> Tests show machines closing in on human abilities
> Scientists Grow Doll Out of Living Cells, Complex Organisms Next
> New Venezuelan Catfish Species Capable of Climbing
January 30, 2009
The New Scientist Magazine reported last week that the Turing test – a simple way to tell if a machine can think – shows that machines are closing in on human abilities, and can almost pass as one of us. And Gizmodo reported last week that researchers at the University of Tokyo have created a 5mm tall doll composed of living cells, in an experiment to create 3D living biological structures. Meanwhile, LiveScience reported last week that a previously unknown species of climbing catfish has been discovered in remote Venezuela, and its strange traits are shaking the evolutionary tree. Some pundits are debating the nature of life and consciousness, while others wonder whether silicon breasts are as good or better than the real ones.
“You are what you are but you can strive to be better if you want, and bigger boobs are always better, whether they’re real, imagined or silicon,” said Tom Headd-Bobb McGee, a weight lifter and part-time investment banker at several Wall Street firms currently in re-org. “Thinking cyborgs, Japanese-grown dolls and other life forms, even rock climbing fish are nothing compared to the crazy shit we’re going to see before the Obama administration is through. If I didn’t spend most of my time job hunting and checking out boob sizes I’d be nervous about the future. As it is, I just keep moving on and expect ‘change that somebody can believe in’ to keep coming at me. No point being afraid, just be ready to duck when you have to and hope for the best.”
Not everyone sees it the way Headd-Bobb does. “As human nature and animal evolution continue to advance into the realm of psycho-spiritual physical-ethereal dimensions and we become like gods and remake ourselves with human, plant, animal and mechanical components, we will reach the point where we will be all things at all times and none of them when we don’t want to be,” said Randi Anne-Browne, a new age philosopher and nymphomaniac, when she’s not flipping tofu burgers at the Green Galley Cafe and Head Bangers Lounge. “I mean, Barack Obama is closest to being all things and none of them, and often says and does conflicting things at the same time. He is the leading enlightened being on the planet so far, but he lacks physical cyber alteration that is really necessary for him to became a transcendent species capable of stepping beyond mere human and spiritual planes and into mechanical and Internet space and time. He’s close though. Really close. I can’t even understand the logic he’s using half the time and that proves it.”
New Scientist reported that it may have been dreamt up in 1950, but the Turing test – a simple way to tell if a machine can think – still holds powerful sway over many researchers striving to produce a machine at least in some respects equal with a human. The 2008 winner of the annual Turing test contest won using a brilliantly simple strategy that Turing didn’t even foresee. Elbot (elbot.com) convinced three of 12 humans it was just like them by acting like a human pretending to be a robot. The article said the line between reality and animation is blurring, and while there have been some significant milestones, bigger stuff is ahead. Robotic systems may soon have to make decisions over life and death.
At a conference last year legal and military experts suggested entrusting a Turing test with an altogether more serious job – determining whether or not military equipment may choose for itself when and where to fire. Debate at the Ethics of Autonomous Military Systems conference centered on whether a robot could yet commit a war crime. Ronald Arkin, of Georgia Institute of Technology, argues that machines will one day be able to make that judgment as well as a human can. One that does will have passed the military Turing test.
Gizmodo reported that researchers at the University of Tokyo created a 5mm tall doll composed of living cells, in an experiment to create 3D living biological structures. It’s cute and kinda gross at the same time. The experiment is supposed to help improve techniques to create bodily organs and tissues with complex cellular structures, which would be useful for regenerative medicine and drug development. Scientists created the little gingerbread-looking man by cultivating 100,000 0.1mm balls of collagen, each coated with dozens of skin cells and dropping them inside a doll-shaped mold for a day. The doll managed to survive in a culture solution for more than one day. Shoji Takeuchi, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science, said he’ll be trying to combine multiple types of cells next to create a complex system that could function as a living organism. Translated: “First we’re growing dolls. Next we’re going to grow PEOPLE.” Just kidding. I think.
