"South Korea has deployed sentry robots capable of detecting and killing intruders along the heavily fortified border with North Korea, officials said [last week] Two robots with surveillance, tracking, firing and voice recognition systems were integrated into a single unit, a defence ministry spokesman said," The Daily Telegraph reports. If the test is successful, the defence ministry will deploy robots along the world's last Cold War frontier. "If the command centre operator cannot identify possible intruders through the robot's audio or video communications system, the operator can order it to fire its gun or 40-mm automatic grenade launcher. South Korea is also developing highly sophisticated combat robots armed with weapons and sensors that could complement human soldiers on battlefields."
"Boeing has unveiled its unmanned hydrogen-powered spy plane which can fly non-stop for up to four days," BBC News reports. "The high-altitude plane, called Phantom Eye, will remain aloft at 20,000 metres, according to the company. … Boeing says the aircraft could eventually carry out 'persistent intelligence and surveillance.' It is a product of the company's secretive Phantom Works research and development arm." The Eye is a large aircraft, with a 46-metre wingspan. "It isn't built for stealth - it's built for endurance," said Chris Haddox of Phantom Works.
Really smart phones
In a decade or two, researchers predict, consumer gadgets will be able to anticipate and fulfill people's needs without having to be told, Steve Johnson writes for the San Jose Mercury News. Intel, for instance, has been experimenting with heart monitors and skin-response sensors to detect a person's disposition. "If a person gets a call from someone who stresses them out, according to Intel officials, their savvy phone might automatically switch the caller into a voice message. Another intriguing possibility could arise if the phone notices its owner is extremely tense in a meeting, added Lama Nachman, a researcher at the chip maker. In that case, it might respond with what she termed an 'exit phone call,' a bogus ring that gives the person a convenient excuse to leave."
"The most impressive examples [of 'restrictive cartography'] and the most frightening, reflect the integration of geographical information systems (GIS), the Global Positioning System (GPS) and wireless telecommunications," Mark Monmonier writes for New Scientist magazine. "A tracking device can instantly report its location to a GIS that determines whether the person, car or ship under surveillance has entered a prohibited area. Depending on circumstances and severity, a future system might be able to debit an offender's bank account, transmit a vocal warning or electronic pinch, notify the police or military, disable an engine, or even release a soporific drug into the violator's bloodstream."
In the Sunday morning service at Fellowship Church in Dallas, Ed Young Sr., the church's senior pastor "delivered his sermon, but he couldn't hear or see his congregation respond: He wasn't physically there," CNN.com reports. "Young's parishioners were instead looking at a high-def video image of their pastor beamed into their sanctuary from a 'mother' church in Grapevine, Tex. Young is part of a new generation of pastors who can be in two places at one time. They are using technology - high-def videos, and even holograms - to beam their Sunday morning sermons to remote 'satellite' churches that belong to their congregation. Young, whose congregation has about 20,000 members spread across five churches, said his image is so lifelike that some visitors forget he's not there. 'It's so real that people have come up after service to see me and [other]people are saying, "Dude, he is on video," ' he said."
"In a handful of laboratories around the world, computer scientists are developing … highly programmed machines that can engage people and teach them simple skills, including household tasks, vocabulary or, as in the case of [a six-year-old boy with autism] playing, elementary imitation and taking turns," Benedict Carey and John Markoff write for The New York Times. "… [T]e most advanced models are fully autonomous, guided by artificial intelligence software like motion tracking and speech recognition, which can make them just engaging enough to rival humans at some teaching tasks. Researchers say the pace of innovation is such that these machines should begin to learn as they teach, becoming the sort of infinitely patient, highly informed instructors that would be effective in subjects like foreign language or in repetitive therapies used to treat developmental problems like autism."
Thought du jour
"The larger and more complex a machine, the more unforgiving it is when something goes wrong."