robots posts

ChittahChattah Quickies April 13th, 2012

Robots Ate My Job [Marketplace] – “Robot” is a bit of a red herring…the series is really an investigation of automation, when we interact with other devices instead of a human. Not sure there are too many surprises here but it’s still great to have this topic receive some focused attention.

Special Correspondent David Brancaccio takes us on a week-long series on air, online and on social media, called “Robos Ate My Job” to explore how technology is impacting the future of jobs in America. Find out who’s winning and who’s losing at the hands of the robots.

The Strange Art of Picking a TV Title [The Hollywood Reporter] – I’d be interested in knowing if the TV people design for nicknaming. Battlestar Galactica comes BSG among the cognoscenti. Does that little hook let people take ownership as the narrative pulls them in? Around my house we call “The Simpsons” by its shorter form “Simpsons.”

Would Friends have been the same hit had NBC executives approved its original title, Six of One? Would Lost have lasted six seasons with its earlier name, Nowhere? And would Grey’s Anatomy be able to charm nearly 12 million weekly viewers had it remained Surgeons? These are the questions now haunting studio and network executives as they look to attach the perfect title — catchy, but not cheesy; clever, but not confusing; inclusive, but not vague; provocative, but not inappropriate — to their crop of pilots in contention for the fall schedule. Producers and executives agree that getting a title right is more important than ever given the increasingly crowded and fragmented television landscape, where standing out is as important as telegraphing what a show is about. And while a great title can’t carry a poor show, it can get an audience to show up, which is why networks and studios have been known to rely heavily on focus groups and the occasional consulting firm.

Alphabet Soup [More Intelligent Life] – More on the ‘how does stuff get named?’ theme. Ever dine at QV? Me neither.

Some names come out of the blue. While seeking inspiration for his new London venture in 1926, an Italian restaurateur called Pepino Leoni saw a poster for the 1925 film “Quo Vadis”. The restaurant that bears its name can still be found in Soho. In 2002, about to open a place specialising in French food, the British chef Henry Harris was forced into creative thinking by his signmaker. “He said if we didn’t come up with a name right then, we wouldn’t have a sign in time. So I put together a long list of French words, including a few writers as fillers: Beaumarchais, Moli?®re, Racine-Going through them, we went, ‘Crap, crap, crap’ until we reached Racine and someone said, ‘Racine, of course, French for root. Absolutely brilliant.’ So there it is. Both interpretations are true.” The restaurateur Will Smith explains the origin of Arbutus, in central London, thus: “We discovered there used to be an arbutus, or strawberry tree, around the corner in Soho Square. The name felt good and sounded great. It was a bit like naming a child. At first, people went, ‘Eh?’ but soon said ‘That’s interesting’ and accepted it. Also, arbutus fruit have a culinary application in Portugal, where it is made into a spirit.” So does Arbutus sell arbutus spirit? “No.”

The Personal Analytics of My Life [Stephen Wolfram Blog] – I was pretty surprised to see this was just about his email. Email is one lens into someone’s life, but it doesn’t provide much detail into what you are doing when you aren’t using email. I was hoping for something along the lines of the good ol’ Americans Use of Time Project that took a broader look. The title is definitely an overreach.

What is the future for personal analytics? There is so much that can be done. Some of it will focus on large-scale trends, some of it on identifying specific events or anomalies, and some of it on extracting “stories” from personal data.
And in time I’m looking forward to being able to ask Wolfram|Alpha all sorts of things about my life and times-and have it immediately generate reports about them. Not only being able to act as an adjunct to my personal memory, but also to be able to do automatic computational history-explaining how and why things happened-and then making projections and predictions. As personal analytics develops, it’s going to give us a whole new dimension to experiencing our lives. At first it all may seem quite nerdy (and certainly as I glance back at this blog post there’s a risk of that). But it won’t be long before it’s clear how incredibly useful it all is-and everyone will be doing it, and wondering how they could have ever gotten by before. And wishing they had started sooner, and hadn’t “lost” their earlier years.

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Out and About: Julie in NYC February 24th, 2012

There’s no better place than New York for the casual wandering photog. And no better way to unwind between interviews than wandering casually. Tamara shared her observations from last week’s trip; here are a few of mine.


