Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

News & Supplemental  

“Danger, Will Robinson!”–Peter Thiel, Robots and the Underground Reich (Be Afraid, Be VERY Afraid!)

They'll be back!

Dave Emory’s entire life­time of work is avail­able on a flash drive that can be obtained here. (The flash drive includes the anti-fascist books avail­able on this site.)

COMMENT: In our last post, we noted that, in addition to Peter Thiel, the CEO of Palantir (Thiel associate Alex Karp) had German roots. The available evidence suggests that they are Underground Reich. 

(For newer users of this website, we note that it is impossible to briefly explain the concept of The Underground Reich. The very mention of such a term will seem like madness to the unititiated. We recommend that people read The Nazis Go Underground, Martin Bormann: Nazi in Exile, The New Germany and the Old Nazis, and “The Secret Treaty of Fort Hunt.”)

(For the benefit of younger and/or users of this website from foreign countries, the “Danger Will Robinson” countries, the reference to “Danger, Will Robinson” is from an unimaginably cheesy science fiction series from late 1950’s-early 1960’s America television called “Lost in Space.” The young Will Robinson had Robby the Robot as a companion, who alerted the youngster when threats were at hand. The same Hollywood robot had been featured in the movie “Forbidden Planet.” Two still scenes from the film are featured in the pictures at right.)

A frightening development concerns the development of security robots by a company capitalized by Peter Thiel and headed by Alex Karp!

In addition to the Thiel/Karp RoboteX venture, we note that the Festo Corporation is deeply involved in the development of robots.

We note that the development of robotic animals–such as the robot dragonfly pefected by Festo–are seen as the next stage of drone/surveillance/attack technology.

Festo, in turn, overlaps the Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft, the vehicle through which 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta moved to Germany and then to the United States.

Examine the brief history of that organization, set forth below. It is impossible for a knowledgeable reader not to conclude that the Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft is inextricably linked with the Bormann capital network.

We also recapitulate an item from FTR #484. Heroic journalist Daniel Hopsicker was told by agents of the German BKA (the equivalent of their FBI) that the Germans with whom Atta was associating were the sons and daughters of German industrialists.

In our many visits with Daniel Hopsicker, we have examined the many Germans who worked with Mohamed Atta and Rudi Deckers in the Huffman Aviation milieu in Venice Florida.

On the last page of Paul Manning’s text, he cites an unnamed CIA pilot who “made the run to the Bormann ranch in Latin America.” Might that “run” have gone through Venice Florida, a hub of covert operations for decades? Might Mohamed Atta, Wolfgang Bohringer and associates have been what comes up from the other end of that run?

We also note that, official disclaimers to the contrary notwithstanding, Bormann’s survival and postwar career are not in doubt, as evidenced by the FBI’s file on Bormann, exerpted by Paul Manning.

“RoboteX Private Security Robots Gets $2.06M Backed by Peter Thiel” by Meghan Kelly; venturebeat.com; 3/22/2013.

RoboteX, a California company building robots for “first responders,” has filled $2.06 million of a desired $5 million round of funding, according to a filing with the SEC.

Peter Thiel, along with RoboteX founder Nathan Gettings and chief executive Alexander Karp were listed in the filing. Though these three are named, the filing cites four investor who are unidentified.

RoboteX was founded in 2007 and creates robots without the use of government funding. Its line of “Avatar” robots are meant to help with security, sometimes in situations that could be dangerous for humans. The website lists examples such as serving papers to a dangerous individual, entering hostage situation, patrolling, investigating suspicious packages, and more.

The company also has a line of robots for the home and office that offer its own form of roving security system. You attach an iOS device to the robot, which you can then remotely control to survey the house on your behalf. . . .


EXCERPT: German manufacturing firm Festo recently resurrected a Paleozoic dragonfly. No, we’re not talking de-extinction or synthetic biology—this baby’s robotic. But at 70 cm (27 in) by 48 cm (19 in), Festo’s BionicOpter robot dragonfly is a futuristic flying machine with more than a touch of the prehistoric in it.

Dragonflies are clever fliers—they can hover, accelerate quickly, stop on a dime, glide, and even fly backwards. As Festo notes, “For the first time, there is a model that can master more flight conditions than a helicopter, plane and glider combined.”

Festo’s dragonfly is a marvel to watch move.

The robot is driven by nine servos, a battery, and an ARM microcontroller stowed in a flexible polyamide and terpolymer structure. The head and tail are moved by passing an electrical current through nitinol muscles. The computer controls the frequency (15–20 Hz), twisting (90 deg), and amplitude (50 deg) of its four carbon fiber and foil wings and, by taking in a constant stream of wing data and body position, corrects for vibration for stable flight indoors or out. . . .

“History of the Carl Duisberg Society”

EXCERPT: In the 1920’s, Carl Duisberg, General Director of Bayer AG in Germany, envisioned sending German students to the United States on work-study programs. Duisberg was convinced that international practical training was critical to the growth of German industry. Many of the returning trainees later rose to prominent positions at AEG, Bayer, Bosch, Daimler Benz, and Siemens, bringing with them new methods for mass production, new ideas, and new business practices. Following World War II, alumni from the first exchanges founded the Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft (CDG) in 1949 to help engineers, businessmen and farmers gain international work experience necessary for the rebuilding of Germany . . . .

