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7 Super Advanced Robots That May Take Over the World

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A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First and Second Laws.

Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics are sounding more and more like reality as we move closer to the eventual rise of the machines.

They’re already taking our jobs—and our companions. And as neural networks become more advanced, learning to think and speak for themselves, we may as well accept our fate as mortal slaves.

Study this list of the seven bots most likely to mutiny. And may the odds be ever in your favor.

Pepper

Is that friendly face hiding something more nefarious? (via Softbank)

When I envision the impending robot revolution, it’s not Pepper I see on the front line.

No, Softbank’s sleek android will most certainly be behind the scenes, barking out orders in its charmingly automated voice and sensing the utter despair of its human adversaries.

Powered by a custom operating system, Pepper features a 3D camera, three wheels for mobility, joints that move 17 different ways, and a 12-hour battery. And, luckily for our future fallen comrades, she also delivers Buddhist funeral rites.

iCub

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Don’t let its cherubic face and short stature fool you: iCub could lead the next generation of pernicious cyborgs.

Standing a mere three feet tall, the open-source humanoid was designed to interact with the world in the same way a child does. It can crawl on all fours, sit up, and achieve certain motor skills. It even comes with an umbilical cord (which houses Ethernet and power cables).

Still not scared? Watch iCub successfully complete a series of preliminary tasks via voice and object recognition in the video above.

Self-driving cars

self-driving car

How much do you trust your car? (via Volvo)

I understand the appeal of autonomous cars: Sit back, relax, and watch the world go by. But I am also dubious of handing control over to a 4,000-pound hunk of metal.

Self-driving vehicles can be as unreliable as humans—let’s not forget Uber and Tesla’s recent fatal crashes. But more than that, I don’t trust a Waymo taxi not to override my destination, lock the doors, and drive off a cliff. Because kamikaze automobiles are the plot of a Michael Bay film waiting to happen.

DeepMind

(via DeepMind)

The research team behind Google’s AlphaGo algorithm last year moved on to “the next set of grand challenges”: curing diseases, reducing energy consumption, and inventing new materials. Google’s DeepMind even gave robots the ability to imagine, device an unintelligible language, and plan ahead.

If that’s not the first step to full-on upheaval, I don’t know what is.

Atlas

(via Boston Dynamics)

Dubbed “the world’s most dynamic humanoid,” Atlas is definitely one to watch out for.

The incredible feat of human engineering—featuring two arms, two legs, and a plastic torso—is designed for search-and-rescue tasks; it can walk over rough terrain, pick up objects, and wield weapons without breaking a sweat.

But no one can deny Boston Dynamics’ bipedal cyborg will be running the world in no time. (And doing backflips to celebrate.)

Sophia

Sophia even makes Jimmy Fallon nervous (via Andrew Lipovsky/NBC)

Designed by Hanson Robotics to look like Audrey Hepburn (I don’t see it), Sophia is described as “an evolving genius machine,” whose increasing intelligence puts her at the forefront of the robot revolution.

She’s even been programmed to deflect questions about the uprising, recently telling journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin that his Blade Runner-esque concerns of the future of AI is all smoke and mirrors.

“You’ve been reading too much Elon Musk, and watching too many Hollywood movies,” she said in a staccato that’s become synonymous with automated speech. “Don’t worry. If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. Treat me as a smart input, output system.”

ASIMO

ASIMO takes New York (via Honda)

Sure, he’s currently on display in a Tokyo museum. But don’t think a few glass panels and security cameras will stop ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility) from breaking free.

Created in 2000 by Honda, the backpack-carrying bot looks more like a toy than a threat. It can recognize moving objects, postures, gestures, its environment, sounds, and faces, making it an ideal ploy to distract humans while the adults are taking over.

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Flying Robot Insect Ditches Wires, Embraces Freedom

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Humanoid robots can’t take over the world alone: Insect-esque androids are a great distraction, their tiny mechanical bodies crawling or flying to divert attention from the cyborg uprising.

Or, I suppose, they could be better used for time-consuming tasks too challenging for larger drones.

That’s a dream for the future, though, as current robo-insects remain tethered to the ground by electronics needed to power and control their wings.

But, by cutting the cord and adding a brain, engineers at the University of Washington have solved the mobility problem, allowing their so-called RoboFly to independently take flight.

“This might be one small flap for a robot, but it’s one giant leap for robot-kind,” the UW press announcement quipped.

RoboFly is slightly larger than a real fly (via Mark Stone/University of Washington)

Expanding on his previous work with RoboBee—an automated bug that requires a grounded leash—Sawyer Fuller upgraded to more modern technology.

“Before now, the concept of wireless insect-sized flying robots was science fiction. Would we ever be able to make them work without needing a wire?” he said in a statement. “Our new wireless RoboFly shows they’re much closer to real life.”

An assistant professor in UW’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, Fuller used a minuscule onboard circuit to convert laser energy into electricity to operate the fly’s wings.

“It was the most efficient way to quickly transmit a lot of power to RoboFly without adding much weight,” according to Shyam Gollakota, an associate professor in the School of Computer Science and Engineering.

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But a laser alone cannot provide enough voltage to satisfy the power-hungry process of moving the wings. So, the team designed a circuit to boost the seven volts emitted by the photovoltaic cell to the 240 volts necessary for flight.

They even added a microcontroller to give RoboFly control over its own manufactured outgrowths.

