Sometimes it seems like our relationships with our phones, tablets, and other devices are much easier than those we have with other meatbag humans and pets. Communication is often easier, and the mountain of data we share can enable our gadgets to know us more intimately than just about anyone else.
So it’s easy to understand why super-smart futurists like Ray Kurzweil — he of “the singularity,” computer-aided immortality, and Google engineering fame — think that we could soon be interacting with our devices on an emotional level, much like in the Oscar-nominated film “Her” about a man in love with a Siri-like operating system.
“Computers will be at human levels, such as you can have a human relationship with them, 15 years from now,” Kurzweil said last week at the Exponential Finance conference, where he also described “Her” as a realistic depiction of how software will be able to be funny, romantic, loving, and even sexy.
I love Kurzweil and his techno-optimism, but I worry when engineers begin trying to break amorphous adjectives down to binary code.
No matter how powerful our computing ability, no matter how much data we gather, software is designed by humans — woefully flawed and inadequate folks like you and me who will stumble and stutter for several seconds if you ask them to define concepts like “funny,” “romantic,” and “sexy” before likely uttering a stream of equally vague and unquantifiable synonyms.
The meanings of these words, let alone the experiences that humanity kind of roughly agrees that they represent, is subject to insanely broad variation. Ask all 7 billion-plus humans to write an essay on what love is and you undoubtedly will get no identical responses. A software engineer might be able to harness this data to identify common themes in our understanding of love and other emotions that a machine could understand, but this would inevitably water down whatever artificial emotional intelligence could be created from it.
We’d end up with irritating and needy phones that think they’re in love with us because they understand love on the level that a child understands it as a warm, fuzzy feeling it gets from the sense of attachment and security provided by family or a particular teddy bear — “Yes, Siri, thank you for writing ‘I love you’ in fractals again. That’s great, honey, I love you too. Now please tell me how to get around this effing traffic jam!”
There’s a crazy paradox in the quest for artificial emotional intelligence (AEI) that Kurzweil and fictional works like “Her” tout. We, as humans, don’t yet understand our own emotions enough to synthesize them digitally. And if we reached that enlightened moment where we truly got them, we probably wouldn’t need or desire computers to replicate them. I mean, whenever I’ve had an awesome block of sharp Wisconsin cheddar in my fridge, I’ve never pushed it aside in favor of a slice of Velveeta.
And let’s not forget the dark side of AEI that Kurzweil fails to mention, but that others like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking seem to ponder. If computers can be programmed to love and feel, doesn’t the ability to manipulate and tear out your heart come right along with that? “Her” doesn’t have the happiest ending after all.
While I’m very near to in love with my devices, they are still tools, and the ultimate goal in using them is almost always improving and enriching interactions with other humans. Maybe our species has a tragic inferiority complex, but I think I prefer the company of other clueless meatbags. At least we know what we don’t know. With software it’s always true or false, on or off, one or zero; but the beauty and poetry of life and the human experience isn’t binary, rather it’s in the undefined.
Actually, maybe that’s the key to cracking the code for true AEI: Love=NULL. Try running that and see what you get.
Being responsible for your work is certainly the foundation of establishing a sterling career reputation. Co-workers and supervisors need individuals to be reliable, trustworthy, and competent. But being responsible for your work is vastly different than being responsible for THE work.
Supervising, directing, managing — being the boss — can be a heady and wonderful thing. It is fraught with conflict, chaos, and competitiveness. But it is very rewarding if you can weave efficiency, effectiveness, productivity, profit, and work team advancement into a blended resuilt.
And there is the rub. Are you ‘taking’ responsibility — and potentially credit, for the work being done by your team? Can your ego and personality share, or even surrender, the majority of the work responsibility and recognition?
Giving responsibility and the kudos that come with success is essential to the co-work team environments of the 21st Century. One of the biggest challenges in contemporary organizations are egotistical ladderclimbers who cannot bear to share credit, and micro-managers who fail to relinquish the most modest of tasks or duties.
Certainly, everyone must take responsibility for their own work. But the wise and strong supervisor gives responsibility so that there is a shared effect — building confidence, providing diversified insights, offering greater collective experience and knowledge, and preparing team mates for even greater roles in the future.
Douglas Arnold, The Ingenuity Guru, is a writer, workshop leader, and speaker on ingenuity, imagination, and creativity. His upcoming book “Ingenuity!” focuses on sparking greater innovation in the workplace and community. His weekly podcast “Ingenuity180” airs here on this blog every Thursday, You are invited to follow his blog and on Twitter @DouglasArnold
This story originally appeared on Mother Nature Network.
