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Artificial Retinas Can Balance a Pencil On Its End

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the for-all-your-pencil-balancing-needs dept.

News 165

mikejuk writes "A team of researchers has built a neural information system that is good enough and fast enough to balance a pencil in real time. If you think it's an easy task, try it! The Institute of Neuroinformatics, ETH / University Zurich have used what look like video cameras to do the job but in fact they are analog silicon retinas. They work so fast that even with fairly basic hardware they can balance a pencil."

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Orly? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34976222)

Ouch.

Re:Orly? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34976308)

Steve Jobs died today. Ain't war hell?

R.I.P.

Tag correction (1)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976570)

This is has nothing to do with AI. It's hardware. Balancing the pencil is basic control theory. You can do it with a regular video camera.

Re:Tag correction (1)

wmac (1107843) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977240)

Computer vision is considered a branch of AI. Besides there are many methods for control including continues feedback and control which is done by AI algorithms not the conventional control engineering methods.

Amazing (2)

spqr0a1 (1504087) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976234)

This is impressive bit of tech. Robotic vision has historically been a tough field.
Anyone knowledgeable enough on the subject to speculate on the implications or interesting uses of this technology?

Re:Amazing (-1, Troll)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976286)

Anyone knowledgeable enough on the subject to speculate on the implications or interesting uses of this technology?

First, read the article. It will work like this: pixel(s) report(s) a spike, gun platform rotates theta and phi and then fires on the pixel(s) which reported the spike. The Arab problem will be solved a piece at a time.

Samsung's automated sentry machine gun... (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976562)

... already does that: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5YftEAbmMQ [youtube.com]

We need to move beyond the irony of militarizing the tools of abundance from scarcity fears:
    http://www.pdfernhout.net/recognizing-irony-is-a-key-to-transcending-militarism.html [pdfernhout.net]

Re:Samsung's automated sentry machine gun... (0)

Thing 1 (178996) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977060)

Not to rain on your parade, but please quit parading your irony? I mean, by now it's slashvertising...

Re:Samsung's automated sentry machine gun... (1)

blue trane (110704) | more than 3 years ago | (#34978098)

I'm learning a lot from his posts.

Re:Amazing (or hoax)? (2)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977544)

At the end of the video, when the tech removes the pencil, it looks like he's pulling it up out of some sort of indent. If that "indent" was a rubber aperture, this might not be as impressive as it first looked. Was the pencil being "balanced" on end or with the first 1/4 inch inserted into something?

I would love for this to be as cool as it looks, so someone please explain where I'm making a mistake.

Re:Amazing (or hoax)? (0)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977986)

It's MIT, that gang of losers are going to try to justify their bloated tuitions and lack of real-world experience with, "But I graduated from MIT!"

MIT alumni sure can't teach for shit(my professor was one of them, he explained what should've been a 2-step physics problem in 10 steps, congrats brainiac, ever hear of the square root of two?), and the ones who were accepted at age 18 or 19 aren't going to be of any use to the world right off the bat, unless they continue to swim in their own little ponds of acadeima's comfort).

Re:Amazing (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976448)

I don't think this capability is new. There is a fairly old video of a robotic pogo stick bouncing around a lab somewhere. That must be more difficult to build. The descent engine of the Apollo LM used vectored thrust to damp out power used by the attitude control thrusters. I doubt there was much computing power behind it but it balanced the entire LM on top of one engine all the way to the surface. That was using mid-1960s technology.

Re:Amazing (3, Insightful)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976504)

That's not really the point, is it? None of those were accomplished using machine vision.

Re:Amazing (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976568)

But the tricky part of the machine vision problem seems to be the sensor design. Doing this with straightforward machine vision doesn't seem hard either. The background is static and the stick is moving. Plenty of industrial systems use vision to work out which direction a stick is pointing.

Re:Amazing (5, Interesting)

pitchpipe (708843) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976456)

This is impressive bit of tech.

This [vimeo.com] really impressed me! No artificial vision involved, but awesome nonetheless. Explanation [reddit.com]

Re:Amazing (1)

tom17 (659054) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976804)

Now THAT was cool.

Re:Amazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34977594)

The single inverted pendulum is a staple of any intermediate controls engineering course; it is also a simple Segway. The inverted double pendulum is a staple of any nonlinear controls engineering course.

But yes, it is cool.

Re:Amazing (2)

ian_from_brisbane (596121) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976984)

This [vimeo.com] really impressed me!

Warning! Mute speakers first... Then it's impressive.

YAY !! WE FINALLY HAVE DONE IT !! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34976248)

Now to perfect drinking beer from all our girlfriends' vaginas !!

impressive tech and (-1, Offtopic)

nopainogain (1091795) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976264)

unimpressive grammar.

