Watson Wins Jeopardy Contest
Yes, it is all about natural language parsing, but I think the most interesting feat was actually the seeding of Watson's database. Millions of documents (books, wikipedia, scholarly articles) were "fed" into Watson which become it's knowledge base. So to me, it's not so impressive that Watson understand the questions, but is able to utilize human knowledge that is in a natural-language form.
I agree, it's not an attack on humanity. The PBS Nova episode about Watson explores the issues rather thoroughly, but the videos on IBM's site go into the technicalities a little better. The NOVA ep does do a good job of comparing Watson to competing AI programs out there, though.
I find it exciting that a Watson-like program will eventually be able to answer technical questions for people (like doctors) who don't have time to scan through the thousands of scholarly articles of latest research -- you know, applying Watson's capabilities to a realm that humans need help in.
How long will it be before IBM puts up an "ask Watson" web page, I wonder?
How Europe Will Lower Emissions — Self Driving Cars
The concept of road trains and super-smart-highways was presaged in John Varley's excellent 2004 novel Red Thunder. In the book, cars with higher optimal speeds (where aerodynamic drag and mileage gains of higher gear ratios cancel out) form faster trains, where inefficient vehicles are put in slower trains. The superhighways required cars to be equipped with the system to enter them, of course.
I concur with your projections, if only to add that social pressure not to waste fuel (by driving your SUV at 70mph rather than 50mph) will likely add the extra caveat of forcing one to drive at a reasonable speed.
And with all the automation of highways, we'll all get to our destinations faster, regardless.
Wii-mote In Action
September 28, 2008:
Responding to Nintendo's market dominance, due to the hugely popular "Wii-mote" control scheme, Sony executives unveiled the Bodyshokk (tm) controller for the PS3.
"The user will put on this controller like a jumpsuit," explained Sony executive Ken Kutaragi. "They will then be able to control the actions of on-screen characters through physical gestures."
The Bodyshokk (tm) resembles a neon-pink wetsuit and can be customized with a variety of attractive racing stripes. During the demonstration, Kutaragi played a demo of God of War 3, in which the main character fought off a dozen assailants. He danced around the stage, then clutched his chest and screamed in pain when an enemy character struck his onscreen avatar with a large glowing weapon.
"Muscular feedback electrodes are built right into the controller," said Kutaragi. "In this case, a hit on the chest is translated into a tazer-level shock through the wearer's nipples. Force-feedback and motion tracking is the wave of the future. People want to feel their games, not just play them." Kutaragi then jerked spasmodically, as his game character was assaulted by multiple enemies, before his assistants could pause the game.
Executives at Microsoft are just as optimistic about their upcoming UltraPrecision series of console peripherals. Recently demoed was a life-sized robot, nicknamed "The RealFoe", which resembled a crash-test dummy. Programmers then punched and kicked the robot, and on the screen behind them the robot's cowering actions were displayed, as well as bruises forming on the in-game avatar, which resembled a middle-aged blond woman.
"You don't get that kind of force-feedback from just a controller's vibration," said one of the demo-givers, who wished to remain anonymous. He then turned towards the robot and delivered a backhanded slap. "Git your ass off the floor and make me some breakfast!"
On the screen, the virtual woman shakily got up, synchronized to the robot's actions, and stumbled towards a virtual kitchen. The game being demoed was The Sims 3 - Domestic Drama. The robot even slouched its shoulders in the same way the character was animated.
"You see that realism? Some people might complain that [these new controllers] take too much physical exertion, but once you actually play the game, the immersion is incredible!"