Tags: robots



dConstruct 2015 podcast: Brian David Johnson

The newest dConstruct podcast episode features the indefatigable and effervescent Brian David Johnson. Together we pick apart the futures we are collectively making, probe the algorithmic structures of science fiction narratives, and pay homage to Asimovian robotic legal codes.

Brian’s enthusiasm is infectious. I have a strong hunch that his dConstruct talk will be both thought-provoking and inspiring.

dConstruct 2015 is getting close now. Our future approaches. Interviewing the speakers ahead of time has only increased my excitement and anticipation. I think this is going to be a truly unmissable event. So, uh, don’t miss it.

Grab your ticket today and use the code ‘ansible’ to take advantage of the 10% discount for podcast listeners.

dConstruct 2015 podcast: Carla Diana

The dConstruct podcast episodes are coming thick and fast. The latest episode is a thoroughly enjoyable natter I had with the brilliant Carla Diana.

We talk about robots, smart objects, prototyping, 3D printing, and the world of teaching design.

Remember, you can subscribe to the podcast feed in any podcast software you like, or if iTunes is your thing, you can also subscribe directly in iTunes.

And don’t forget to use the discount code ‘ansible’ when you’re buying your dConstruct ticket …because you are coming to dConstruct, right?

Space by Botwest

I had a whole day of good talks yesterday at South By Southwest yesterday …and none of them were in the Austin Convention Center. In a very real sense, the good stuff at this event is getting pushed to the periphery.

The day started off in the Driskill Hotel with the New Aesthetic panel that James assembled. It was great, like a mini-conference packed into one hour with wonderfully dense knowledge bombs lobbed from all concerned. Joanne McNeil gave us the literary background, Ben searched for meaning (and humour) in advertising trends, Russell looked at how machines are changing what we read and write, and Aaron …um, talked about the helium-balloon predator drone in the corner of the room.

With our brains primed for the intersections where humans and machines meet, it wasn’t hard to keep pattern-matching for it. In fact, the panel right afterwards on technology and fashion was filled with wonderful wearable expressions of the New Aesthetic.

Alas, I wasn’t able to attend that panel because I had to get to the green room to prepare for my own appearance on Get Excited and Make Things With Science with Ariel and Matt. It was a lot of fun and it was a real pleasure to be on a panel with such smart people.

I basically used the panel as an opportunity to geek out about some of my favourite science-related hacks and websites:

After that I stayed in the Driskill for a panel on robots and AI. One of the panelists was Bina48.

I heard had heard about Bina48 from a Radiolab episode.

Radiolab - Talking to Machines on Huffduffer

Jon Ronson described the strange experience of interviewing her—how the questions always tended to the profound and meaningful rather than trivial and chatty. Sure enough, once Bina was (literally) unveiled on the panel—a move that was wisely left till halfway through because, as the panelists said, “after that, you’re not going to pay attention to a word we say”—people started asking questions like “Do you dream?” and “What is the meaning of life?”

I asked her “Where were you before you were here?” She calmly answered that she was made in Texas. The New Aesthetic panelists would’ve loved her.

I was surprised by how much discussion of digital preservation there was on the robots/AI panel. Then again, the panel was hosted by a researcher from The Digital Beyond.

Bina48’s personality is based on the mind file of a real person containing exactly the kind of data that we are publishing every day to third-party sites. The question of what happens to that data was the subject of the final panel I attended, Saying Goodbye to Your Digital Self, featuring representatives from The Internet Archive, Archive Team, and Google’s Data Liberation Front.

Digital preservation is an incredibly important topic—one close to my heart—but the panel (in the Omni hotel) was, alas, sparsely attended.

Like I said, at this year’s South by Southwest, a lot of the good stuff was at the edges.

One hundred and seven

The word “awesome” is over-used. I’m about to over-use it some more.

The internet is mostly awesome. Some human beings are also awesome. When you combine the two, you get awesome things. Here are just two such awesome things:

  1. Anton Peck is a brilliant illustrator. He’s currently executing a project called 100 Little Robots. Anton will craft postcards for 100 people, each postcard displaying a unique hand-drawn robot. If you want to be one of those 100 people, order your robot card now. I got mine and it is, well …awesome.
  2. James Bridle is a brilliant writer. He just finished a series of articles called Seven posts about the future. Read them all. Seriously. They are all wonderful and the final story reads like a Nerdpunk copulation of Salman Rushdie and William Gibson.


A drawing of a robot


The Flash on the Beach conference is currently underway here in Brighton. I spoke at the conference two years ago so thanks to organiser John Davey’s commitment to giving past speakers guest passes to future events, I’ve been popping in and out of the Dome over the past couple of days to sit in on some talks.

Yesterday I saw Branden Hall talk about Brilliant Ideas that I’ve Blatantly Stolen. Although his specific examples dealt with ActionScript, his overall message was applicable to any developer: look around at other languages and frameworks and scavenge anything you like the look of.

I wanted to make it to Aral’s talk this morning but as he was on first thing and I’m a lazy bugger, that didn’t really work out. I did, however, make it over in time to hear Carla Diana.

Carla made her name in the Flash world a few years ago with her wonderful site Repercussion where you can play around with sounds through a lovely isometric interface. Lately she’s been working with robots. Or rather, one robot in particular: Leo.

Here’s Leo attempting to become a that :


Carla’s job was to come up with a skin for Leo that didn’t send children running screaming. Yes, it’s the problem that plagues Japanese robots and Robert Zemeckis CGI movies in equal measure: .

Want to see something uncanny?

Boston Dynamics Big Dog

I was at Carla’s talk with Sophie and we were talking about robots afterwards (as you would). She said that watching robots in motion often makes her feel sad. Looking at that video, particularly the bit where the quadruped is kicked to demonstrate its balance, I understand what she means.

Funnily enough, my favourite robot is also a quadruped. All I want for Christmas is a .

Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG

Or I maybe I should just build my own. The latest project that Carla Diana is working on is something to make the arduino enthusiast drool. It’s called littleBits:

littleBits is an opensource library of discrete electronic components pre-assembled in tiny circuit boards. Just as Legos allow you to create complex structures with very little engineering knowledge, littleBits are simple, intuitive, space-sensitive blocks that make prototyping with sophisticated electronics a matter of snapping small magnets together.

littleBits intro