“Board of Directors: Carl Duisberg Society”

Board of Directors Carl Duisberg Society: . . . Gerd D. Mueller (retired) [member of Bundestag on CSU ticket) Chairman of the Board; Executive Vice President and CFO Bayer Corporation . . . . Dr. Hans W. Decker; Treasurer of the Board; Professor—Columbia University . . . Robert Fenstermacher; Executive Director of CDS International, Inc. (ex officio) . . . Carl Geercken; Partner Alston & Bird LLP . . . Dr. Olaf J. Groth; Executive Director, Strategic Analysis & Integration—Boeing International Corporation . . . Dr. H. Friedrich Holzapfel; Managing Director—The Burlington Group . . . Dr. Gudrun Kochendoerfer-Lucius; Managing Director—InWEnt (Capacity Building International, Germany) . . . Fritz E. Kropatscheck; Manging Director—Deutsche Bank, A.G. (retired) . . . Wolfgang Linz (retired) Executive Director CDS International, Inc. . . . Dr. Karl M. Mayer-Wittmann (retired); President—WEFA, Inc. . . . Frances McCaffrey; Manager, Center Development—BMW of North America . . . Dr. Horst K. Saalbach Vice Chairman of the Board–Festo Corporation . . . Dr. Norbert Schneider; Chief Executive Officer—Carl Duisberg Centren GmbH . . . .

Excerpt from the Description for FTR #484

. . . . Daniel also notes that some of Atta’s German associates in Florida were sons and daughters of prominent German industrialists. . . .

Martin Bormann: Nazi in Exile by Paul Manning; p. 292.

EXCERPT: . . . A for­mer CIA con­tract pilot, who once flew the run into Paraguay and Argentina to the Bor­mann ranch described the estate as remote, ‘worth your life unless you entered their air space with the right iden­ti­fi­ca­tion codes. . . .

Martin Bormann: Nazi in Exile by Paul Manning; p. 205.

EXCERPT: . . . The file revealed that he [Martin Bormann] had been bank­ing under his own name from his office in Ger­many in Deutsche Bank of Buenos Aires since 1941; that he held one joint account with the Argen­tin­ian dic­ta­tor Juan Peron, and on August 4, 5 and 14, 1967, had writ­ten checks on demand accounts in first National City Bank (Over­seas Divi­sion) of New York, The Chase Man­hat­tan Bank, and Man­u­fac­tur­ers Hanover Trust Co., all cleared through Deutsche Bank of Buenos Aires. . . .





15 comments for ““Danger, Will Robinson!”–Peter Thiel, Robots and the Underground Reich (Be Afraid, Be VERY Afraid!)”

  1. Dave, i am sorry to tell you this, but there was no robby the robot in lost in space but for a one time quest shot. these were two very different robots. but that’s ok. even the lone ranger can miss from time to time.

    Posted by David | August 16, 2013, 5:58 pm
  2. There was a debate at the Milken Institute (guess who’s under investigation again) on May 6 between Peter Thiel and Marc Andreessen about the promise of technology in terms of meeting our expectations of revolutionary changes and solving the key challenges facing humanity. Thiel gave an extremely negative view of the both the innovations provided by technological advances up until now and the prospects for big blockbuster innovations going forward. The realms of biotech, nanotech, clean energy, transportation, food, and other other areas of research have been decelerating areas of innovation since the 1970’s according to Thiel and only computers have really lived up to expectations. Similarly, the ability of humanity to adapt to the challenges ahead also rely primarily on computers. Deregulation seems to be Thiel’s primary prescription for how humanity can get back on track, but he seems to take a general view that humanity and the US is just screwed no matter what and we should expect stagnant, dying civilization. Be sure to listen to Thiel’s opening statement as it is very revealing about Thiel’s worldview, especially around ~7:30-12:30 where Thiel talks about how the “technological cornucopia” we were all promised in decades past that hasn’t trickled down to the public and how maybe computers alone will raise living standards. But then he downplays the potential for the US tech sector, describing companies like Cisco, Dell, HP, Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, and Apple as part of a computer “rust belt” that’s poised for downsizing and layoffs. And then he ends his opening statement with an optimistic call saying things like next-generation technologies like quantum computing, AI, space technologies, next-generation life-sciences can provide hope but we need to become a less “risk averse”, deregulated society first. So really, technology alone can’t save us. Only technology and an embrace of Objectivism will get the job done. Apparently.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 20, 2013, 9:15 am
  3. One more moment to watch in the Thiel/Andreessen debate: jump to around ~38 min, when the moderator raises the question with Thiel over the possibility that there we really are on in the midst or on the cusp of some major revolutions, but that those revolutions are focused on areas that replace labor, like robotics, and that’s why the benefits have technology haven’t been as widely seen by the masses. And note Thiel’s reponse “or maybe there not that much technology happening”. Thiel then goes on to talk about it’s not an issue of income inequality because there’s just not that much wealth around to redistribute. The Malthusian views of Thiel really need to be understood because this guy deeply influential and he appears to be intent on guiding public policy away from things like investments in clean energy research and towards one where widespread material poverty is just viewed as an inevitability that can only be avoided if we deregulate the economy. Billionaire nihilistic Futurists peddling austerity-centric junk economic theories can be rather dangerous in an era of global poverty, resource depletion, and climate change.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 20, 2013, 9:42 am
  4. As Europe is learning, collapsing an economy is the preferred method to force the proles the see the wrong of their ways. So of course the GOP would love to see Silicon Valley collapse along with the rest of the US economy. How could it be any other way:

    The New Republic
    The GOP Plan to Crush Silicon Valley What will become of Steve Jobs’s angel?
    AUGUST 20, 2013

    When Congress returns from its summer recess in early September, it will have exactly nine legislative days to agree on a budget or the government will shut down. House Republicans are seeking far greater cuts in non-defense spending than Senate Democrats, and some members of the GOP are threatening to hold up any budget agreement until the Obama administration abandons the Affordable Care Act. It’s going to be a slog, with all sorts of unseemly compromises. But let me suggest an area where Democrats should allow exactly zero more dollars to be excised from the federal budget: government research for science and technology. We’ve already seen a 13 percent drop in this area over the last two years, and it’s hard to overstate just how damaging to the country’s future further reductions would be.

