Sunday, October 24, 2010

An Internationally Standardised English - please!

Andrew D Atkin

In our new internet-age and ever more globalised world it makes sense to me that we should all be speaking a universally understood language, and ideally as everyone's first language. Of course we are already moving in this direction (with English) but we could still be doing it so much faster and more efficiently.

Here is my idea:

Using the United Nations as a centralised authority, we could develop an internationally standardised form of English: English "Systems International".

An SI-English should first be cleaned-up so as to get rid of unnecessary complexities/contradictions that exist within common English today. We could even look at other possibilities such as expanding the alphabet; that is, maybe creating more (new) letters so as to allow us to more efficiently group sounds. English would be easier for young people (and foreigners) to learn if the letters were more directly correlated to their phonic associations.

An SI-English could be open to updates say every 5-10 years.

A supporting website could provide free education for anyone to learn SI-English. The website should also provide audio downloads for properly pronounced English. (Pronunciation should be standardised to help overcome the problem of understanding people with extreme accents).


To me this idea is common sense. Language, before anything, is just a communication system and in principle it is silly to have everyone speaking all kinds of different languages in a tightly connected world. We should go out of our way to drive for the process of standardisation, and through our standardisation we should also take the opportunity for fundamental improvements as well. It's easy to do, and it's worth it.


A little uninformative, but I have to agree with Mr B'stard:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Mobile Robots?

Andrew D Atkin

We are entering the age of ubiquitious robotics. This is no longer a topic for just the geeks - everyone should be interested.

The introduction of ubiquitous robotics could bring in a new era of productive automation. Not so much for our domestic lives, but for many areas of services, maintenance and industrial production. I think we will soon see robotics expanding out from the limited confines of mass-production plants alone.

These future-focused people who try to build robots that part look and act like humans, so as to (supposedly) perform human functions, have got it wrong. Making a robot to simulate a human is as reasonable as making an aircraft that flaps its wings. Like with aircraft, the structural optimum for a mechanical system is completely different to a biological system.

However, I do believe we will see the ubiquitous implementation of flexible, mobile robots in the near future of which may come to offset a vast amount of human labour.

Enabling technologies:

The key enabling technologies that may drive a new era in robotic implementation are the internet, and motion/boundary detection systems (like what many cars have today). It is vital that a flexible, mobile robot can detect its surroundings not only to efficiently transport itself, but to detect people and other objects moving into its path. If a human, for example, moves into a robots paths then the person will be instantly detected, the robot will stop, then signal to the person to get out of the way. The safe functionality provided by boundary detection allows the robot to move rapidly, which is of course essential for productive output. Robots are only going to be deployed when they make economic sense over human labour.

The internet is also essential so as to allow the robots to be efficiently remote-controlled. The great advantage of using the internet as a base to remote-control robots is that you can have one remote-controller assisting maybe tens or even hundreds of robots at a given time. This is because a human only needs to cut in and take over from automated operation periodically. So, when the controller is not assisting a given robot he can then switch over to another robot. Hence, the internet provides an economical option to tide us over from what "fuzzy logic" cannot yet do. Robotics designers do not need to be so obsessed with making flexible robots "think". They just need to first integrate them with the internet.

So what will the 'common' robot look like? For the sake of some perspective, here is my guess:

Robots will become ubiquitous when we start to standardise and mass-produce flexible versions of them, and with many standardised (and compatible) major components.

I would say that the most ideal structure, for common applications, would simply be a robotic arm mounted on a mobile base. It would not simulate a human hand because that would be impractical and unnecessary. The arm would usually come with a tool-kit of several "hands", each hand designed as a specialised tool to perform a specific function.

Stereoscopic remote viewing:

A more minor enabling technology is with stereoscopic remote viewing. 3d-TV systems can now comfortably provide for this.

This sounds information-intensive, but I will point out that you can dramatically compress video information with the use of what I call "spotlight compression". You can target the focus-point for low-compression definition, and then heavily compress other (unimportant) visual information around it. This is perfectly feasible when you only need visual information of the type to carry out a mechanistic task.

