Monthly Archives: November 2008

Turning to the web in times of woe

At least somebody is seeing their company grow in these recessionary times: membership of social networking sites is soaring as people look to make contacts for potential jobs elsewhere.

Traffic on the world’s top professional Web networks has surged since the financial crisis started to make headlines, with the top player, the privately held LinkedIn, notching 25 percent more registrations in September than forecast.

“Nobody has ever seen anything like this before,” said Kevin Eyres, head of LinkedIn’s operations in Europe. “Now we are growing by almost one new user each second.”

Membership on LinkedIn has jumped to more than 31 million from 18 million at the start of the year, growing fastest in the financial services, media, education and technology fields, Eyres said.

Links o' the day 27/11/08

This shot of wind tower in Jaipur is one of my favourite photos of recent times. And it certainly helps take one’s mind off the carnage that’s going on in Mumbai.

While on the subject of great photographs, here are ten of Hubble’s best before it gets decommissioned in 2010.

Say phooey to that digital alarm clock and get a pin one instead.

Although given its recent track record (read “Vista”), Microsoft has got a fair bit right.

Could newspapers have survived the web?

The credit crunch/economic meltdown has thrown up all sorts of new financial terms. Just to add one: apparently Nokia refers to “synergy-related headcount adjustments”, better known to you and me as redundancies.

Robot soldiers

It’s a maxim in journalism that when a headline is a question, the answer is usually no. And so you have to be concerned when you read “Can robots make ethical decisions in battle?”

That said, the scientist quoted knows his stuff.

“My research hypothesis is that intelligent robots can behave more ethically in the battlefield than humans currently can,” said Ronald Arkin, a computer scientist at Georgia Tech, who is designing software for battlefield robots under contract with the U.S. Army. “That’s the case I make.”

His research has a very solid background:

In a report to the army last year, Arkin described some of the potential benefits of autonomous fighting robots. For one thing, they can be designed without an instinct for self-preservation and, as a result, no tendency to lash out in fear. They can be built to show no anger or recklessness, Arkin wrote, and they can be made invulnerable to what he called “the psychological problem of ‘scenario fulfillment,”‘ which causes people to absorb new information more easily if it agrees with their pre-existing ideas.

Arkin’s report drew on a 2006 survey by the surgeon general of the army, which found that fewer than half of soldiers and marines serving in Iraq said that noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect, and 17 percent said all civilians should be treated as insurgents. More than one-third said torture was acceptable under some conditions, and fewer than half said they would report a colleague for unethical battlefield behavior.

Troops who were stressed, angry, anxious or mourning lost colleagues or who had handled the dead were more likely to say they had mistreated civilian noncombatants, the survey said. (The survey can be read by searching for 1117mhatreport at

Of course, the problem is that just because a robot can, in theory, make less judgemental decisions does not necessarily mean these are better. The human element, where the individual brings his or her experience and intuition to bear on a situation, is lost. I would raise the concern that an automated defence system could open fire when there is no need to, simply because it is programmed to take certain actions and cannot ‘read’ the circumstances.

Atkins is fully aware of these challenges, which is good because it means there is some action being taken to address them. Ultimately, a higher use of technology, which could potentially lead to fewer human casualties, can only be a good thing.

Links o' the day 25/11/08

Hypermiling might be the word of the year but I prefer topless meeting. Only it’s not what you think.

Fine Gael’s economic ‘plan’ dissected in far better fashion than I can muster.

Greenland goes to the referendum booth to seek greater self-rule powers.

Take that you spammy feckers.

If we could resurrect neanderthals by cloning, should we?

The town where no one is allowed to die.

Too hot to be habitable…

…but that doesn’t necessarily mean nothing lives there.

Carbon dioxide, a potential fingerprint of life, has been discovered for the first time in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting another star…  carbon dioxide is one of four chemicals that life can generate, so being able to detect it shows that astronomers have the ability to find the signs of life on other worlds.