 0.22 seconds.

From AP:

Olympic committee chief executive Tubby Reddy tells The Associated Press that the track body asked for permission to also allow Pistorius to run the 400, even though he had not met their qualifying criteria.

The 25-year-old Pistorius, who runs on carbon fiber blades, called it “one of the proudest days of my life.”

Pistorius will be the first amputee track athlete in history to compete at the Olympics. The world will be watching.

Physicians ponder the future of medical robotics

Robots like the da Vinci surgical robot have enabled humans to achieve a remarkable degree of precision when performing certain surgeries, but these technologies – while incredible – are really just an extension of a physician’s body, like a very high tech scalpel or forceps.

A new generation of tiny snake-like robots is actually capable of crawling through the body to perform surgery, but again, these are guided by a human physician, and tethered to a external machine.

Physicians may look forward to these developments, but many may not foresee a future in which the robot will perform tasks on its own, without the guiding hand of a doctor:

“It won’t be very long before we have robots that are nanobots, meaning they will actually be inside the body without tethers,” said Dr. Michael Argenziano, the Chief of Adult Cardiac Surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

Argenziano was involved with some of the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration clinical trials on robotic heart surgery more than 10 years ago. Now he says snake robots have become a commonly used tool that gives surgeons a whole new perspective.

“It’s like the ability to have little hands inside the patients, as if the surgeon had been shrunken, and was working on the heart valve,” he said.

But Argenziano and experts in robotics say the new creations work best when they’re designed for very specific tasks. “The robot is a tool. It is no different in that sense than a scalpel. It’s really a master-slave device,” he said.

Argenziano recognizes that medical robots will continue to shrink in size and expand in capability, but is careful to note they won’t be putting him out of a job any time soon. He’s correct – for now.

In a generation, however, we may very well loose tiny robots within our bodies to perform autonomous diagnostics and procedures, often before we’ve even become aware of any symptoms that something is wrong. The role of a physician could easily change to that of a manager, directing fleets of tiny robots within patients, similar to the way an engineer helps guide the actions of robots on a factory floor.

Nevada Opens Its Roads to Self-Driving Cars

Nevada, which has been a pioneer for allowing the testing of autonomous vehicles, became the first state in the country to issue a license which will enable Google (and other companies) to test self-driving cars on Nevada roads.

Even so, the average driver won’t be able to head out to their local autonomous car dealership and purchase one anytime soon. As one might expect, this first-of-its-kind license required Google to present extensive documentation showing the safety record of previous tests and how drivers – two of whom will be required to be in the cars while testing – have been trained. Google and other companies looking to test self-driving vehicles in Nevada will also be required to purchase a pricey surety bond.

It seems especially appropriate that Nevada be the first state to take this step, as it hosted the finish line for the early DARPA Grand Challenges, where autonomous vehicle technology really took off. It’s hard to believe that a short eight years ago driverless cars were unable to complete more than 1/8 of a 150-mile course in the Mojave desert, and today they are able to capably share the roads with human drivers.

(Autonomous vehicle photo courtesy of Nevada DMV)

Robot guards come to South Korean prisons

If you’re unfortunate enough to be sent to a South Korean prison in the near future, the guard on your cell block may be a machine. The robots autonomously patrol prisoner areas, and when they observe “any abnormality” can report the issue to a human operator. The machines, which are currently in field trials, are designed to “protect prisoners from suicide, arson and assault.”

Robots are a good choice for jobs that are either repetitive (and therefore boring) or dangerous. Prisons are more the former, and therefore could be a good environment for robots to help ease the workload of human guards.

(Via Engadget)

Conference positions the Motor City as the Robot City

Detroit has always been a major engineering and manufacturing hub best known for cranking out automobiles, and as such has been a significant purchaser of robotics. However, with all of that engineering talent and manufacturing capability, why couldn’t Detroit become a center for robotics design and production?

This question was on the minds of attendees at yesterday’s “Michigan Robotics Day,” sponsored by the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences and the University of Michigan. The conference aimed to raise Detroit’s profile regarding robotics development, educate the public about the role robots play in our lives, advocate for funding for technology R&D and inspire students to pursue careers in STEM-related fields.

From the Detroit News:

“Robotics represents a major global economic opportunity in Michigan,” said Rick Jarman, president and CEO of the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, which sponsored the conference.

Among the other robotic advances promoted at the event were a projected boom in autonomous or self-driven vehicles for land, air and sea. Self-driven vehicles can save time and energy, open vistas to challenged drivers and save lives on the battlefield.