In some ways being able to use an adaptable camera will provide better visual feedback than what can be achieved by being in the location in person. You can mobilise the camera for a most explicit and stable view. Also, visual anti-shake programmes will allow the remote-controller to see comfortably in any circumstance, while the robot is doing work.

Ultimate video compression:

The ultimate in video compression would have to be a system whereby the viewed imaged is reduced to a geometric representation, so that the visual information is compressed into a connect-the-dots type of format. Basically, imagine a camera and also laser viewing the image and reducing it to a CAD (computer aided drafting) information description. The image is then reconstructed at the remote-viewers end as a CAD drawing. Only a tiny amount of information would be required for streaming over the internet, for a comprehensive image.

This would deliver an image that's a bit surreal looking, like a typical computer-generated image, but it would actually make remote-controlling easier as it makes the boundaries of the object more clear to the eye. It also compensates for poor lighting.

Ultimately 3d images (true stereoscopic images) can be formed in this manner, making remote controlling even easier.


All mobile robots will generally run on wheels - they're cheap, rapid and efficient. In some cases they will employ legs for walking as well, but only if absolutely necessary. They will have retractable legs for static stability. I would also imagine a counter-weight will be employed for when the front leg cannot be extended.

The robot can rapidly access a rotating tool-kit (around its "waist") for any given tool. On top of the robot would be a sensor assembly. At the base of the robot would be a rechargeable battery-stack.

They will generally be driven by many small electric motors - not hydraulics. They will probably use blue-tooth technology for wireless internal actuation, within the robotic arm.

The robot will also develop its own mobility map. This means that once it has stationed itself at a given point, it will remember that point. In turn a remote-controller will only have to indicate to the robot the point it needs to be at, and the robot will automatically move there and without remote assistance.


Even if a 4-foot robot of this type cost $100,000 a piece, if it can displace one human labourer then it would cover its costs in maybe just a couple of years (especially if it can be in operation 24/7). So, we should expect to see the progressive implementation of these kinds of devices as the technology to make it practical is pretty much here today.

However, economies-of-scale is a major factor, and it will no doubt take time for simple robots to be mass-produced efficiently. But again, with the key enabling technologies established, we could safely predict that we will see the far-reaching implementation of mobile robotics soon. And once this progression gets a foothold, it should rapidly build on itself.


Addition: 3-4-11

A major and growing application for robotics is military. The spin-off technology for civil applications will be invaluable. The following video is very interesting, and the speaker provides a well-rounded talk.

Addition: 3-4-13:

And another great talk, on the da Vinci system (used for advanced keyhole surgery). The technology within the da Vinci system could be scaled-back, and used in all kinds of applications.

Mechanical dexterity all you really need, because the software and internet-integration will be evolutionary and, once you have your mechanistic foundation, can seamlessly merge into existing systems without expensive retrofitting.

Addition: 6-3-14:

The weak link behind practical robotics will have more to do with mechanics than information processing, as the information component can and will rapidly advance, and hopefully from an open source format.

I think we can expect to see a heavy research focus on making robots that are light and efficient, reliable and low maintenance - that is, a focus on the non solid-state part of the game, because over the long-term that's where the biggest cost barriers are going to be.

Two things that could have a big impact to this end are the use of springs within robotic arms that allow most long-range physical movements to operate like a pendulum (think of a metronome) so that mechanic energy is generally stored and recovered as the arm moves from one point to the next. This will take a large part of the load off the motors, and breaking mechanisms, in terms of both mechanical stress and energy consumption.

Another idea is to make robots that are relatively low-precision with their bulk movement, but high-precision with low-range detailed movements: Basically, think of a small robotic arm mounted at the end of a big robotic arm, and think of the big arm making large low-precision sweeps to a given location point, and then from there rigidly breaking/locking into position, whereby the small high-precision robotic arm then finishes the final action by moving independently to the main body of the (then rigid) robot. This approach may help notably to increase precision and lower real costs.