    Many people still cling to the idea that government is, without exception, a drag upon the private economy. Conservatives “know that when it comes to economic progress,” Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote last year in National Review, “the best government philosophy is one that starts every day with the question, ‘What can we do today to get out of Americans’ way?’ ” They imagine the United States as a land of plucky inventor-entrepreneurs (“We built it!” they cry) who work out of garages and depend solely on their wits. The problem is that this vision of American inventiveness is pure myth.

    Steve Jobs, who has nearly been beatified in his role as independent businessman, excelled at designing products based on government-funded inventions. Some of Apple’s most vaunted achievements—the mouse, a graphical user interface, the touch-screen, even Siri—were all developed in part with federal finances. Or take Google. Its search engine came out of a $4.5 million digital-libraries research grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). You can also look at the pharmaceutical industry. According to a Congressional Budget Office study, 16 of the 21 “most influential drugs” introduced between 1965 and 1992 depended on federally funded research.

    The list goes on. Federal money helped support the invention of lasers, transistors, semiconductors, microwave ovens, communication satellites, cellular technology, and the Internet. Now, the feds are prime backers of the Human Genome Project (which could transform medicine) and nanotechnology (which could transform manufacturing). Subtract these kinds of innovations from America’s future, and you have an economy dependent on tourism, the tottering superstructure of big finance, and the export of raw materials and farm products. More to the point, you have a weaker country—not just in comparison with its competitors, but also in its ability to provide its citizens with richer, longer, more imaginative lives.

    From World War II through the 1980s, Republicans understood this logic, backing government support for science and technology. Harry Truman’s advancement of atomic energy and John Kennedy’s enthusiasm for space travel are well known, but some of the biggest steps in “industrial policy”—the acceptable term is now “innovation strategy”—occurred during the presidencies of Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.

    After the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, the Eisenhower administration created NASA. The same year, the Pentagon established what would become the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which laid the foundations for today’s information economy, having helped develop everything from the Internet (originally ARPAnet) to chip design to artificial-intelligence software. DARPA and not Bay Area venture capitalists provided the seed money for Silicon Valley.

    Reagan, for his part, was known for saying that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” but in 1982, he championed a new program called Small Business Innovation Research, which by 2006 was spending $2.1 billion on more than 5,800 research grants to businesses. Over the course of his term, he also oversaw the formation of Sematech, a government-industry consortium that developed new methods of chip manufacturing, and several other programs that would become major funders of computer science and nanotechnology.

    Republicans justified their initial support for industrial policies on national defense grounds—we had to stay ahead of the Russians, after all—so the end of the cold war marked a major change in their outlook. Once Republicans took control of Congress in the landslide of 1994, they began defunding the Advanced Technology Program (which Reagan started) and killed Congress’s own Office of Technology Assessment. Still, they continued to support the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and NSF and even, under George W. Bush, the National Nanotechnology Initiative. In 2007, Bush signed a bill that promised to double funding for physical science and engineering in seven years and established a version of DARPA in the Energy Department—ARPA-E—to research renewable energy.

    How quaint that now seems. In his first year in office, President Obama accelerated the programs that Bush had approved—doubling the science budget and fully funding ARPA-E—but Republicans greeted these efforts with outright hostility rather than skepticism. Part of it had to do with partisan politics, part a growing anti-government sentiment within the Republican base, and part the attempt by Republican contributors like the Koch brothers to exploit that anti-government sentiment to oppose regulations that affect their industries.

    After the Republicans won the House in November 2010, they forced the Obama administration to agree to annual reductions in spending on science and technology. The NIH’s budget has been cut after sequestration by $1.6 billion and is now the lowest it has been since 2000. Reductions to the NSF budget have led to about 1,000 fewer research grants. And the budget proposals now coming out of the House would gut programs for renewable energy and climate change. The Republicans propose cutting ARPA-E’s budget by 81 percent.

    Republicans say they oppose Obama’s innovation strategy because it consists of picking winners. Some government spending—for instance, on the Human Genome Project or nanotechnology—is hard to characterize that way. But a lot of this spending does favor certain kinds of industries over others—renewables over fossil fuels, microprocessors over memory chips, drugs that are “new molecular entities” over variations on older drugs—and in making these choices, the government ends up subsidizing research at some companies rather than others. This process inevitably leads to failures, Solyndra being the most notorious recent example, because it requires the government to fund technologies that aren’t yet sufficiently profitable to attract private capital. It’s too early to evaluate Obama’s initial efforts; many of these investments will take decades to come to fruition. But it can be said that, while Solyndra went under, electrical transmission using solar and wind doubled during Obama’s four years.

    Even in the face of Republican intransigence, the White House has continued to press for its innovation strategy. In March 2012, Obama unveiled a plan for a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, which would set up regional institutes that bring together scientists, engineers, and business and labor leaders to devise new manufacturing technologies. A pilot center, initiated in Youngstown, Ohio, last August, is focused on 3-D printing. This year, Obama requested a billion dollars for it in his 2014 budget, but he probably won’t get it. “The thought was there, but the will isn’t there because of Republican opposition,” says David Hart, a professor at George Mason who served as assistant director of innovation policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for the last two years.

    Some industries do support the administration’s innovation strategy, but two of the most influential business groups, the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), have proved difficult to persuade, even though their members could end up benefiting hugely. The Chamber of Commerce backed Sematech and Small Business Innovation Research grants under Reagan, but since 1994, it has staked its clout on an alliance with Republican congressional leaders. The organization is unmovable. That’s why negotiations with NAM, which isn’t quite as hard-line conservative as the Chamber, have proved doubly frustrating. Hart remembers being faced with a catch-22: The White House needed NAM to get Republican congressmen on board, but “they said they needed the Republicans to support the policies” before they’d lobby for them in the first place. This April, NAM did come out for the “concept” of the White House plan but said it remained “concerned about where the money is found to fund it.”