Re:impressive tech and (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34976414)

I just love making AC posts with the word NIGGER!

Sho' is good!

Video Date: (5, Informative)

Shikaku (1129753) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976282)

September 26, 2008

Re:Video Date: (4, Funny)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976314)

Slashdot is like Playboy: you don't read it for the bits advertised on the front page, but for the large amounts of text in between.

(Also, both are trademarks comprised of two words where the space has been removed and people who capitalise the second word look hella uniformed.)

Re:Video Date: (2)

ari_j (90255) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976758)

I don't recall being issued any uniform.

Re:Video Date: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34977270)

Ah, slashdotters are all the same...

Re:Video Date: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34977272)

They wear uniforms in Playboy?

Re:Video Date: (1)

froggymana (1896008) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977586)

Well, nothing counts as a uniform, doesn't it?

Re:Video Date: (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977508)

No? Not even an armband?

Re:Video Date: (1)

foobsr (693224) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976822)

September 26, 2008

This only shows how STM has improved with respect to nerds.

CC.

Try it? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34976290)

That's impressive, but are my retinas really the limiting factor preventing me from balancing a pencil on its end? I'd think my coordination and reaction time may also play a role.

Re:Try it? (2)

Iskender (1040286) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976572)

I'm thinking the same thing - this is my attempt at frist post using only my retinas, and frankly it's not exactly looking like a success.

Re:Try it? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34976582)

Do not balance pencil on remaining retina :(

Re:Try it? (1)

zygotic mitosis (833691) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976834)

I enjoyed this post quite a lot. Kudos. Also, maybe you should find someone to drive you to the hospital

Re:Try it? (1)

no1nose (993082) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977460)

Do I take it out or leave it in?

Do I take it out or leave it in?

Do I take it out or leave it in?

http://bit.ly/ffcTRP [bit.ly]

To the person who told me before here on /. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976294)

... that balancing such an object requires the use of several fancy algorithms:

This is proof that, just exactly as I asserted, all you need is relatively simple feedback as long as it's fast enough.

Re:To the person who told me before here on /. (1)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976330)

It does require "fancy" algorithms. It's just that those algorithms are well known. See: inverted pendulums [wikipedia.org] .

Re:To the person who told me before here on /. (3, Informative)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976442)

Wrong. Read TFA, and if necessary read their paper, and try again. They used a relatively simple feedback mechanism and simple algebra, not Lagrange equations.

Re:To the person who told me before here on /. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976458)

Pardon me. If you want to be really precise, they used trigonometry, not just algebra. Even so, the equations are simple derivations of angular position.

Re:To the person who told me before here on /. (2)

jpmorgan (517966) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976790)

Well, it's all control theory [wikipedia.org] . If all you want to do is something stupid and trivial like balancing an inverted pendulum, then the math isn't too hard and the algorithm is comparatively simple. If you want to do anything more complex, then you have to start using more complex math.

It's not so hard to turn the 'inverted pendulum' into a more complex case where simple trigonometry and algebra doesn't work: mount your pendulum on a turntable.

Re:To the person who told me before here on /. (2)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977622)

But that's separate from the point I was making, which is that the inverted pendulum problem, without further complications, does not require advanced math to solve if your feedback/control loop is fast enough.

Re:To the person who told me before here on /. (3, Interesting)

by (1706743) (1706744) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976502)

If you have fast enough feedback, then the displacements (and hence, angles) involved in the equations of motion for the inverted pendulum are really small, and hence the transcendentals involved can probably be approximated by the small angle approximation -- and then the "algorithms" (solutions to the equations of motion) are pretty simple I think.

Also, I'm not sure that standing a pencil on end is the same thing as an inverted pendulum, because the bottom end isn't secured for the pencil (correct?). For an inverted pendulum, if you oscillate the base fast enough the pendulum will remain upright (see the wikipedia article you linked) -- so it's pretty trivial to stand a pencil on end in this fashion, I think (just attach it to something that oscillates -- a speaker will probably do).

Re:To the person who told me before here on /. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34976730)

... that balancing such an object requires the use of several fancy algorithms: This is proof that, just exactly as I asserted, all you need is relatively simple feedback as long as it's fast enough.

Step 1: Make assertion.
Step 2: Wait for somebody else to provide evidence.
Step 3: Gloat. Write posts saying HAH I TOLD YOU SO in so many words.

Next time you want to be believed, back up your assertions with actual evidence. Not only is that much faster, it's also a lot more likely to work! You'll stop feeling resentful when people don't just take your word for it, for you will have entered the adult world of being able to back up what you say. Expecting men to say "uh huh, yeah, wow that sounds great" to everything you say only works when they think they can get you in bed and only if you're not a fat-ass.