Addition: 6-4-14:

Another interesting video, showing us how far and fast robotics technology is moving along. Motional-feedback systems are a critical component of flexible robotic actuation. And it allows us to achieve operational precision without great (mechanistic) expense, as the feedback loop corrects for errors (just like with animals).

Another important tool will be hand-gesture tracking, for remote controlling. I can see people's arms being suspended from the ceiling of their home offices, on a long sprung cable. Camera's will track body movements in detail and link them directly to the actuation of a remote robotic arm (just like in the Avatar move). This must be the most efficient way a human can control a robotic arm, second to forming a direct brain-to-machine neural link.

With motional-feedback robotic movements can be very rapid, because the robotic arm can avoid boundaries while it's being controlled, and it can operate within programmed parameters in any circumstance ie. the controller doesn't need to be careful, the robot will do that for you. You can generally just be "sloppy" and fast.

Addition: 20-05-14:

And more. The manufacturer's focus is virtual reality, but 'remote reality' is what we're really after for a robotics revolution, and these kinds of systems are nonetheless very important to that end.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Concept: Ultra-efficient living system

Andrew D Atkin

How do you wish to live?

Most of us live in private one-family units. That's all good of course because we want this feature as our personal living base, and I would say we need it. However, I think we still have a 'missing link' in the structure of our modern living systems, which is what I call the "tribal dynamic".

To specify: The tribal dynamic, by my definition, is immediate access to a neutral territory but a territory that is private to the group ("tribe"). Most of us don't have this. When we visit our friends we are in their place - it's not "our" place. And this territorial dynamic has an effect on social intercourse (at least subconsciously). And when we do meet with our friends in an interpersonally neutral setting, it's pretty much the entire world's setting too (restaurants and bars etc.) i.e. it is not private to the group. This too has a critical effect.

Generally speaking I believe that people are happiest when socialising with their well-established friends in a neutral but exclusive territory; well, at least when they're not socialising for the sake of meeting new people. I can't prove this assertion to be correct of course, it's just my personal 'human' perspective.

So, if you agree, then we can ask ourselves: "How do we provide for the tribal dynamic", so to speak.

My ideas:

Firstly you must have your own private zone (like we do today if we can afford it) and that zone needs to be more than just a bedroom. It needs to be a cabin or "mini-house". It needs to be a place where you can exclusively reside to for as much as 1 or 2 days and without feeling too cramped in. However, it doesn't need to be huge - it can still just be a big sleep-out linked to a "tribal" neutral zone.

Here is my example for what I think would be an ideal cabin:

Description: On the far left is a small Kitchenette close to a corner couch, and the room on the far-right is a double bedroom. In between is a toilet with double-boundary walls. The external (but connected) room is an office.

Additional external rooms can be added if/when needed.

The following image is a perspective of the front of the cabin.

Design: This cabin is practical, space-efficient and good-looking. It's extremely quiet (easy to sleep in) and is structured so that people can move about without tripping up over each other. Even though it's small, it does not have the "just one big room" effect. The internal rooms are well segregated.

The following image provides another perspective of the cabin, showing the kitchenette and a corner of the couch.

Obviously this cabin is thin on facilities. It is in turn supported by the main "tribal" house, shown next.


The following is my idea for an ideal main house (also the neutral "tribal zone").

It would suit a sunny context with lots of surrounding plants. (Such as a classic New Zealand lifestyle setting).

Description: In the front of the house you have 2 external showers, 1 toilet, 1 bath, and a movie theatre which is the far-left external room. All of these facilities are acoustically isolated from the main body of the house, employing double-boundary walls. In the main body of the house you have a big kitchen (supporting at least two operations) and a dining area to the right of the kitchen. You have a lounge-type area at the far-back of the house.

Design: The main house is designed to provide an open, casual social setting--moving closer to the feel of a cafe'. When people want to watch TV they can go into a separate room, so they don't interfere with people wanting to chat (or vice-versa). The movie theatre also provides a "cosy zone" for people.