An ambitious seeker-of-companionship slipped this onto the subway; an attempt at old-school social networking, ironic in its particular placement. It’s author provides a few interesting and wholesome-sounding options (library, the zoo, coffee date) to entice people to respond to this rather salacious-seeming invitation. Who calls, I wonder? And don’t they know that with Google Voice they can link those two numbers?


Surprisingly lifelike and expressive, for mini-robots cobbled out of plastic scraps.

A few of my pictures wound up revealing accidental compositional synchronicity. That’s one of the joys of taking photos – along with being obvious documentations of what I ran across, I often discover something new when I get them back and reflect on them:


When I took this, I only saw the blue face. And yes, this is the correct orientation of the photo!


The colors in this juxtapostion of the utilitarian and the ephermeral echo each other.


I like taking pictures of poles for the way they can surprisingly and dramatically bisect a scene. And because people put stickers on them. The little face sticker here is obviously a product of the same person/people who slapped up a little sticker I snapped on the other side of the country, at Venice Beach, just two weeks prior – the LA one reads, “Enjoy You” rather than, “Gain You.” Interstate sticker-art pattern! Theories?


Red, yellow and blue syncopate in a Brooklyn subway entrance, in a way that put me in the mind of Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie. Jazzy patterns abound, waiting for us to notice them.

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ChittahChattah Quickies December 2nd, 2010
  • [from julienorvaisas] StatSheet Is Writing Sports Stories With Software [NYTimes.com] – [And you thought mainstream sports writing was formulaic now...] I asked Michael W. White, a specialist in the field of natural language generation, for his professional opinion of the quality of the writing. We visited the StatSheet site for Ohio State’s team and looked at the write-up of its Nov. 12 season opener, written expressly for Buckeyes fans: ”Ohio State Gets 102-61 Monster Win Over North Carolina A&T.” “Ohio State has already started living up to monumental expectations with a good first game,” it began. “On November 12th on their home court, the Buckeyes waxed the Aggies, 102-61.” The story had 10 sentences and 156 words. Over all, Professor White said, it read “pretty well.” He praised the first sentence as very good and said the use of “waxed” in the second was a nice touch. Then he pointed out some glitches. It was a bit overeager to show that Ohio State was undefeated so far this season, when its record was still just 1-0.
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ChittahChattah Quickies September 27th, 2010
  • [from julienorvaisas] Six scientists tell us about the most accurate science fiction in their fields [Mad Science io9] – [Brief interviews with scientists discussing where some of the real science resides in our science fiction. Great comments thread, including this one: "The other side of the coin is how has science benefited from science fiction stories."] Ronald Arkin, director of the Mobile Robotics Lab, Georgia Tech: "Realistic depictions of robots are pretty boring, so there's not much to say on what is accurate or not. No positronic brains, no running amok killing everyone and everything. I guess that's the fiction in science fiction. You watch enough videos of robots at real research conferences and it's hard to stay awake… Anyway, [one] comes to mind that is a bit more accurate than most: Hal 9000, in 2001, apart from his apparent psychotic episode, is a robotic system that people live inside. Current research agendas, in human-robot interaction, task planning, command and control, etc., could conceivably lead to such an intelligent system."
  • [from steve_portigal] Will You Try My Paper iPhone App? [Techcrunch] – [Stanford HCI student gets soundly criticized for seeking feedback on paper prototype with actual users! The drama - as often on the web - really takes off in the comments.] When I looked down at his hands, however, instead of an iPhone, he held a few pieces of paper with wireframe drawings in pencil. This was his app. I was supposed to pretend the paper was an iPhone screen and press the hand-drawn buttons as I shuffled through the flow. The idea is that you could point your camera at a magazine rack and get digital versions of the magazines, which you could preview on your iPhone and then purchase individual articles or the entire magazine. It made a lot more sense when he did it (see video). Now, there is nothing wrong with getting your ideas down on paper or paper prototypes to work out the kinks before you start coding. But you might want to wait until you have an actual working app on an iPhone before testing it out in the wild and asking for feedback from normal people.
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I Need You to Need Me March 3rd, 2010

The need statement (“People need… blah blah”) is a cornerstone of user research. Observations, patterns and insights (all our hard work!) distilled into succinct statements neatly pointing to the problem that we are empowered to solve through design. I have long been pondering the use of (and occasional over-reliance on) the need statement (“It’s not an insight if you can’t turn it into a need!”). I have certainly seen the pursuit of the perfect need statement wander into the realm of the absurd at the project level, but they are especially funny when encountered out “in the wild.”