Re:To the person who told me before here on /. (4, Insightful)

pz (113803) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977590)

... that balancing such an object requires the use of several fancy algorithms:

This is proof that, just exactly as I asserted, all you need is relatively simple feedback as long as it's fast enough.

Yep, that was me. I guess I should go back to my MIT professors and let them all know that they're full of hooey. I've sure been shown up by Jane Q. Public!

Or, on the other hand, I could look at the video these fellows provided. Doing that, I might notice that the system is barely stable, very noisy, does not deal with perturbation very well, and accumulates error. I could then read the paper and see, under the section called "VI Control System" it explicitly states that they are using a PD system (proportional and derivative), as described in the system of two differential equations. Then I could read the sentence, "Our system normally balances an object for several minutes before losing it..." which would probably be because they don't have an I term to worry about accumulating error. Lack of an I term makes the system drift, and you can see in the video that it nearly hits the edge of the actuator workspace a few times. Striking the limit of motion would be a catastrophic change in actuator impedance and cause the pencil to be dropped. The fact that they had to include a D term means that there is more than just straight (linear) feedback. But, hey, I guess those MIT professors didn't actually know what they were talking about when they taught us 18.03 Differential Equations. Either that or Ms. Public can't read papers very well, and doesn't recognize a differential equation when she sees one.

Again, I'll state, Ms. Public, please stay away from designing any systems that are critical to support or protection of human life. You have now repeatedly demonstrated your incompetence to do so in a public forum.

Re:To the person who told me before here on /. (2)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977874)

Unless you qualify a PID control system as a relatively simple feedback system, particularly when applied to a linearized system (which is what appears to be the case -- extremely fast observation and actuation make it easier to make a small angle assumption). PID controllers are something you can learn in an undergrad control class. While a complete understanding of their behavior and the art of designing one for a given system can be very challenging, the concepts are straightforward. I'd consider a non-linear Lyapunov controller or something with a measure of optimality in it to be a 'complex' feedback algorithm.

And I learned all this at a lowly state school (Texas A&M to be precise). I'm happy that Ms. Public can understand the fundamentals of it.

If you think it's an easy task, try it! (2)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976296)

My friends and I used to do that back in middle school to pass the time. Not build artificial retinas; balance pencils on our fingers (on eraser or tip).

Re:If you think it's an easy task, try it! (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976320)

Yes, I have a bit of a problem with one of the linked articles' assertion that it is impossible for a human being. I know people who can do it reliably, and I have done it myself, albeit only for a short time.

Easy task (2)

Kanel (1105463) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976302)

Just to get one thing straight: A robot balancing a pencil is not a breakthrough. Similar tasks are standard textbook material, often implemented using fuzzy logic.

But the way they have done it may or may not be cool. Hard to tell.

Re:Easy task (2)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976332)

This is a standard class project at MIT, except that they use a broomstick, not a pencil. MIT also teaches that it takes fancy algorithms to properly do the job. The difference here is that they are using a pretty simple feedback mechanism, without fancy algorithms. It's just very fast.

Re:Easy task (2)

TerranFury (726743) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976812)

I totally agree that the control aspects of this aren't too hard, but I wanted to clarify a few things:

1 - The natural frequency of the pendulum goes up as 1/sqrt(length), so a pencil is more difficult than a broomstick.

2 - In the controls community, fuzzy logic would not be employed to do this. Rather, one would probably use an "energy-pumping" swingup controller to get the pendulum near the critical point, and then a local, linear (maybe with feedback linearization) controller to stabilize the critical point. I think that's more-or-less standard. And although some of the supporting theory can get pretty "fancy," none of the actual computations that happen in the controllers are.

If there's something impressive here, it's not in the controls, but maybe in the fast, relatively low-latency computer vision. Though, again, for comparison, professional motion capture systems run at 100+ Hz and have latencies under a few milliseconds (which is plenty for this task).

Or maybe it's just supposed to be cool that this uses a bio-inspired architecture that is different from more standard methods.

Re:Easy task (3, Informative)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977612)

That is precisely my point. To clarify my own statement a little: the last time I was discussing this topic here on /., someone (I don't remember who) was trying to tell me that it was not possible to do this with a relatively simple feedback mechanism, no matter how fast, and that in fact it was necessary to use Lagrange equations [wikipedia.org] as linked to there, or similar, to solve the problem.

My argument was that using advanced math was not necessary, as long as your feedback and control loop was fast enough. This experiment seems to bear out my side of the argument, since according to their paper they did not use anything beyond what might be considered middle-school math in their solution.

