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Nov 032009


There are those who would say that Technology is responsible for these eyesores (the electrical pylons!) crawling across the countryside. They would be wrong. Technology presents a number of solutions (overhead pylons, underground cables, etc.) for distributing electricity and the bean counters decide that the most elegant and least ugly solution (underground cables) is too expensive.

Nov 032009

You know I was going to jump up and down shouting I told you so … except I cannot find the post from ages ago where I pointed out that this might be a problem (extra points to anyone who finds the link!). The BBC has just had a story about the dangers to visually impaired people from “quiet cars” – hybrids and electric vehicles. Actually of course it is just about everyone who finds it helpful to hear cars coming – indeed I will listen to my iPod on “mono” in certain situations to ensure I get an early warning from the noise of approaching vehicles.

Whilst loud vehicles are an enormous pain and I certainly would not want to encourage their use. The person who invented car stereos loud enough to cause nearby buildings to shake – and yes they can get that loud – needs to be tied down and forced to listen to my choice of music for a few weeks. So called silent cars do also cause problems; in fact a certain amount of noise results from the tyres running along the road. We are used to relying on sound to assist us in locating moving vehicles; in some cases it is the only sense we can rely on.

Apparently Lotus engineers have come up with a nifty system that generates noise that varies according to the amount acceleration the driver is applying. Sorry guys, you’ve been sniffing petrol fumes too much. Whilst the driver may be impressed by the feedback he (or she) gets when they press the acceleration pedal, the rest of us are more interested in the speed of the vehicle. Sound effects for the driver are all very well (when played inside the car) but rather out of scope for this discussion.

It would not be difficult to make hybrid and electric cars generate a noise when they are moving nearly silently. And the most sensible thing to do is to standardise the noise generation before we end up with a confusing variety of different sounds and volumes. The simplest is to have a tone generated when a vehicle is moving that starts low in pitch at low speeds and rises in pitch as the speed increases. Think old-fashioned milk floats.

Oct 312009

Just been watching a certain episode of Battlestar Galactica involving the attempted rape of a prisoner. A machine prisoner – a “toaster”, so that’s alright isn’t it ?

Well perhaps not.

Considering the morality of a bunch of mythical rapists in a TV programme set in a mythical universe with technology that is impossible at our current understanding of science is kind of kinky, but it does cover something that we will have to consider sooner or later. Quite possibly sooner than we think.

Are people making robotic sex toys ? Quite possibly. How “intelligent” are these possible robots? Not intelligent at all according to the current state of the art. But if machine intelligence is possible (in the future), will someone ever make an intelligent sex toy ? Almost certainly.


At what point do we start to consider whether it is right to use an intelligent sex toy that has decided it doesn’t want to ? Before it is possible, or after it has happened ? I would say we need to consider such things now before they happen.

To me it is perfectly plain that anything that is sufficiently intelligent to understand what is happening and to express a wish that it not take place, is entitled to have their wishes respected. Or to put it another way, anyone who is capable of ‘raping’ a machine is not the kind of person many would feel safe around.

We are used to the idea that we need to respect the rights of other humans and that anyone that does not is sick in some way. But are those rights given because the subject is human or because they are sapient (by which I mean intelligent to the level of humans) ? Not an easy question to answer because almost by definition, the terms are current interchangeable. But that may not always be the case.

At present, either an intelligent machine or an intelligent alien presumably has no rights on this planet – it is perfectly legal to rob, kill, or rape them. This is analogous to the situation in the past where some people were under the impression that some segments of the human race were less deserving of rights than others. Whilst denying non-human sapients rights is not racist, it still feels wrong.

Of course such an entity would have to respect our rights in addition to us respecting their rights. Perhaps that should be the condition of full sapient rights – the ability to respect the rights of others.

I say full sapient rights because there are another category of rights that we need to consider and be aware of – sentient rights. For more information on this, see the very worthwhile Great Ape Project.

Sep 042009

If you are as old as I am, you will recall that batteries have always had problems – a small percentage “deteriorate” and overheat. Although this applies to any batteries, I am thinking mostly of the kind that are found in laptops, media players, phones and the like – not the old cylinder ones used in torches.

In the past, batteries did not contain as much power as they do now – it is something that is gradually increasing over time, and of course we want more power in our batteries so that our gadgets run for longer. Or do we ?

In the past battery problems would do things like melt the case of a mobile phone, but now we hear of laptops bursting into flames, and media players exploding. Seems that the effects of a problem are getting worse at the same time that batteries are holding more power.

Of course this makes sense – the more powerful the battery, the more powerful the effect when it “lets go”. So what happens when batteries become yet more powerful ? What happens when such a battery fault occurs in a large electric vehicle ?

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