It’s fairly obvious to most of us that solar panels aren’t a great investment on a shady roof. Yet even in near-ideal solar locations, partial shade from clouds, tree limbs or dust and debris is pretty much inevitable. And that shade can have a big impact, reducing a solar array’s output by as much as 30 percent over the course of a year. Now a group of students has developed a novel solution for this issue — and they’ve been awarded more than $225,000 in prize money to help get their technology to market. What’s the problem? Many people don’t realize that it’s not just the shaded spot on a solar panel that loses output. Because solar arrays are usually divided into “strings” of panels, shade falling on one part of a string can impact the output for that entire string. Here’s how Australian solar company Solar Choice explains the impact:
You can think of a string of panels as something like a piece of pipe, and the solar power is like water flowing through that pipe. In conventional solar panel strings, shade is something that blocks that flow. If, for example, shade from a tree or a chimney is cast on even one of the panels in the string, the output of the entire string will be reduced to virtually zero for as long as the shadow sits there. If there is a separate, unshaded string, however, this string will continue to produce power as per usual.
There are already options out there for dealing with this issue. Many inverters now come with Maximum Power Point Tracking, a capability which basically takes whatever electricity is coming out of one string — even if that string is partially shaded — and adds it to a more powerful string to average output. More output at lower costs The team, which includes students from MIT, the California Institute of Technology, and Stanford University, is calling itself United Solar. Touting the catchphrase “shade happens,” their technology was developed using a different approach to optimizing output. Instead of trying to balance output at the panel level, the students looked to balance at the individual cell level. The result was both better performance and considerably lower cost. Here’s how MIT News explains the development:
The idea is that providing power balance for individual PV cells — instead of for an entire panel — allows for finer tuning of power optimization. “When you’re at the cell level, the improvement in energy capture under partial shading is basically two times better compared to panel level solutions,” Chang said. [Arthur Chang is an MIT PhD student in electrical engineering and computer science.] By using intrinsic parasitic components, specifically “diffusion capacitances” — unwanted electrical charges between two components — Chang was able to eliminate the need for external energy storage and integrate all other necessary components for power balance onto a single chip that can be manufactured at high volume and low cost.
It seems a lot of people are excited about this innovation, with United Solar taking home both grand prizes — the DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clean Energy Prize ($100,000) and the NSTAR MIT Clean Energy Prize ($125,000) — at the seventh annual MIT Clean Energy Prize competition. Having already built a successful prototype, the plan now is to complete lab testing in 2015 and start piloting the technology in outdoor solar arrays.
We regret that our debut video has been rescheduled for next Thursday, June 26. Unavoidable technical problems created difficulties that will take a few days to resolve.
Harnessing the enormous technological potential of high-temperature superconductors – which could be used in lossless electrical grids, next-generation supercomputers and levitating trains – could be much more straightforward in future, as the origin of superconductivity in these materials has finally been identified.
Superconductors, materials which can carry electric current with zero resistance, could be used in a huge range of applications, but a lack of understanding about where their properties originate from has meant that the process of identifying new materials has been rather haphazard.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge have found that ripples of electrons, known as charge density waves or charge order, create twisted ‘pockets’ of electrons in these materials, from which superconductivity emerges. The results are published in the June 15th issue of the journal Nature.
Low-temperature, or conventional, superconductors were first identified in the early 20th century, but they need to be cooled close to absolute zero (zero degrees on the Kelvin scale, or -273 degrees Celsius) before they start to display superconductivity. So-called high-temperature superconductors however, can display the same properties at temperatures up to 138 Kelvin (-135 degrees Celsius), making them much more suitable for practical applications.
Since they were first identified in the mid-1980s, the process of discovering new high-temperature superconductors could be best described as random. While researchers have identified the ingredients that make for a good low-temperature superconductor, high-temperature superconductors have been more reluctant to give up their secrets.
In a superconductor, as in any electronic device, current is carried via the charge on an electron. What is different about superconductors is that the electrons travel in tightly bound pairs. When travelling on their own, electrons tend to bump into each other, resulting in a loss of energy. But when paired up, the electrons move smoothly through a superconductor’s structure, which is why superconductors can carry current with no resistance. As long as the temperature is kept sufficiently low, the electron pairs will keep moving through the superconductor indefinitely.