Re:Easy task (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34976416)

The setup seems to have two cameras at 90 degrees to each other which makes the task easier for the robot. Let's see the cameras put in roughly the same spacing as someone's eyes and see how well it works.

Yet another example of why humans are better. (0, Troll)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976312)

The robot expends lots of energy trying to balance the pencil on it's end, always adjusting, and never gets it quite right.

The human (me) turns the pencil on it's side, and balances it in the middle.

Call me back when you have a robot that's smart enough to actually solve the problem, and I'll be impressed.

Re:Yet another example of why humans are better. (2)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976348)

Considering that it's a completely different problem, it should be easy to impress you. How about a robot that you instruct to open the pantry, but it opens the bathroom door instead?

Re:Yet another example of why humans are better. (1)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976406)

Depends. Was the item I was looking for actually in the bathroom? I'm pretty sure the GP's point is that real robots, unlike their sci-fi brethren, can only follow exact orders. They cannot, as of yet, perform anything resembling problem solving or creative thought.

Re:Yet another example of why humans are better. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976470)

I understood what he meant. But what he meant is not quite what he wrote. I'm playing Devil's Advocate a bit here.

Re:Yet another example of why humans are better. (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976610)

I understood what he meant. But what he meant is not quite what he wrote. I'm playing Devil's Advocate a bit here.

Keep playing ... but doesn't the fact that you got what I meant, instead of "just" what I wrote, prove my point :-)

Re:Yet another example of why humans are better. (1)

similar_name (1164087) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976472)

They cannot, as of yet, perform anything resembling problem solving or creative thought.

The same could be said of most humans. :)

Re:Yet another example of why humans are better. (1)

pitchpipe (708843) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976540)

The robot expends lots of energy trying to balance the pencil on it's end, always adjusting, and never gets it quite right. The human (me) turns the pencil on it's side, and balances it in the middle. Call me back when you have a robot that's smart enough to actually solve the problem, and I'll be impressed.

Considering that it's a completely different problem, it should be easy to impress you. How about a robot that you instruct to open the pantry, but it opens the bathroom door instead?

How about a robot that when instructed to feed the human, eats the human. Would that be impressive?

I guess it'd have to have some awesome digestive tech. I'd be impressed, but only if it was my ex-wife.

Re:Yet another example of why humans are better. (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976632)

How about a robot that when instructed to feed the human, eats the human. Would that be impressive?

I guess it'd have to have some awesome digestive tech. I'd be impressed, but only if it was my ex-wife.

What you want is this: To Serve Man [wikipedia.org] .

He probably had the same feelings you do:

About this story, Knight wrote

"To Serve Man" was written in 1950, when I was living in Greenwich Village and my unhappy first marriage was breaking up. I wrote it in one afternoon, while my wife was out with another man.

Re:Yet another example of why humans are better. (1)

ericcantona (858624) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976386)

Unfortunately, you are completely wrong. The paradigm is in fact good. In particular, I think that you will find that you are equipped with a cerebellum [wikipedia.org] which runs your motor control through feedback provided through your eyes in the same way that this experiment works

Re:Yet another example of why humans are better. (0)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976398)

I think you make an excellent point. However, consider this point by John Taylor Gatto:
  http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/16a.htm [johntaylorgatto.com]
"I'll bring this down to earth. Try to see that an intricately subordinated industrial/commercial system has only limited use for hundreds of millions of self-reliant, resourceful readers and critical thinkers. In an egalitarian, entrepreneurially based economy of confederated families like the one the Amish have or the Mondragon folk in the Basque region of Spain, any number of self-reliant people can be accommodated usefully, but not in a concentrated command-type economy like our own. Where on earth would they fit? In a great fanfare of moral fervor some years back, the Ford Motor Company opened the world's most productive auto engine plant in Chihuahua, Mexico. It insisted on hiring employees with 50 percent more school training than the Mexican norm of six years, but as time passed Ford removed its requirements and began to hire school dropouts, training them quite well in four to twelve weeks. The hype that education is essential to robot-like work was quietly abandoned. Our economy has no adequate outlet of expression for its artists, dancers, poets, painters, farmers, filmmakers, wildcat business people, handcraft workers, whiskey makers, intellectuals, or a thousand other useful human enterprises--no outlet except corporate work or fringe slots on the periphery of things. Unless you do "creative" work the company way, you run afoul of a host of laws and regulations put on the books to control the dangerous products of imagination which can never be safely tolerated by a centralized command system."

See also my other comment to this story.
    http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1963016&cid=34976334 [slashdot.org]
   

Re:Yet another example of why humans are better. (1)

Kilrah_il (1692978) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976430)

Let's see you balance an egg on its head?