While preparing dinner the other day I noticed this pasta packaging

I’ll bet my pasta can kick your pasta’s ass at meeting needs!

The pasta packaging’s need-shouting put me in mind of this terrific skewering of an exaggerated marketing-department-generated need statement from what is possibly the best review of anything ever, John Phillip’s review of the 2002 Cadillac Escalade EXT for Car and Driver magazine (not found on the Car and Driver site anymore, but full text can be found here):

“Cadillac’s brand manager says, ‘Cadillac research showed that there was a real need for the EXT.’ A real need for a Cadillac pickup? Really? If so, then here are a few things that I really need: An air-conditioned front yard. Iguana-skin patio furniture. Stigmata. Mint-flavored Drano. Gold-plated roof gutters. A 190-hp MerCruiser SaladShooter. A dog with a collapsible tail. An office desk that converts into a Hovercraft. Chrome slacks. A lifetime subscription to Extreme Fidgeting. A third arm. A fourth wife. A smokeless Cuban Robusto. Reusable Kleenex.”
You know you need it!

Along those lines but even more ridiculous, here’s another example from a recent post on the blog Sociological Images (CNN Reports on High-Tech Blow-up Doll like it’s an iPad – NSFW!) about a robot sex doll profiled on CNN. The author of the post deconstructs CNN’s interview with the inventor of this product, adding her own interpretation.

“‘There’s a tremendous need for this kind of product,’ said [inventor,] Hines-Translation: Sex dolls are like food stamps and day care; their existence fulfills an important and tremendous need.¬† What?¬† You don’t have one?¬†¬† How do you live!?”
This man knows your needs

While the pasta claims may be over the top, my noodles did at least meet the need of filling my belly. If we recall Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we know that there is, well, a hierarchy of needs from survival to enlightenment. But the Escalade EXT and the robot doll challenge the fundamental notion of need altogether. Or at least over-dramatize it. Do these products (or 100 calorie Oreo snack packs or scoop-free automatic litter boxes or even iPhones) really exist because we need them? When marketers make such claims do they believe that people really do feel that they need these things? Or that they will if they hear them say it? When we, as researchers, use need statements at the front end of the development process, do we always believe them?

Maybe our introduction of (and insistence on) the need statement at the beginning of the process trickles down, and we’re all convincing each other that people really NEED the things we’re designing. Perhaps we could consider a different word to describe the “need” for objects and experiences such as massive gas-guzzling pick-up trucks and robotic sex dolls. “Want” works for me.

See also: Personas Leaking Outside the Enterprise

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ChittahChattah Quickies July 13th, 2009
  • Japanese robots not finding their market, recession and high prices blamed (but not fundamental mismatch between need and solution?) – Roborior by Tmsuk — a watermelon-shape house sitter on wheels that rolls around a home and uses infrared sensors to detect suspicious movement and a video camera to transmit images to absent residents — has struggled to find new users. A rental program was scrapped in April because of lack of interest. Though the company won’t release sale figures, it has sold less than a third of the goal, 3,000 units, it set when Roborior hit the market in 2005, analysts say. There are no plans to manufacture more.

    That is a shame, Mariko Ishikawa, a Tmsuk spokesman, says, because busy Japanese in the city could use the Roborior to keep an eye on aging parents in the countryside. “Roborior is just the kind of robot Japanese society needs in the future,” Ms. Ishikawa said.

    Sales of a Secom product, My Spoon, a robot with a swiveling, spoon-fitted arm that helps older or disabled people eat, have similarly stalled as caregivers balk at its $4,000 price.

  • Chris Anderson on the differences between scarcity thinking and abundance thinking – When scarce resources become abundant, smart people treat them differently, exploiting them rather than conserving them. It feels wrong, but done right it can change the world. The problem is that abundant resources, like computing power, are too often treated as scarce.
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Headlines from the future May 6th, 2007

The SF Chron channels Futurama (or else Teen People’s May 2027 edition) with this ridiculous Sunday feature.
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The entire paper is turning into a comic book; huge amounts of meaningless visual imagery, and lurid headlines. Robots, should we trust them?

As the Robot Defense League reminds us

Discrimination against Robots is the last socially sanctioned bigotry allowed in this world….Being a Robot is not a crime.

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