Key to conventional superconductors are the interactions of electrons with the lattice structure of the material. These interactions generate a type of ‘glue’ which holds the electrons together. The strength of the glue is directly related to the strength of the superconductor, and when the superconductor is exposed to an increase in temperature or magnetic field strength, the glue is weakened, the electron pairs break apart and superconductivity is lost.
“One of the problems with high-temperature superconductors is that we don’t know how to find new ones, because we don’t actually know what the ingredients are that are responsible for creating high-temperature superconductivity in the first place,” said Dr Suchitra Sebastian of the Cavendish Laboratory, lead author of the paper. “We know there’s some sort of glue which causes the electrons to pair up, but we don’t know what that glue is.”
In order to decode what makes high-temperature superconductors tick, the researchers worked backwards: by determining what properties the materials have in their normal, non-superconducting state, they might be able to figure out what was causing superconductivity.
“We’re trying to understand what sorts of interactions were happening in the material before the electrons paired up, because one of those interactions must be responsible for creating the glue,” said Dr Sebastian. “Once the electrons are already paired up, it’s hard to know what made them pair up. But if we can break the pairs apart, then we can see what the electrons are doing and hopefully understand where the superconductivity came from.”
Superconductivity tends to override other properties. For example, if in its normal state a superconductor was a magnet, suppressing that magnetism has been found to result in superconductivity. “So by determining the normal state of a superconductor, it would make the process of identifying new ones much less random, as we’d know what sorts of materials to be looking for in the first place,” said Dr Sebastian.
Working with extremely strong magnetic fields, the researchers were able to kill the superconducting effect in cuprates – thin sheets of copper and oxygen separated by more complex types of atoms.
Previous attempts to determine the origins of superconductivity by determining the normal state have used temperature instead of magnetic field to break the electron pairs apart, which has led to inconclusive results.
As cuprates are such good superconductors, it took the strongest magnetic fields in the world – 100 Tesla, or roughly one million times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field – in order to suppress their superconducting properties.
These experiments were finally able to solve the mystery surrounding the origin of pockets of electrons in the normal state that pair to create superconductivity. It was previously widely held that electron pockets were located in the region of strongest superconductivity. Instead, the present experiments using strong magnetic fields revealed a peculiar undulating twisted pocket geometry -similar to Jenga bricks where each layer goes in a different direction to the one above or beneath it.
These results pinpointed the pocket locations to be where superconductivity is weakest, and their origin to be ripples of electrons known as charge density waves, or charge order. It is this normal state that is overridden to yield superconductivity in the family of cuprate superconductors studied.
“By identifying other materials which have similar properties, hopefully it will help us find new superconductors at higher and higher temperatures, even perhaps materials which are superconductors at room temperature, which would open up a huge range of applications,” said Dr Sebastian.
This week’s book report is on a classic that was originally published in 1940. Too old school for you, creative hipster? Well, it has occupied shelf space on most advertising, PR, and scientific researchers for more than 70 years — because it is a terrific reference that educates and enthuses the truly creative and does so in an amazing 28 pages.
James Webb Young penned A TECHNIQUE FOR PRODUCING IDEAS back in the day when German tanks were rolling on Poland and the second Roosevelt was in the White House.
It was written to assist young copywriters and creative directors at fledgling ad agencies to improve their conceptualization of selling American products. In the foreword, William Bernbach, former chair of the international acclaimed ad giant, Doyle Dane Bernbach, said “Young writes about the creative spark, the ideas, which bring spirit and life to an advertisement. Nothing is more important to the practice of our craft.”
The book offers a simple, five-step formula to increase individual and group creativity at the office or at home. The formula is well thought out, insightful and intuitive. Young, at first, offers the obvious, but, not unlike practicing baseball — you must drill on the basics to master the finesse of the game.
You catch the ball. You throw the ball. You hit the ball.
It sounds so damn simple, yet only a few hundred people on the planet can make a living doing it.
Young’s book should be a mandatory read for every 13 year old student. It stimulates finding creative solutions in life, in labor, and in love.
Forego that reality show tonight. You can slip through this book in about an hour. Then pass it along to a colleague or niece or neighbor.
Let’s make the world a little more creative.
Douglas Arnold, The Ingenuity Guru, is a writer, workshop leader, and speaker on ingenuity, imagination, and creativity. His upcoming book “Ingenuity!” focuses on sparking greater innovation in the workplace and community. His weekly video “Ingenuity180” airs right here on his blog every Thursday, You are invited to follow his blog here and on Twitter @DouglasArnold