Hint [wikipedia.org]

Re:Yet another example of why humans are better. (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976666)

It's easy to balance a raw egg on it's end.

All you need is an egg, a packet of salt, and a straw.

  1. Open the packet of salt and pour the contents onto the table in a small pile.
  2. Place the egg on the pile of salt, reasonably vertical.
  3. Use the straw to blow away the salt.

Score: Humans 2, Robots 0.

If robots are so great, let's see them assemble a human. We can do it with just two bumpers and a connecting rod.

Re:Yet another example of why humans are better. (1)

keeboo (724305) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976828)

If robots are so great, let's see them assemble a human. We can do it with just two bumpers and a connecting rod.

Ok, Tom... Could you and Henry over there demonstrate this?

Re:Yet another example of why humans are better. (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977838)

Read my profile.

3D vision (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34976316)

Unless I'm mistaken, from looking at the picture the camera's "eyes" are placed orthogonally, instead of side by side like a human's. That's an advantage, since we know the machine then has real 3D position info, as opposed to a human's stereoscopic 3D vision. Try it yourself: when you balance a pencil, do you fail more often sideways or towards and away from yourself?

This is an impressive bit of controls engineering, but let's not compare apples to oranges: the machine is designed for this task, and the human is not. It's in a way impressive that humans are as good as we are at this task despite not having been constructed to do it.

Vision, check. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34976324)

...And the Japanese are doing wonders with robots walking and being creepy just-a-smidge-off-lifelike.

Now, someone figure out cyberbrains and thermoptic camo and we'll be set.

High-Speed Robot Hand Demonstrates Dexterity (4, Interesting)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976334)

Similar: http://www.hizook.com/blog/2009/08/03/high-speed-robot-hand-demonstrates-dexterity-and-skillful-manipulation [hizook.com]

It uses high speed visual servoing to dribble a ping-pong ball and to toss and catch a cell phone.

Ironcially, I am listening to President Obama's speech as I write this, and his advisors (and speech) seem clueless about the changing nature of economics given robotics and other automation, AI, better design, and voluntary social networks (even as I think he means well and it is good for the US that he his helping create some jobs by increasing some exports):
    http://www.earthtechling.com/2011/01/obama-visits-ge-wind-turbine-plant/ [earthtechling.com]
Pres. Obama can talk all he wants about "winning a global competition", but the average human worker anywhere is not going to win a competition with advanced robots... Humans need to learn to "cooperate", not "compete".

Economic solutions (my comments):
http://knol.google.com/k/paul-d-fernhout/beyond-a-jobless-recovery/38e2u3s23jer/2 [google.com]

From a comment I posted yesterday in relation to an (purported) demo of a cold fusion device:
http://www.journal-of-nuclear-physics.com/?p=360&cpage=6#comment-20270 [journal-of...hysics.com]

In brief, a combination of robotics (and other automation, all made possible by cheaper computing), better design (whether from cold fusion devices or thin-film solar panels), and voluntary social networks (especially with volunteers cooperating through the internet on free and open source digital public works), are decreasing the value of most paid human labor by the law of supply and demand. Cheaper energy will only accelerate this trend, since often you can substitute energy for labor and thought.

At the same time, demand for goods and services is limited for a variety of reasons. These reasons include some classical ones, like a cyclical credit crunch or a concentration of wealth (with that concentration aided by automation, intellectual monopolies, and the rich getting richer and buying up more and more resources like land for rent seeking). The reasons also including some heterodox alternative economics ones, like people moving up Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as they get a lot of "stuff" and move on to other pursuits than materialism (including spiritual aspirations, self-actualization, and social connections in communities), and as people embrace a growing environmental consciousness of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" to protect the biosphere.

In general, mainstream economists ignore these issues or have very unexamined beliefs about them. Imaginative innovation, like economist Julian Simon talks about in "The Ultimate Resource", makes possible many wonderful potentialities if we think them through. Please don't let your inventiveness or cold fusion get blamed for any issues caused by unimaginative scarcity-based economic models held onto with almost a religious fervor by so many (see "The Market as God" by theologian Harvey Cox in the Atlantic). Mainstream economist have long used such scarcity-based models to apologize for an overly hierarchical social order that we probably did not even need in the past -- search on "The Mythology of Wealth". Still, some degree of centralization can be a good thing; see Manuel De Landa on "meshworks and hierarchies", and how they keep turning into each other and how all real systems are mixtures of both. So, we need to think and experiment regarding ways to allow our 21st century society to function in a healthy way given all the 21st century technology people like yourself are busy creating in all sorts of areas.

