The recipient of nineteen honorary doctorates, and honors from three U.S. presidents, Ray Kurzweil's accolades are almost too many to list. A prolific inventor, Kurzweil created the first CCD flatbed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, and the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments. His book, The Singularity Is Near, was a New York Times best seller. and is considered one of the best books about futurism and transhumanism ever written. Mr. Kurzweil was hired by Google in December as Director of Engineering to "work on new projects involving machine learning and language processing." He has agreed to take a short break from creating and predicting the future in order to answer your questions. As usual, you're invited to ask as many questions as you'd like, but please divide them, one question per post.
jfruh writes "Last week the CEO ServiceNow made a minor splash by claiming that it was awfully easy for a cloud provider to spy on the data they stored for you or discriminate based on pricing. But while that's possible, in many cases it turns out to be simply not practical enough to be beneficial. Even moves like restoring outages for higher-paying customers first turn out to be more trouble than they're worth."
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MarkWhittington writes "With two private companies, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, proposing to set up asteroid mining, the prospect of accessing limitless wealth beyond the Earth has caused a bit of media speculation about what that could mean. The question arises, could asteroid resources be used to create the greatest dreams — and perhaps the worst nightmares — of science fiction?"
Iranian state TV is claiming that the country has successfully sent a monkey into space and back, bringing Iran one step closer to its goal of a manned space flight. According to the report, the rocket named Pishgam, or Pioneer in Farsi, reached a height of 120km. From the article: "Iran has long said it seeks to send an astronaut into space as part of its ambitious aerospace program, including plans for a new space center announced last year. In 2010, Iran said it launched an Explorer rocket into space carrying a mouse, a turtle and worms."
First time accepted submitter aNonnyMouseCowered writes "One of my favorite freeware Android applications has been pulled from the Google Play app store. While I found a replacement for the app, I've decided to install only apps that won't become obsolete merely because of the developer's whim or lack of interest. With the exception of games, which I don't deem essential for work, I don't want to install potential abandonware even if they cost the pauperly sum of $0.00. My decision has thus far meant installing a relatively crude text editor like BusyBox's version of vi, rather than any one of those full-blown mobile office suites. I've found a short list of open source Android apps at Wikipedia, including the usual suspects, Firefox and the VLC media player. There are also links to two other sites at the end of the article. But even the more comprehensive listings have large gaps in them even when compared 'merely' to the programs available in a typical GNU/Linux repository. So can anyone recommend useful or even just fun Free, Libre and Open Source Software for an Android smartphone or tablet? Free virtual beer to those that can find links for FLOSS programs for editing audiovisual media (Blender for Android?) and documents more sophisticated than HTML."
jones_supa writes "The Chinese government is discussing whether to lift its 12-year ban on game consoles which was established due to fear of harming the physical and mental development of the young. Even during this period consoles have been sold illegally and things like Kinect can be sold for other purposes such as medical treatment and education. Major game console vendors across the world made several attempts but failed to find a way to enter the Chinese mainland market officially, even though they have solid manufacturing bases there. 'We are reviewing the policy and have conducted some surveys and held discussions with other ministries on the possibility of opening up the game console market,' a source from the Ministry of Culture, who asked not to be named, said."
theodp writes "On Saturday, questions for MIT's Aaron Swartz investigation were posted on Slashdot with the hope that MIT'ers might repost some to the MIT Swartz Review site. So it's good to see that MIT's Hal Abelson, who is leading the analysis of MIT's involvement in the matter, is apparently open to this workaround to the ban on questions from outsiders. In fact, on Sunday Abelson himself reposted an interesting question posed by Boston College Law School Prof. Sharon Beckman: 'What, if anything, did MIT learn from its involvement in the federal prosecution of its student David LaMacchia back in 1994?' Not much, it would appear. LaMacchia, an apparent student of Abelson's whose defense team included Beckman, was indicted in 1994 and charged with the 'piracy of an estimated million dollars' in business and entertainment computer software after MIT gave LaMacchia up to the FBI. LaMacchia eventually walked from the charges, thanks to what became known as the LaMacchia Loophole, which lawmakers took pains to close. 'MIT collaborated with the FBI to wreck LaMacchia's life,' defense attorney Harvey Silverglate charged in 1995 after a judge dismissed the case. 'I hope that this case causes a lot of introspection on the part of MIT's administration. Unfortunately, I doubt it will.'"
jjp9999 writes "Recent findings published on Jan. 27 in the journal Nature Neuroscience may inspire you to get some proper sleep. Researchers at UC Berkeley found that REM sleep plays a key role in moving short term memories from the hippocampus (where short-term memories are stored) to the prefrontal cortex (where long-term memories are stored), and that degeneration of the frontal lobe as we grow older may play a key role in forgetfulness. 'What we have discovered is a dysfunctional pathway that helps explain the relationship between brain deterioration, sleep disruption and memory loss as we get older – and with that, a potentially new treatment avenue,' said UC Berkeley sleep researcher Matthew Walker."