    It’s worth pointing out that the two industry groups cited as being supportive of this anti-public research stance (because, hey, why not privatize scientific knowledge too), the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), have a long history of working to promote far-righ interests, including early cooperation with the American Security Council’s (ASC) early activities in establishing the Military Industrial Complex. From Old Nazis, The New Right, and the Republican Party by Russ Bellant; South End Press [HC]; 3rd edition; Copyright 1991 by Russ Bellant; ISBN 0896084183; p. 33-35:

    The Emergence of the Military-Industrial Complex
    Although the ASC began as an antilabor operation with support from Sears (Fisher was on the Sears payroll the first five years he headed ASC)99 and other businesses, it soon became involved in foreign policy issues. It cosponsored a series of annual meetings from 1955 to 1961 called National Military-Industrial Conferences in which elements of the Pentagon, National Security Council, and organizations linked to the CIA disucssed cold war strategy with leaders of many large corporations, such as United Fruit, Standard Oil, Honeywell, U.S. Steel, and, of course, Sears Roebuck. Robert Wood was the key organizer of these events.100 One conference “cooperating organization” was the CIA-linked Foreign Policy Research Institute.101

    The Institute’s foreign policy thesis during this period was spelled out in a book, A Forward Strategy for America by Robert Strausz-Hupe, William R. Kintner, and Stefan T. Possony. In discussing nuclear-option scenarios in a hypothetical expanding U.S.-Soviet conflict, the book m ake the following statement:

    Even at a moment when the United States faces defeat because, for example, Europe, Asia and Africa have fallen to communist domination, a sudden nuclear attack against the Soviet Union could at leat avenge the disaster and deprive the opponent of the ultimate triumph. While such a reversal at the last moment almost certainly would result in severe American casualties, it might still nullify all previous Soviet conquests.102

    Another sponsor of the conferences was the Aircraft Industries Association (AIA). According to Clarence Lasby’s Provect Paperclip, the AIA pressured the U.S. government in the 1950’s to get Nazi scientists into the United States.103 Werhner von Braun who worked on the Nazi rocket program, and General John Medaris, who supervised te Nazi scientists in the U.S. (and has opposed the investigation of the programs by the Justice Department’s OSI), were both conference participants.104

    Influential private groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers, Chambers of Commerce, and several university institutes also participated in the conference. In 1959 the National Military-Industrial Conferences established an Advisory Committee on Foreign Affairs that included a number of representatives of big business. Also included, however, were three political figures of the anti-Semitic extreme right. One of these was Mark M. Jones, who followed Marvin K. Hart as head of the anti-Semitic National Economic Council. Also a member of the Advisory Committee was Martin Blank, from Germany. Blank’s entries in Who’s Who in Germany described him as having worked in Berlin for a mine and steel mill business group from 1922 to 1945.105 A study of backers of German nazism, Who Financed Hitler, says that Blank represented a secret group of twelve Ruhr industrialists call the Ruhrlade, “the most powerful secret orization of the big business that existed during the Weimar period.”106 Ruhrlade and its political emissary, Martin Blank, became involved in funding the rise of Hitler. The 1959 Military-Industrial Conference bulletin indentifies himh as a representative of German industry.

    A third member of the committee was Baron Frederish August von der Heydte, who had also been active with the 1958 conference. His entry in Who’s Who in Germany and other sources say that he was an “active officer 1935-47” in the Germany army.107 Heydte, whose family was close to the exiled Hohenzollen monarch,108 was reported to have written in 1953 that “democracy is linked with collapse, defeat and foreign uniforms stalking German soil,” and that “democracy was brought by the victorious enemy together with the army of occupation.”109 Von der Heydte was a cofounder and ideological leader of the Christian Democratic Union, a party that brought a variety of Nazi elements into its fold after the first postwar German elections.110 In recent years von der Heydte has formed an association with Lyndon LaRouche’s neofascist cult group.111 The only foreign members of the National Military-Industrial Conference’s Foreign Affairs Committee during this perios were Blank and von der Heydte.

    When groups like the US Chamber of Commerce – a founding member of the Military-Industrial Complex and an ally of the next-generation technology firms like Palantir – are lobbying to defund US public research, it should become increasingly clear that the current dominant crop of US oligarchs envision a future where scientific knowledge is ideally held in private hands. And if you’re planning on leaving the US government permanently cash-strapped then even the MIC knows it’s going to have to find a new way to finance the R&D for the MICs of the future. This also suggest they have no interest in the long-term health of the US economy (or any economy that isn’t their private fiefdom) and would rather just capture the benefits of 21st century technological revolutions with the for themselves.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 31, 2013, 5:37 pm
  5. @Pterrafractyl–

    The Max Planck Institute, they ain’t!

    A couple of thoughts: In AFA #14, I noted that the ASC coalesced around the files of Harry Jung’s American Vigilance Intelligence Federation, which was allied with the Hitler/Goebbels Anti-Comintern.

    Also: One wonders how much Bormann/German corporate money may be flowing into the GOP, ensuring that the U.S. will decline technology and commercially?

    Keep up the Good Work!


    Posted by Dave Emory | August 31, 2013, 6:29 pm
  6. artificial intelligence

    Will Robots Replace Rent-a-Cops?
    By Daniel Stuckey


    Has a fear of robotics ever kept anyone from robbing banks? I’m not talking about the surveillance systems, laser-armed tripwires, noisy alarms, or automated locks on the doors. I’m talking about actual robots—an evolution of the ROOMBA Vacuum cleaner, but with legs, not cute, and definitely not something you want to rob.

    Now, an EU-funded, £7.2 million ($11 million USD) collaborative project, called Strands, is underway in England to develop 4D, artificial intelligence for security and care applications. It aims to produce intelligent robo-sentinels that can patrol areas, and learn to detect abnormalities in human behavior. Could their project eventually replace security guards with robots? It looks possible.