A New York Times article called: "They Did Their Homework (800 Years of It)" talks about the inbredness in the mainstream economics profession and how it is based on endless mathematical extrapolation on extrapolation, in the absence of much connection to history or broader cultural issues. Of course, looking at history may only be a start, as economists also need to look to the future and what abundance and cheap (or even free) energy means in terms of producing divide-by-zero errors in all their elegant theoretical mathematical equations that assume demand for endless junk is infinite, and human labor will always be very valuable, and energy and material will always be very scarce.

In order to move past this problem with mainstream scarcity-based socioeconomic models, something made only more urgent by cheaper energy, our society needs to continue to develop in at least four interwoven areas:
* a gift economy (like Wikipedia, Debian GNU/Linux, or blogging on the internet, but also Freecycle and more volunteering of services),
* a basic income (social security and health care for all regardless of age),
* democratic resource-based planning (using taxes, subsidies, investments, and regulation to achieve mutually agreed-on social goals), and
* stronger local subsistence-oriented communities that can produce more of their own stuff (using organic gardens, solar panels and/or cold fusion devices, 3D printers, personal robotics, and so on).

There are some bad "make-work" alternatives also that could prop up the status quo for a time and are best avoided, like endless war, endless schooling, endless bureaucracy, endless sickness, and endless prisons. All of those just keep people busy in an addictive or destructive or mindless way to little good end and to little human happiness. Unfortunately, people turn all too quickly to those bad alternatives sometimes to deal with social problems related to abundance or uneven wealth distribution. I outline that in more depth in the knol. ...

Simple attempts to prop scarcity-based economics up in the presence of cheap energy or cheap computing, like requiring higher wages to respond to declining demand for human labor and more wage-lowering competition for less jobs, will only accelerate the replacement process for workers. Higher wage requirements would just be more incentive to automate, redesign, use more energy in place of human effort, and/or to push more work to volunteer social networks. Even before cheap energy, we have been already seeing the "death spiral" of current mainstream economic models that were based primarily on a link between the right to consume and the need to have a paying job. There may still remain some needed linkage between access to resources and labor for higher-than-typical consumption rates in some situations, even with a basic income, a gift economy, cheap energy, etc.., but there would no longer be such a problematical situation where some few people are financially obese and billions of others are financially starving (and often literally starving, since without money a market will not hear their needs).

But, while this issue of abundance is ignored by most mainstream economists, you can find all sorts of people writing similar things to what I have written, such as if you search on an essay "Robots, Jobs and our Assumptions" by Martin Ford, or if you search for a document from 1964 originally prepared for US President John Kennedy called "The Triple Revolution Memorandum". Marshall Brain has also written about this in his novel "Manna" (about the consequences of cheap flexible robotics) and in his "Robotic Nation" essays. Charles Fourier wrote about these themes around 1800 (and was where Marx took his better ideas from. :-) There are many more people talking about these issues, like at the Basic Income Earth Network, the New Economics Institute, the Venus Project, economist Richard Wolff's "Capitalism Hits the Fan" discussions, the Institute for New Economic Thinking that (the sadly late) Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa helped start, and so on.

I'm not saying they all agree, or that I agree with all they say, just that there are alternative perspectives to the mainstream economic models about the implications on technology and society.

Bucky Fuller's writings are another source of potential understanding about building a society that works for everyone (see his book "Utopia or Oblivion").

Re:High-Speed Robot Hand Demonstrates Dexterity (2)

nopainogain (1091795) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976362)

and wait for it.....here comes the juvenile "high speed hand usage" joke

Re:High-Speed Robot Hand Demonstrates Dexterity (3, Insightful)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976396)

Job automation has been a major concern for politicians and workers since the industrial revolution, with a noteworthy resurgence in manufacturing with the introduction of automobile-building robots. Humans can out-do machines when they're underpaid (see China) but the choice to invest in a machine and all of its highly-skilled repair labour comes in response to rising wages—and by the way, did you know you're grossly off-topic?

Re:High-Speed Robot Hand Demonstrates Dexterity (-1, Offtopic)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976532)

Even China is automating to cut costs: http://plasticsnews.com/china/english/headlines2.html?id=1278958338 [plasticsnews.com]
"In the wake of labor unrest, Chinese factories are adding automation to control rising labor costs. It was bound to happen. China, once considered one of the lowest-cost automotive producers because of its supply of cheap labor, is becoming another example of rising expectations as workers demand their share of the country's growing industrial prosperity."

It is the fiscal logic of mainstream capitalism in its final death spiral...