LiveScience reported that a previously unknown species of climbing catfish has been discovered in remote Venezuela, and its strange traits are shaking the evolutionary tree for these fish. The newfound catfish, Lithogenes wahari, shares traits with two different families of fish – Loricariidae (armored catfishes) and Astroblepidae (climbing catfishes). It has bony armor that protects its head and tail, and a grasping pelvic fin that helps it to climb vertical surfaces such as rocks. “We see new fish species all the time, but when you also get new information about the biological history of a group, it’s the most fun,” Scott Schaefer of the American Museum of Natural History in New York said. “The question is whether the grasping pelvis and climbing behavior evolved once or if it was independently acquired in these groups. I don’t think it evolved twice, although there are slight anatomical differences – so the jury is still out.” The paper is published in the journal American Museum Novitates, and the research was supported by the Constantine S. Niarchos Scientific Expedition Fund and the National Science Foundation.
Some people say that Barack Obama isn’t really a new species at all, but is simply old style Chicago politics polished up for a new age.
“There’s nothing inherently different in Obama’s style of Chicago power politics, except that he personally breaks less bones while structuring a dominating political machine,” said Heather Rae Clevagemore, a natural blonde dental assistant and political analyst, with curves that don’t stop and an attitude to match. “Politicians are constantly redefining themselves, repackaging their message, rounding up support by making promises and then paying them off as they go along. That’s Barack’s deal on Guantanamo, on funding international abortion clinics, opening up the military for openly gay troops, all that stuff. Both Houses of Congress are Democrat and he’s got a full power majority. He’s trying to get a few Republicans to go along with him so he can call his pay-back non-partisan, but that’s same-old same-old. The difference is that he’s got an e-based army, the major media in his pocket, and George Soros money all behind him … plus a fearful public because of the economy, that’ll let him do anything he wants to as long as he keeps saying nice things to them. He won’t get down and dirty if he can knife people quietly along the way. It’s Chicago style the Barack 2.0 way.”
In other news, New Scientist reported last week that Charles Darwin was wrong about the tree of life. Darwin toyed with the concept of a “tree of life” to explain the evolutionary relationships between different species. It was to prove a fruitful idea: by the time he published On The Origin of Species 22 years later, Darwin’s spindly tree had grown into a mighty oak. For much of the past 150 years, biology has largely concerned itself with filling in the details of the tree. But today the project lies in tatters, torn to pieces by an onslaught of negative evidence. Many biologists now argue that the tree concept is obsolete and needs to be discarded. “We have no evidence at all that the tree of life is a reality,” says Eric Bapteste, an evolutionary biologist at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France.
So what happened? In a nutshell, DNA. The discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 opened up new vistas for evolutionary biology. The problems began in the early 1990s when it became possible to sequence actual bacterial and archaeal genes rather than just RNA. Everybody expected these DNA sequences to confirm the RNA tree, and sometimes they did but, crucially, sometimes they did not. As more and more genes were sequenced, it became clear that the patterns of relatedness could only be explained if bacteria and archaea were routinely swapping genetic material with other species – often across huge taxonomic distances – in a process called horizontal gene transfer (HGT). As it became clear that HGT was a major factor, biologists started to realise the implications for the tree concept. As early as 1993, some were proposing that for bacteria and archaea the tree of life was more like a web. No word on whether Obama 2.0 and his reliance on a web of e-connected backers will evolve into a second term, but Obama and his minions are on the case already, and like the leftist Senator who morphed into a centrist-looking President while continuing to do leftist things, Vegas is already betting he will likely climb the rocks better than a Venezuelan Catfish.
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Tests that show machines closing in on human abilities
Scientists Grow Doll Out of Living Cells, Complex Organisms Next
New Catfish Species Climbs Rocks
Why Darwin was wrong about the tree of life