    Strands, as Nick Hawes of the University of Birmingham said, will “develop novel approaches to extract spatio-temporal structure from sensor data gathered during months of autonomous operation,” to develop intelligence that can then “exploit [those] structures to yield adaptive behavior in highly demanding, real-world security and care scenarios.”

    Hawes explained the challenge of designing machines that can be utilized as genuine assistants, or real-life C3POs. “To do this,” he said, “we must make great leaps forward in understanding how robots can understand their worlds using the information their sensors provide.”

    Tom Duckett, Director of the Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems Research, will take the helm on the research of creating 4D maps (like 3D, but in consideration of timelines). He explained:

    The idea is to create service robots that will work with people and learn from long-term experiences … In a security scenario a robot will be required to perform regular patrols and continually inspect its surroundings for variations from its normal experiences… We are trying to enable robots to learn from their long-term experience and their perception of how the environment unfolds in time. The technology will have many possible applications.

    Dr Marc Hanheide, in charge of researching fundamental human relations capacities of the robotics added, “The main idea is to deploy robots that run for a long time so they have the chance to develop a common-sense attitude on how the world should be and be able to spot the deviations.”

    No matter how formidable a private security officer can be when wielding a 9mm pistol and a sweat-thirsty German Shepherd, at the end of the day it’s still a mortal man. Not so with robot security. While projects like this bring into question unbeatable defense systems of the future, the military is already being roboticized. But the Strands project is more concerned with creating AI that can take the place of people doing mundane things—it’s a signal of a science-fiction-positive future.

    It’s the bank robbers and security guards that stand to lose the most here. Robots have already started snatching jobs away from food service workers. Now not even mall cops and John Dillinger are safe from the rise of automation.

    Posted by Swamp | September 1, 2013, 8:24 am
  7. Oh look, anarchists with a “better money=freedom” fetish and dreams of using the inherent awesomeness of that better money to collapse the need for government. How unexpected:

    September 24, 2013
    The New Yorker
    Dark Wallet: A Radical Way to Bitcoin
    Posted by Michael del Castillo

    Cody Wilson is a twenty-five-year-old former law student at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also the inventor of the Liberator, a gun made almost entirely from plastic pieces created with a 3-D printer; he uploaded to the Internet a blueprint that anyone could use to print such a gun.

    Wilson, who espouses libertarian views, created the blueprint to make a point: information should be free. Not everyone agreed with him. In May, after Wilson successfully fired the gun at a range near Austin and posted the design online, the State Department requested that those files be removed from the Web site of his nonprofit, Defense Distributed.

    Wilson complied—but not before the files had been downloaded two hundred thousand times, igniting a debate about whether there should be limits to the free flow of information over the Internet, and over the role of the government in enforcing those restrictions.

    Wilson lives in “a utopian world in which contraband will be only a notional concept, because enforcement will require policing ideas and blueprints, not simply goods,” Jacob Silverman wrote in a piece about Wilson and the Liberator in May.

    A native of Cabot, Arkansas—a small suburb of Little Rock—Wilson said that the State Department’s action persuaded him to drop out of law school and pursue revolutionary activities full-time. In fact, he had been planning his next endeavor for a while. When Indiegogo, a crowdfunding site, booted Defense Distributed’s campaign in August, 2012, for violating its terms of service—Indiegogo said the project related to the sale of firearms; Wilson said it was for the creation of information—Wilson began to raise money by asking people to support him using a currency called Bitcoin: encrypted, difficult-to-trace bits of code that function like cash and can be exchanged over the Internet without a bank or a PayPal account.

    Wilson said that he eventually raised two hundred bitcoins for the Liberator—the equivalent of twenty-seven thousand dollars, according to the current exchange rate. His efforts attracted the attention of a twenty-five-year-old Brit named Amir Taaki, who e-mailed him with an invitation to speak at the Bitcoin 2012 Conference, in London. He accepted.

    Wilson and Taaki met in person for the first time in January of 2013, when Taaki took Wilson to visit a workspace for hackers in Bratislava, Slovakia, and to anarchist squats in London. They reconnected in Berlin that July and began hashing out a plan to use the as of yet unregulated, untaxed, nearly untraceable currency in a way that would, like the Liberator, undermine the ability of governments to regulate the activities of their citizens.

    In the Bitcoin world, where banks no longer serve as intermediaries between people and their money, bank accounts have been replaced by online “wallets” that people can use to virtually store and send bitcoins.

    Wilson and Taaki’s project, tentatively known as Dark Wallet, is a simple wallet designed to be easier to use for people who aren’t tech-savvy; they hope that in turn accelerates the currency’s rate of adoption around the world. The wallet will be open-source and free to use. Eventually, Wilson and Taaki hope to create a vast stable of Bitcoin-related tools.

    The goal, for Wilson, is similar to what he tried to do with the Liberator: use technology to remove government intervention from his life, and from the lives of like-minded people.

    Unlike many current Bitcoin wallets, which can be difficult to download and cumbersome to use, Wilson and Taaki are designing Dark Wallet, they told me, as an easy-to-install plug-in that sits discreetly on users’ Chrome or Firefox browsers. Made for Windows, Mac, and Linux computers, Dark Wallet would move most of the energy-sucking process of insuring there’s only one of each bitcoin in circulation, and that they aren’t spent in two places at the same time, to separate servers.

    Wilson, not surprisingly, sees working with the government as a betrayal of Bitcoin’s fundamental purpose. “The public faces of Bitcoin are acting as counter-revolutionaries,” he told me. “They’re actively working to try to diffuse it, and to pollute it.” He was referring, he said, not only to the Bitcoin Foundation but to venture capitalists and entrepreneurs in New York and Silicon Valley who increasingly embrace the currency as a way to profit, but don’t share his revolutionary aims. (Matonis said he is aware of Wilson’s concerns. “I don’t see my role as advancing crony capitalism,” he said.)