You can see with this design that behaviours are more closely (and exclusively) linked with rooms. There is a "place" for everything and it's always "on". You could have a dinner party at 1 o'clock in the morning for example, and no-one would care.

The external showers are spacious and therefore comfortable to use. Being external to the main house you can access them quickly, and without having to make a statement to everyone that you are about to take a shower.

Note: The showers do not need to be in the cabins. The showers would literally be only about a 10-15 second walk away from any given cabin. Also, isolating the showers (and other) from the cabins means that no-one is rushing about in a "get things done" mode, inside the cabins. This feature would help significantly to make the cabins feel more settled, and easy to relax in. (This is also part of the reason why you would want to externalise the office).

The kitchen needs to support 2 operations at least because you would probably have 1 main house supporting about 4 cabins. So that's maybe 4 couples, plus some children if it's for young-ish people. An external wash house (or other) can be added at will. (You can put these things anywhere so I don't need to talk about them here).

You would find that people would be out-and-about at all different times, so you would find that you never need more space/capacity than what I have suggested in this example.

Note: A key feature of the main house is that no-one is there who does not feel like being there. When people are not in the mood for company they can (and will) automatically retreat to their cabins. So the main house would virtually always have a sociable atmosphere, and provide a pleasantly informal context for everyone.

To make my point clearer: there would be no second-guessing as to whether or not you've outstayed your welcome in the main house, or whether or not anyone is hanging around just to be polite etc. On this level it would be unusually fun and "free". But, of course, there is still the option of meeting with people privately in your cabin as well, just like in a traditional home (which is what the cabins basically are).

The following are some perspective shots of the main house:

Front of the house...

Looking at the lounge area from the dining area...

Looking at the kitchen from the dining area...

Rear of the house...


Other advantages:

Going by my model system, a couple could have a mortgage of about $100,000 - that would cover the cabin and say 25% shares in the main house. That's a mortgage you can pay off in 5-10 years - not 20-30 years (the banks will hate you!).

You can of course share all kinds of other facilities and costs, which further compounds the economies-of-scale advantage.

If it is a lifestyle development, you can plant lots of fruit trees and develop raised vegetable gardens etc, which also reduces the cost of living and improves nutrition. I would imagine that this option too would benefit from an economies-of-scale.

Social advantage for child-rearing:

Personally, I think it's much better for children to grow up in a more socially diverse context, where they have freer access to other (well known and trusted) people and other children around their age. It can also take a load off parents as children can entertain themselves more easily, and friends within the "tribe" can conveniently help take care of their kids as well.

It can also provide for an economies-of-scale for home-schoolers i.e. only one adult may need to stay home for all the kids.


Overall, the "tribal house" can make for extremely sociable, easy and economic living, whoever you are or whatever you might want to do. I think a tribal house may represent a better living-optimum for many people, and in turn this post is an example/invitation for people to maybe consider it.

Note: Thanks Richard (my very useful brother) for drawing up (and improving) my ideas using your ancient architecture programme.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Are we creating an Orwellian Corptopia?

Andrew D Atkin

A friend of mine recently applied for a job with a large company. This is what she wrote to me about her interview:

"The interview was weird. I didn't really like it. We had to talk about ourselves and then do these stupid exercises, while 3 of them sat at the back and wrote notes on us. I don't know how it went, they said they'd call by the end of the week if they wanted another interview."

What kind of a person conducts an interview like this? The answer is no person at all. This is an interview conducted by a system. The people administrating it were basically just system facilitators. At an extreme, the facilitators would exercise no personal discretion in decision-making at all. The would simply ask prescribed (from above) questions, tick the boxes, and then calculate the ticks to reach a final conclusion/decision.

So she was interviewed by a system and not a person. What's wrong with that? Nothing except that systems are 100% blind to anything other than what they are programmed to see.

Alas, it in turn takes the meaning of the term "measuring up" to a whole new level. If every job that we applied for operated on systems-criteria with no (or virtually no) human discretion, then we run the risk of every man and woman basing their entire professional development on formal qualifications/attributes only. We then become exclusively focused on "scoring points" as opposed to a more idiosyncratic or maybe "real" development. What would be the point of developing any unique "value added" ability if the all-powerful evaluation-criteria were to be blind to it?