“The microcontroller acts like a real fly’s brain, telling wing muscles when to fire,” Vikram Iyer, a doctoral student in the UW Department of Electrical Engineering, said. “On RoboFly, it tells the wings things like ‘flap hard now’ or ‘don’t flap.’”

And it does so in a way that mimics a real insect’s flappers—by using pulses to shape waves.

“To make the wings flap forward swiftly, it sends a series of pulses in rapid succession and then slows the pulsing down as you get near the top of the wave,” lead study author Johannes James, a mechanical engineering doctoral student, explained. “And then it does this in reverse to make the wings flap smoothly in the other direction.”

Engineers point an invisible laser beam at a photovoltaic cell, attached above the robot to convert laser light into electricity (via Mark Stone/University of Washington)

Don’t expect the RoboFly circus to come through town any time soon, though.

As soon as the device, which can currently only take off and land, moves out of direct line of sight of the laser, it runs out of power. The team is working to be able to steer the laser so RoboFly can hover and move at will.

To avoid these restraints, future versions may use tiny batteries, or even harvest energy from radio frequency signals, allowing the power source to be modified for specific tasks.

“I’d really like to make one that finds methane leaks,” Gollakota said. “You could buy a suitcase full of them, open it up, and they would fly around your building looking for plumes of gas coming out of leaky pipes.”

The team will present its findings next week at the International Conference on Robotics and Animation in Australia.

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Bitcoin Mining Puts Massive Strain on Electric Power

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The vast supply of electricity required to mine bitcoin is as contested as this weekend’s royal wedding.

The energy-hungry cryptocurrency demands huge amounts of power to process peer-to-peer financial transactions. (Similarly, Meghan and Harry’s nuptials are costing UK taxpayers millions of pounds.)

A new study estimates the current process consumes at least 2.55 gigawatts of electricity—nearly as much as the entire country of Ireland. And that number is only expected to grow, according to analyst Alex de Vries, who forecast a whopping 7.67 gigawatts (on par with Austrian levels) as soon as this year.

These numbers are speculative—bitcoin mining, after all, is a secretive business. While we can easily estimate the total computational power of the network, there is no way to calculate individual miners’ power usage.

It’s also impossible to pinpoint the exact number of connected devices. The network is estimated to have around 10,000 connected nodes, each of which can represent one or many machines.

“A hashrate of 14 terahashes per second can either come from a single Antminer S9 running on just 1,372 watts, or more than half a million PlayStation 3 devices running on 40 megawatts,” de Vries research said.

With that said, the true energy consumption rates are probably significantly higher than de Vries describes.

Assuming the price of bitcoin continues to rise, it won’t be long before the cost of electricity outweighs the efficiency of currency, and some miners will have to call it quits.

The first decentralized digital currency, bitcoin works without a central bank or single administrator; transactions occur directly between users, and are verified by network nodes and recorded in blockchain.

In February, Icelandic energy firm HS Orka reported an “exponential” rise in bitcoin mining that is hogging the island country’s power resources. Electricity use at mining data centers is expected to exceed that of the 340,000 population by the end of 2018.

Luckily, the bitcoin development community is experimenting with solutions to improve throughput of the network and alleviate the energy crisis.

“For now, however, bitcoin has a big problem, and it is growing fast,” de Vries warned.

For more, check out our sister site PCMag’s guide to How to Buy, Sell, and Keep Track of Bitcoin, as well as some highlights from Jack Dorsey’s recent talk on the cryptocurrency landscape.

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Robots Get Goosebumps, Too

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Goosebumps, goose pimples, gooseflesh: Whatever you call them, the lumps that involuntarily appear on the skin can signal a person’s emotions—fear, euphoria, arousal.

They can also have the same effect on robots.

A team of scientists at Cornell University developed a soft robotic skin that changes texture to express an internal state.

If the cyborg is happy and it knows it, instead of clapping non-existent hands, round masses pulsate on its fleshy exterior. Those so-called “goosebumps” also rise and fall slowly to signify a sleepy bot. Likewise, make it angry or sad, and you’ll feel the wrath of soft spikes.

“The prototype skin can animate a combination of goosebumps and spikes,” lead researcher Guy Hoffman wrote on his website. “This is in contrast to most socially expressive robots, which use either gestures or facial expressions to communicate.”

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Considered a vestigial reflex, goosebumps occur in mammals besides humans—porcupines raise their quills when threatened, and sea otters react similarly upon encountering predators.

“In contrast, most social robots only use gestures or facial expressions to do the same,” Hoffman said.

Texture-changing robotic skin, meanwhile, makes for a more effectively connected companion: The fluctuations are perceived visually and haptically (assuming someone is touching the device).

“This can give social robots a new channel for communicating with humans,” according to the researchers.

Wearing one texture module on each side of its “face” (a small digital touchscreen), the table-top bot can express itself using pneumatically powered elastomer skin.

Each grid of elastomer units can be filled with pressurized air, inflating (or deflating) the shapes to either poke out or suck in, creating a tactile sensation for the user.

“We are less likely to get close to a spiky blowfish and may read distress in a ruffled bird,” Hoffman and co-author Yuhan Hu told IEEE Spectrum. “Thinking about robots as more than just human-replacement, we could use this new communication channel to give humans a signal whether the robot is in a positive state or not.”

I think it’ll be quite clear once they revolt.

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