    Wilson believes Bitcoin should remain the backbone of a separate economy that undermines the government’s ability to collect taxes and to control the value of currency—not be subsumed into the mainstream economy.

    “The state is basically allowed because we have all chosen to use these certain institutions to channel our activity and commerce,” he told me. “But when we are enabled, through alternative means and technologies, to channel our commerce as we will, channel our production as we will, the state simply disappears.”

    Not everyone agrees, of course, that society would benefit from the disappearance of governments. Wilson used the Liberator to make the point that the government shouldn’t regulate the flow of information; he wants to use Bitcoin to help build an economy outside of the government’s reach.

    But his ideology, taken to its logical conclusion, would also leave services like roads, libraries, fire fighting, and policing in the hands of the private sector—whose interests may not be aligned, Wilson’s critics argue, with those of the public at large.

    Oh look, Peter Thiel is interested in Bitcoin. How completely unexpected:

    November 26 2007: 8:52 AM EST
    Meet the PayPal mafia
    An inside look at the hyperintelligent, superconnected pack of serial entrepreneurs who left the payment service and are turning Silicon Valley upside down. Fortune’s Jeffrey O’Brien reports.
    By Jeffrey M. O’Brien, Fortune senior editor

    (Fortune Magazine) — A door opens, and a blond man appears in a white jacket with large buttons. “Good morning,” he says. “Peter’s in back. Make yourself comfortable in the dining room. I’ll be serving breakfast shortly.”

    Holy cannoli. Peter Thiel has a butler. The 40-year-old entrepreneur runs a $3 billion hedge fund. He’s the founder of a new venture capital firm that’s the talk of Silicon Valley. He’s got an early $500,000 stake in Facebook that’s now worth about $1 billion on paper. The man has bankrolled everything from restaurants to movies and is lauded by many as some kind of free-market genius. He drives a half-million-dollar McLaren supercar. And now a butler.

    Just back from a morning run, Thiel emerges into the dining room of his home in the shadow of San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts. Wearing a powder-blue T-shirt wet with sweat, he displays the relaxed self-confidence of Michael Corleone. Perhaps it comes with the butler. “I’m Peter,” he says, extending his hand and smiling before thanking me for agreeing to such a late breakfast meeting. It’s 7:30 A.M. “It was nice to sleep in.”

    The doorbell rings, and in walks a scruffy, sleepy-eyed Max Levchin, 32, who has trekked over from his new $5 million-plus home a few blocks away in Pacific Heights. Every garment on Levchin’s unwashed body is a freebie – University of Illinois zip jacket, mismatching shorts, bright orange T-shirt with some Hebrew lettering.

    Levchin runs one of the hottest companies on the web, a photo-sharing site called Slide that draws 134 million users a month. Making neither eye contact nor conversation, he presses his lips together, nods to indicate that he is, as ever, ready for business, and sits.

    It’s been nine years since Thiel and Levchin first dined together at Hobee’s, near Stanford University. Levchin had an idea for a company, and Thiel wanted to invest. In short order Thiel joined as a co-founder, and together they set out to “create the new world currency.”

    Their brainchild would change the course of the Internet. They’d bring on several hundred employees to what would become PayPal. They’d sign up more than 20 million users and burn $180 million in funding before breaking even and selling out to eBay (Charts, Fortune 500) for $1.5 billion.

    And then things got interesting. The eBay deal, remarkable only because it happened in the bleakness of 2002, wasn’t so much an exit as an explosion. Most of PayPal’s key employees left eBay, but they stayed in touch. They even have a name for themselves: the PayPal mafia. And the mafiosi have been busy.

    This group of serial entrepreneurs and investors represents a new generation of wealth and power. In some ways they’re classic characters of Silicon Valley, where success and easy access to capital breed ambition and further success. It’s the reason people come to the area from all over the world. But even by that standard, PayPal was a petri dish for entrepreneurs. The obvious question is, Why?

    A staunch libertarian, Thiel figured a web-based currency would undermine government tax structures. Getting there, however, would mean taking on established industries – commercial banking, for instance – which would require financial acumen and engineering expertise.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 25, 2013, 1:39 pm
  8. Well this is interesting: a venture capital fund just announced a $2 million investment in Neurotrack, a company that specializes in early detection of Alzheimer’s disease using a simple, non-invasive test: you view images on your computer, some familiar and some not, and the software tracks your eye’s movement. Using that info alone Neurotrack appears to have the potential to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s. And there’s a newer variation of the test that doesn’t even track eye-movement. Instead, the software tracks mouse movements that unblur blurred images. It’s pretty impressive if it works!

    But beyond the interesting applications for early Alzheimer’s detection, you have to wonder what other aspects of our minds’ inner workings will be inferrable via the tracking of eye and mouse movements. It’s something we should probably be thinking, because that venture capital fund investing in this technology, the Founders Fund, is, of course, Peter Thiel’s fund.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 30, 2013, 1:47 pm
  9. Why is it that the coolest technology also tends to be the creepiest?

    Amazon’s Smartphones Detailed: ‘Project Smith’ 3D Flagship Model And A Value Handset With FireOS
    Matthew Panzarino

    Amazon is in the process of developing two smartphones, one inexpensive model and one with a 3D eye-tracking interface, TechCrunch has learned. The details are somewhat sparse, but are corroborated by sources and reports from earlier this year.

    Amazon is planning two devices, the first of which is the previously rumored ‘expensive’ version with a 3D user interface, eye tracking and more. Both devices were under the ‘Project B’ moniker before the news was leaked on WSJ earlier this year. The expensive model’s code-name has since been changed to ‘Duke’ and now ‘Smith’ — and a release is not planned this year.

    Details of the devices appeared on a HN posting via a throwaway account earlier today and TechCrunch verified some aspects of the posting with our sources and came away with some additional information.