Large organisations are generally systems-heavy with everything. So the way I see it, the more corporatised our society becomes the "dehumanised" our development will be, as our professional success or failure will be ever more exclusively based on prescription-conformity.

The truth is our society already works like this to an extraordinary level today (we are just far too use to it?). Compulsion schooling as we know it is a totalitarian system whereby the state functionally claims ownership over the child's development; and in our schools the child's focus is always to measure-up to somebody else's evaluation criteria, as opposed to education for itself.

If the world becomes completely corporatised (are we going that way?) then we can end up with little or no way out for people who try to reclaim their own development [and in part their lives] for themselves, as their entire future will be dictated by their conformity to the prescriptions - or lack of it.

This is actually the communist system*, or more specifically the fascist system (fascism is where the state and the corporates are one system: eg, the modern USA is close to it). It's a system where people have literally no choice but to conform to the corporate prescriptions to survive. And in turn this means a society of acutely penetrating top-down control. So the corporates make the hoops - you jump through them. That's your life. Period.

Furthermore what's curious is the evolution of our current band of corporatism. Like I indicated before, it is controlled by those who design the systems - virtually everyone else may become only administrators of the systems. Except at the most trivial levels human discretion may be gone, other than for those who develop the systems themselves, and for those at the very top who prescribe what those systems should achieve (your "gods").

Yep, I think we may actually be moving in the direction of an Orwellian "scientifically controlled" society (oh, don't worry about those surveillance cameras. They're the least of your intrusions).

So how far will/could it ultimately go? I would say that the more the corporates take control over "our" governments, the more our society will function like a school...where it's all about reducing ourselves to what ever's on order, as based on somebody else's systemic evaluation criteria.

Where the corporates control the state (and basically are the state) realistic alternatives would be -and to a large degree are- progressively suppressed because big businesses/government does not like competition, and will only tolerate it insofar as they must.

In a complete systems-controlled society only those at the very top would structure how we live our lives. Individual choices would be strictly prescribed - by them. It's a strange but I think very real kind of modern slavery.

The key is to protect the alternatives, and the development of the alternatives - if we can. Let REAL competition rule.

Here are some other of my posts that relate to this issue:

...And an example of a serious alternative:


*Note: In communism your job is assigned to you, so communism is a bit more extreme than what we have today. But we are certainly moving in this direction as our choices are becoming ever more strictly narrowed, and top-down prescribed. And as I expressed earlier, our educational development is mostly top-down prescribed.

Another key control feature which is now developing is lifestyle-control, via the implementation of what is called Smart Growth. If the UN has its way, then over time almost the entire world will be urbanised and living the "McLife", whether they want it or not.


Addition: 14-3-11:

I found the included movie, based on Aldous Huxley's book, Brave New World, interesting. At base, I think the society depicted in the movie could be simply described as the militarisation of civil life (minus the actual wars).

Description: Brave New World represents a totally controlled and stratified society, where people only know what they need to know, and only think what they are allowed to think. The society is peaceful because conformity is automatic; and it is automatic because the people have been subject to incredible conditioning systems from the youngest of ages. Normality has been totally redefined, and based only on what serves the society best. (Collectivism on steroids!)

With the military industrial complex and corporates taking over America (and other), is it completely unreasonable to think that our societies could be led somewhere in the direction described by Huxley's fictional book? I don't believe so. [In fact Huxley himself predicted that we may move in this direction].

About 100 years ago compulsion-schooling was imported into the western world from Prussia. The form of schooling that we have today, originally adotped from Prussia, was specifically designed for military purposes. That is, it was designed (and successfully designed) to create a society of obedient soldiers that could be controlled with ease (thanks to conditioning). You would have to say that this was (and is) a major step-1 towards the development of a Brave New World scenario. And the fact is, we have only gone forward from it - not back. How far will we eventually go?