Michigan is ideally suited for the growth of engineering, computers and technology, Jarman added, because it is anchored by a large number of professional engineers at automakers and suppliers, by the U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center and by colleges and universities.

As a native Metro Detroiter, I would love to see the region position itself on the leading edge of robotics development and help regain some of its past glory as a global center for technology.

What will the winning humanoid robot need to conquer the next DARPA Grand Challenge?

Could Boston Dynamics' PETMAN be a platform for the next Grand Challenge?

To date, the DARPA Grand Challenge has been a competition to build and field driverless vehicles, and the challenges have been a remarkable success. Now it looks like the agency is challenging teams to tackle a much more difficult task: creation of an all-purpose robot that can perform many diverse tasks that to this point have been only in the domain of humans.

According to a post at the website Hizook, DARPA will require the winning robots to semi-autonomously complete the following:

1) The robot will maneuver to a open frame utility vehicle, such as a John Deere Gator or a Polaris Ranger. The robot is to get into the driver’s seat and drive it to a specified location.

2) The robot is to get out of the vehicle, maneuver to a locked door, unlock it with a key, open the door, and go inside.

3) The robot will traverse a 100 meter, rubble strewn hallway.

4) At the end of the hallway, the robot will climb an ladder.

5) The robot will locate a pipe that is leaking a yellow-colored gas (non-toxic, non-corrosive). The robot will then identify a valve that will seal the pipe and actuate that valve, sealing the pipe.

6) The robot will locate a broken pump and replace it.

So this tells me any successful entrant will require, at least:

  • A humanoid form. I know I mentioned it above, but apparently the rules do not specifically state a humanoid design is an absolute must. However, in order to operate a vehicle with a steering wheel or handlebars, designed to fit an average-sized human, as well as climb a ladder, this design seems to make the most sense, and is apparently what DARPA is looking for.
  • A high degree of manual dexterity. Although we’ve seen some novel solutions for gripping and manipulating objects, such as the universal jamming gripper, it seems like a hand with an opposable thumb would be the most obvious path here, especially if the robot needs to use this appendage for a diverse array of tasks (gripping a steering wheel, operating a lock, climbing a ladder, and so on) ill-suited for a more specialized appendage.
  • Advanced object recognition. Not only with the robot need to navigate around objects both while operating a vehicle and moving on its own, it will also need to identify a few very specific objects (a pipe leaking gas, a broken pump) and then identify ways to fix those objects. The required tasks do not state whether the robot would need to be able to discern the difference between a broken pump and an intact pump, but given the enormity of that assignment I think that might require some human assistance.
  • A portable, long-lasting power source. Currently, humanoid robots burn through power very quickly. (For reference, Honda’s ASIMO can run for one hour on a single charge, but ASIMO doesn’t move through rubble or climb ladders.) The challenge here will be balancing power with portability. It’s possible that teams could use a gasoline engine, like the kind that powers Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog.
Of course all of this is speculation, and I’m sure the brilliant minds that are sure to enter this challenge will be able to come up with some groundbreaking solutions to a lot of these problems. Given the enormous progress inspired by DARPA’s previous Grand Challenges, I can’t wait to see what teams design here.

(Via Danger Room)


New web-based publication devotes first issue to the singularity

Katalyst VS is a new digital publication that devotes each issue to a single topic through a “curated collage of perspectives and pop culture influencers.” Their very first issue is devoted to exploring the singularity, and includes features about dystopian futures in film, emerging technology, and interviews with Ray Kurzweil and Robocop creator Michael Miner. Miner admits he’s actually a “bit of a Luddite” and shares his skepticism about transhumanism without mentioning it by name:

Second, I think the Kurzweil “Singularity” vision of the future, which I thought a lot about and could take up five interviews, is a little bit overrated. I would say that those unions – the first real mechanical-human union is the mouse, beyond surgical applications that help cripple people, the universal union is the hand and the mouse reaching into the screen. There’s a lot of pain in that, you have physical problems carpal tunnel syndrome, and those unions are – I think that the reality on the ground is different than the paradise in theory, if that makes any sense to you.

Robocop actually explored this concept in some depth and was unique in showing the significant downsides of being an ultra-powerful crime fighting cyborg. While I (an avowed Robocop fan) thought the Miner interview was especially interesting, the articles here are all fun to read and the site design is very slick. Well worth a visit.