Living in dense cities makes for certain efficiencies: being able to walk or take mass transit to work, living in buildings with (at least potentially) efficient HVAC systems, and more. That's why cities have been lauded in recent years for their (relatively) low environmental impact. But it seems at least one aspect of city life has an environmental effect felt at extreme distances from the cities themselves: waste heat. All those tightly packed sources of heat, from cars to banks of AC units, result in temperature changes not just directly (and locally) but by affecting weather systems surrounding the source city. From the article: "The released heat is changing temperatures in areas more than 1,000 miles away (1609 kilometers). It is warming parts of North America by about 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.6 degrees Celsius) and northern Asia by as much as 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius), while cooling areas of Europe by a similar amount, scientists report in the journal Nature Climate Change. The released heat (dubbed waste heat), it seems, is changing atmospheric circulation, including jet streams — powerful narrow currents of wind that blow from west to east and north to south in the upper atmosphere. This impact on regional temperatures may explain a climate puzzle of sorts: why some areas are having warmer winters than predicted by climate models, the researchers said. In turn, the results suggest this phenomenon should be accounted for in models forecasting global warming."
According to the Daily Yomiuri, "Japan launched two satellites on Jan. 27 to strengthen its surveillance capabilities, including keeping a closer eye on North Korea which has vowed to stage another nuclear test. One of them was a radar-equipped unit to complete a system of surveillance satellites that will allow Tokyo to monitor any place in the world at least once a day. The other was a demonstration satellite to collect data for research and development." The Defense News version of the story says "Japan developed a plan to use several satellites as one group to gather intelligence in the late 1990s as a response to a long-range missile launch by Pyongyang in 1998. The space agency has said the radar satellite would be used for information-gathering, including data following Japan’s 2011 quake and tsunami, but did not mention North Korea by name."
bargainsale writes with an account at Ars Technica of "the inspiring story of Newegg vs the patent troll. Perhaps the system does work after all." Newegg's lawyer Lee Cheng has some choice words for the business model employed by Soverain Software, the patent troll which tried, with some success, to exact money from online retailers for using online shopping carts. Newegg has prevailed, though, and Soverain's claims are toast. From Ars: "The ruling effectively shuts down dozens of the lawsuits Soverain filed last year against Nordstrom's, Macy's, Home Depot, Radioshack, Kohl's, and many others (see our chart on page 2). All of them did nothing more than provide shoppers with basic online checkout technology. Soverain used two patents, numbers 5,715,314 and 5,909,492, to claim ownership of the "shopping carts" commonly used in online stores. In some cases, it wielded a third patent, No. 7,272,639."
The TV show Glee may have borrowed Jonathan Coulton's arrangement of "Baby Got Back" without asking him first, but he's got a response of the kind that it'd be hard for the show's makers to criticize without looking churlish. Borrowing it back, and using it to raise money for charity. As CNET puts it, "Coulton has foxily tossed up on iTunes his own version of the song and titled it 'Baby Got Back (In the Style of Glee).' He terms it 'my cover of Glee's cover of my cover.'"
netbuzz writes "An iPhone case with a built-in cup holder? The designers were looking for $25,000 to make it on the crowdsourcing site Indiegogo. One look at the contraption should have been enough to convince anyone that the thing was a joke, or a publicity stunt, but a number of mainstream press outlets (LA Times, UPI) and bloggers took the bait with little or no realization that that they might be on the wrong end of the hook. Today the Dutch marketing firm behind the effort acknowledged that it was 'a joke.'"
theodp writes "That his 28-year-old whip-smart, well-educated CS grad friend could be unaware of MacWrite and MacPaint took Dave Winer by surprise. 'They don't, for some reason,' notes Winer, 'study these [types of seminal] products in computer science. They fall between the cracks of "serious" study of algorithms and data structures, and user interface and user experience (which still is not much-studied, but at least is starting). This is more the history of software. Much like the history of film, or the history of rock and roll.' So, Dave asks, what early software was influential and worthy of a Software Hall of Fame?"