What's going to happen when a billion+ Chinese get a taste of prosperity and then lose their jobs to machine? Judging by the USA, not much... The unemployed will just suffer and die I guess... Is that the "hopeful" end to all this? Can't we hope for something better? There are other options for progressive change as I outlined, but here is a sci-fi story by Marshall Brain about two of them, suffer and die vs. a basic income as a right of citizenship:
    http://www.marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm [marshallbrain.com]

Also, people like to do a lot of jobs like raise good food, but our society and its economic model won't allow them (or at least makes it really hard) because the quality of the actual work experience itself is discounted:
    http://www.californiadreamseries.org/rfc.htm [california...series.org]
    http://www.hulu.com/ripe-for-change [hulu.com]

There was no net job growth in the USA for the entire last decade (despite rising population). That has never happened before in the USA. Yet, productivity in terms of the US GDP grew 40% (with the benefits almost entirely going to the business owners/investors). Why should that trend not continue? Mainstream economists, even liberal ones like Paul Krugman, seem pretty much oblivous to the implications. Offshoring is a huge red herring they are chasing...

Part of why mainstream economists don't have clue:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/04/business/economy/04econ.html?_r=1 [nytimes.com]
"But in the wake of the recent crisis, a few economists -- like Professors Reinhart and Rogoff, and other like-minded colleagues like Barry Eichengreen and Alan Taylor -- have been encouraging others in their field to look beyond hermetically sealed theoretical models and into the historical record. "There is so much inbredness in this profession," says Ms. Reinhart. "They all read the same sources. They all use the same data sets. They all talk to the same people. There is endless extrapolation on extrapolation on extrapolation, and for years that is what has been rewarded." "

Re:High-Speed Robot Hand Demonstrates Dexterity (2)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977808)

I wrote: "Even China is automating to cut costs: http://plasticsnews.com/china/english/headlines2.html?id=1278958338 [plasticsnews.com]
"In the wake of labor unrest, Chinese factories are adding automation to control rising labor costs. It was bound to happen. China, once considered one of the lowest-cost automotive producers because of its supply of cheap labor, is becoming another example of rising expectations as workers demand their share of the country's growing industrial prosperity." It is the fiscal logic of mainstream capitalism in its final death spiral... There was no net job growth in the USA for the entire last decade (despite rising population). That has never happened before in the USA. Yet, productivity in terms of the US GDP grew 40% (with the benefits almost entirely going to the business owners/investors). Why should that trend not continue? Mainstream economists, even liberal ones like Paul Krugman, seem pretty much oblivous to the implications. Offshoring is a huge red herring they are chasing..."

Regardless of what Samantha said, why would someone mod this offtopic? People are creating an artificial retina, and it is offtopic to talk about the consequences of automation? Who gets mod points these days? :-)

Looks familiar... (1)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976370)

Don't they already do this sort of thing using broomsticks and artificial neural networks? Its basically the same thing isn't it?

Re:Looks familiar... (2)

Ksevio (865461) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977212)

As TFA mentions, the larger the object, the slower the reaction time is needed.

So balancing a pencil is more impressive than a broomstick because it requires quicker reactions.

But... (4, Funny)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976390)

Can those fancy algorithms make a pencil disappear?

Re:But... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34976520)

Can those fancy algorithms make a pencil disappear?

Yo mama can do that with her vagina, no fancy algorithms needed.

Re:But... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34976628)

As class as the "yo mama" jokes are, I think you just earned yourself a big ol' WOOOOOOOOOOSH!

Just barely under control (2)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976422)

It never seems to be able to damp down the movement. It should be able to reduce amplitude to less then a centimetre or so.

Re:Just barely under control (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34977606)

That was my first thought too, but then I guess the inverted pendulum part was probably just an afterthought to demo their vision system. Probably just a matter of better servos/algorithms.

Don't try this at home! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34976438)

If you think it's an easy task, try it!

Balance a pencil on my retina? I'd rather let the robots win.

He should lot the pencil DROP after killing the po (1)

WolphFang (1077109) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976452)

a) He should lot the pencil DROP after killing the power. b) Why is he holding the pencil from a top push down position ?

Re:He should lot the pencil DROP after killing the (1)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976764)

a) He should lot the pencil DROP after killing the power.
b) Why is he holding the pencil from a top push down position ?

Yeah, that kind of bugged me - especially when he removed the pencil at the end. It almost looked like the pencil point was embedded in a bit of rubber.

I realize that wouldn't be enough to completely keep the pencil upright on its own during the test, but it would certainly make it significantly easier for the algorithm to be successful.

Re:He should lot the pencil DROP after killing the (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977620)

Yeah, that kind of bugged me - especially when he removed the pencil at the end. It almost looked like the pencil point was embedded in a bit of rubber.

Yeah, they didn't fool you with those fake moon landing vids, they're not gonna fool you this time either, right? :p

It is easy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34976480)

This is silly. It is very easy to do.