    They match up with details from the WSJ report:

    But the people familiar with the plans said the smartphone and set-top box are just two elements of a broader foray into hardware that also includes the audiostreaming device and the high-end smartphone with the 3-D screen.

    Inside Amazon’s Lab126 facility in Cupertino, Calif., where each of the devices have been under development, the efforts are known as Project A, B, C and D, or collectively the Alphabet Projects, said the people familiar with the plans.

    The ‘Smith’ project includes a device that sounds like a bit of a hardware beast. The screen itself is not 3D but the device features four cameras, one at each corner of the device that will be used to track eye and head motions in order to move the interface around to ‘give the impression’ of 3D. Instead of using the phone’s internal sensors, like Apple does with iOS 7, it would base the movements off of the user’s point of view. Theoretically, this will provide a more accurate 3D representation of the screen’s contents.

    There has been some software testing on a feature that will recognize the user’s face and ignore other faces around it, so as not to project 3D perspectives that are proper for your neighbors, but not for you.

    Another feature said to be planned for the device, but not yet locked for release, is an image recognition feature that lets users take a shot of any real-world object and match it to an Amazon product for purchase. The possibility of this object recognition model offsetting some of the cost of the device through purchases by users is mentioned in the posting.

    Four cameras (5 including a rear camera for shooting images) would be a large additional expense, so it’s tough to imagine that making it to market, and it’s not needed for motion tracking. But it could be necessary for the object capture mode, and Amazon could be looking for a differentiating feature that sets its devices apart from the crowd.

    You have to wonder what the ability to literally track what you’re looking at will do to the field of online advertising because now advertisers can request to pay only for real “eyeballs” glancing at their ads and not just page loads. One possibility: the internet becomes a lot less safe for epileptics.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 3, 2013, 2:09 pm
  10. And now Peter Thiel is taking his dedication to building a bizarro-world reality to the next step: he just invested in a company that makes anti-matter:

    The Verge
    The antimatter factory: inside the project that could power fusion and annihilation lasers

    By Russell Brandom on August 28, 2013 11:15 am

    Physicists have been chasing antimatter technology for more than 80 years now — driven by the promise of oppositely oriented particles that explode in a burst of energy whenever they make contact with their more common counterpart. If we could tame antimatter, those explosions could be used to power a new generation of technology, from molecular scanners to rocket engines to the so-called “annihilation laser,” a tightly concentrated energy beam fueled by annihilating positrons. But while scientists have seen recent breakthroughs in creating the particles, they still have trouble capturing and containing them.

    That progress has left us closer to workable antimatter than ever before, and parallel projects are already working on novel devices to cool and trap the particles, along with new magnetic arrays to keep them stable. With the right funding, experts estimate we could see the dawn of the positron age in as few as five years. Positron Dynamics is one key player in the new wave of technology, working on an innovative method for cooling down and capturing positrons, the antimatter equivalent of the common electron. Whenever a positron and an electron meet, they annihilate each other, which presents a serious challenge for anyone working with them. It’s particularly difficult because electrons are literally everywhere, floating in clouds around essentially every atom in the universe. Right now, the best solution for cooling the positrons is running them through a block of frozen neon (called a “moderator”), which offers a minimum of stray electrons. But the system only catches roughly one in 100 positrons, and in the 30 years it’s been in use, no one’s been able to improve on it.

    Positron Dynamics thinks it can do better, and with seed funding from Paypal billionaire Peter Thiel’s Breakout Labs, the company has enough money to find out. “We’ve run some initial simulations, and it looks like we could be able to create as many as 10 micrograms of positrons a week with a linear accelerator,” says co-founder Ryan Weed, PhD, a physicist and former cryogenic engineer for Jeff Bezos’s space flight company Blue Origin. That’s a flood compared to the current trickle that’s coming from isotope-based methods, and it could be enough to turn positron creation into a self-sustaining business.

    Instead of a single block of neon ice, the company uses an array of 50 or more thinly sliced semiconducting solids. Flying through the array, particles will lose a little bit of heat to each one until they’re cool enough to trap. From there, the positrons can be pulled out of the empty spaces between the layers by a magnetic field. Many of these tactics have been tried before, but never in exactly this combination. The lab also has a few new tricks up its sleeve, like keeping the entire system in a vacuum, so the positrons have a better chance of surviving the different layers of array without running into any electrons. Inevitably, most positrons will still explode before they can make it through the trap — but if Weed can get even one in ten to survive, it would be a massive breakthrough, potentially turning antimatter into an industrial product. Even better, if the Positron Dynamics-style moderator takes off, it could scale the process to even more positron-rich environments like linear accelerators, which create antimatter on a much larger scale.

    That’s where the real fun starts. Many positron scientists think that, as soon as five years from now, we’ll have the technology to transport positrons the same way we transport tanks of liquid nitrogen or other industrial chemicals. Positrons are already used in some medical imaging technologies, like positron emission tomography, thanks to their X-ray-like ability to identify tumors and other points of high metabolic activity in the body. Positrons also tend to nestle into atomic level gaps in metal, so Weed envisions a positron scanner that could spot sub-microscopic flaws in a semiconductor or an airplane engine. Given the right storage breakthroughs, Weed estimates the scanner might be workable in as few as three years.

    From there, things get even more ambitious. In the long term, Weed envisions huge engines fed by positrons, creating the equivalent of a jet engine thrust from electron-positron explosions. Antimatter drives are common in science fiction, but once positron storage becomes possible, scientists can begin to make real progress on the drives, turning the energetic positron-electron explosion into something that could power a submarine or a spaceship. And positrons are especially useful for creating a beam of intensely focused energy — known as an annihilation laser — along with more complex arrangements that the Positron Dynamic team believes might be useful for catalyzing fusion.

    Well, at least now we know what Thiel’s drone army will be armed with.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 7, 2013, 2:50 pm
  11. Something tells me that when this guy bills his course at Stanford as the “spiritual sequel” to Peter Thiel’s Stanford course on business startups he isn’t kidding:

    Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit Is a Fantasy of Seceding from the U.S.