Next step ? (1)

cdp0 (1979036) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976486)

Although I realize it's a long way, hopefully this can and will develop into artificial retinas for people. There are many eye diseases affecting the retina and leading to blindness. Giving people vision back would be really impressive.

biomimetic for purely philosophical reasons (5, Informative)

drewm1980 (902779) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976516)

I have seen this demo in person and chatted at length with its creator. It uses a custom sensor chip that does some analog temporal filtering and thresholding of light intensity at each pixel, sending events when the threshold is crossed. The intent of the authors seems to be to mimic the human visual system in silicon, even if it makes no engineering sense whatsoever. The demo was extremely sensitive to fluorescent lighting; the author had to run out and buy an incandescent desk lamp to get it to work at all. The event-based image representation makes it incompatible with everything that has been learned in computer vision over the last decade.

Re:biomimetic for purely philosophical reasons (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34976584)

In case anyone misinterprets your comment.. The fact that it is incompatible with the last decade of computer vision doesn't make it wrong, nor does it make the previous decade of research in computer vision wrong. As you wrote, different philosophies behind the solutions.

Re:biomimetic for purely philosophical reasons (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34976794)

....does some analog temporal filtering...

You should have written for Star Trek.

"Cappann, I can rewire the phase inducers to handle the analog temporal filtering, but it'll take all she's got!"

Re:biomimetic for purely philosophical reasons (0)

lennier (44736) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977002)

Cappann, I can rewire the phase inducers to handle the analog temporal filtering, but it'll take all she's got!"

Nice work Scotty, now can you give me a three mil Gaussian blur and boost contrast in the midtones by about 30 percent?

Re:biomimetic for purely philosophical reasons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34977682)

Analog temporal filtering? Star Trek? That's kinda like a mathematician saying he used the quadratic equation. I'm not gonna get on a rant here, but there's just not really a simpler way to say it.

Re:biomimetic for purely philosophical reasons (2)

hardtofindanick (1105361) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977178)

> The event-based image representation makes it incompatible with everything that has been learned in computer vision over the last decade

I think you are grossly exaggerating. The so called "events" are simply difference images, and they have long been used for representation of motion where accurate representation is not needed and computational power is scarce.

Re:biomimetic for purely philosophical reasons (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34977902)

> The intent of the authors seems to be to mimic the human visual system in silicon, even if it makes no engineering sense whatsoever.

Much like the bumblebee flying ;) until recently, that is :P

>The demo was extremely sensitive to fluorescent lighting; the author had to run out and buy an incandescent desk lamp to get it to work at all.

schottky debouncers (i.e. mimicking the refractory period of nerves) ;) will fix the flicker problem ;)

>The event-based image representation makes it incompatible with everything that has been learned in computer vision over the last decade.

You should look at asynchronous logic ;) blazing fast when you don't have to synchronize to a clock ;)

'biologically inspired' (1)

blue trane (110704) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976742)

but the eyes are at right angles to each other and so far apart :)

Ow! (1, Funny)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976744)

I tried balancing a pencil on my eyeball, and now I need a new retina. Perhaps these guys can sell me one...

Re:Ow! (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977194)

Obviously this is why they tested that they can balance things on their retina.

Is this new? (1)

mapuche (41699) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976948)

>If you think it's an easy task, try it!

Well, we did this in AI/Dynamic Systems class more than a decade ago. It was heavy stuff then, not sure nowadays..

#betterthanapokeintheeyewithabluntstick (3, Funny)

lennier (44736) | more than 3 years ago | (#34976972)

Stop playing with that pencil. It's all fun and games until someone loses a silicon retina.

Constants (1)

Smirker (695167) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977368)

I wonder if the constants are optimally tuned?

Wiki site (0)

ew5engineer (1979136) | more than 3 years ago | (#34977456)

This is an invitation to all to check out www.merlinslibrary.com, a wiki site where you can upload all your favorite links to help each other find good sites. All you need to do is just find the appropriate topic or create a new article and upload the link. It's that easy! So check out www.merlinslibrary.com

Impressive, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34977936)

It's cool that this is using artificial retinas instead of cameras, but I still don't think it is a good show of what the retinas can do. When we think of any kind of artificial biological part, it is really only good if it is used in a way that it would be if it were a real biological part. In this case we have two artificial retinas, but the way in which they are positioned relative to each other is not representative of what you would have in a real biological scenario. My eyes are 2 inches apart from each other and they see in stereo. These two retinas also see in stereo, but they have 90 degrees of separation and that would make it much easier to balance a pencil. I would very much like to see this same exercise done if the retinas were two inches apart from each other - just like my eyes. After all, what is really the point of all of this if it doesn't demonstrate how effective the artificial parts are at replacing real biological parts?
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