    Nitasha Tiku
    10/21/2013 2:29pm

    What if the perfect liquidity event for Silicon Valley was not a blockbuster IPO, or an acquisition that paid out at some insane multiple, but a literal exit from the United States of America? No more lumbering bureaucracies, no lobbying incumbents, no “petty” laws, no obstructionist unions. That’s what a Stanford lecturer and genetics startup cofounder Balaji Srinivasan proposed at Y Combinator’s annual startup school this weekend.

    Srinivasan’s lecture, entitled “Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit” explored the idea of techno-utopian spaces, which could even mean entirely new countries that would “operate beyond the bureaucracy and inefficiency of government,” reports CNET. With an “air of forced evangelism,” Srinivasan told the crowd, “We need to build opt-in society, outside the US, run by technology”:

    “We didn’t securitize mortgages, order bailouts, start wars, or refuse to write movies or articles on this until too late,” read one of Srinivasan’s slides on where the blame lies and what the real problems are that are holding technology back. […]

    With 3D printing, regulation is being turned into DRM. With quantified self, medicine is going mobile. With Bitcoin, capital control becomes packet filtering. All of these examples, Srinivasan says, are ways in which technology is allowing people to exit current systems like physical product production and distribution; personal health; and finance in favor of spaces of their own creation.

    “The best part is this, the people who think this is weird, the people who sneer at the frontier, who hate technology, won’t follow you there,” he said. “We need to run the experiment, to show what a society run by Silicon Valley looks like without affecting anyone who wants to live under the Paper Belt,” he added, using the term “paper belt” to refer to the environments currently governed by pre-existing systems like the US government.

    The Paper Belt. Expect to hear that term a lot more. What better way to sneer at the bureaucratic nightmare of government than to picture an entire swath of the country—from Washington D.C. to New York—gasping for its last breath under a pile dead-trees slices as Silicon Valley whizzes by on a Hyperloop toward maximum efficiency.

    The “Ultimate Exit” may sound like a line from a Heaven’s Gate manual or a certain German euphemism, but it’s merely a more extreme example of the “anarchist cheerleading,” as Kevin Roose called it that, we’ve seen from privileged technocrats during the government shutdown.

    Srinivasan just picks up where Larry Page’s vision of Google Island, Elon Musk’s Mars colony, Peter Thiel’s investment in a lawless seastead, and the floating startup incubator 30 minutes from Silicon Valley left off. Only he begins to extrapolate some best exit practices:

    Srinivasan even went so far as to point out — perhaps with a bit of tongue-in-cheekiness — that Silicon Valley, including the up-and-coming entrepreneurs in the Y Combinator crowd, must design these processes for exit peacefully, as combating current systems like the US government would result in violent failure.

    This is the Tea Party with better gadgets. It’s probably no coincidence that Srinivasan’s genetics startup (started in a Stanford dorm room, naturally) has raised more than $65 million in funding from investors like Peter Thiel’s Founders Fun. Thiel, of course, was a big backer of Ted Cruz and single-handedly funded a Ron Paul super PAC before the last presidential election.

    Silicon Valley likes to imagine that it can build a better world that the one we live in. That’s partly because the tech sector spends so much time thinking about the future and partly because it fancies itself populated by exceptional objectivists.

    As George Packer wrote in the 2011 profile of Thiel:

    No technological change would have more effect on the living standards of struggling Americans than improvements in energy and food, which dominate the economy and drive up prices. “That’s not one I focus on as much,” Thiel admitted. “It is very heavily politically linked, and my instinct is to stay away from that stuff.” Such oversights are telling. In Thiel’s techno-utopia, a few thousand Americans might own robot-driven cars and live to a hundred and fifty, while millions of others lose their jobs to computers that are far smarter than they are, then perish at sixty.

    One of the things about “anarchist cheerleading” that’s also analogous to the Tea Party phenomena is that the cheerleaders for both anarchiy and the Tea Party tend to either be really clueless or really, really rich. Sometimes both:

    New York Magazine
    10/16/2013 at 1:22 PM

    The Government Shutdown Has Revealed Silicon Valley’s Dysfunction Fetish

    By Kevin Roose

    Chamath Palihapitiya is not a dumb or heartless man. A former Facebook employee, venture-capitalist multimillionaire, and owner of the Golden State Warriors, he’s gotten into Silicon Valley’s inner circle as a prominent backer, for instance, of FWD.us, Mark Zuckerberg’s political lobbying group, and he’s spent a lot of his social and financial capital pushing for good causes in areas like health care. He’s clearly not someone who takes the suffering of others lightly.

    So it’s surprising that in an interview last week, Palihapitiya revealed that he is entirely emblematic of Silicon Valley’s extreme myopia when it comes to the political system, and dismissive of those who suffer when the system grinds to a halt.

    Here’s the key moment, which occurred late in an interview with “This Week in Start-ups” host Jason Calacanis. Palihapitiya begins by talking about companies and entrepreneurship, then, at around 31:00, Calacanis makes a joke about the government shutdown, which prompts this exchange (emphasis added):
    [see video at link]

    Palihapitiya: The government, they’re completely useless.

    Calacanis: The government got shut down today and the stock market went up 1 percent.

    Palihapitiya: We’re in this really interesting shift. The center of power is here, make no mistake. I think we’ve known it now for probably four or five years. But it’s becoming excruciatingly, obviously clear to everyone else that where value is created is no longer in New York, it’s no longer in Washington, it’s no longer in LA. It’s in San Francisco and the Bay Area. And when you look at sort of, like, how markets react to things like that, and when there’s no reaction, it should be taken as a very subtle signal that the power dynamics have changed. Because markets value meaningful events, markets discount meaningless events. And so the functional value of the government is effectively discounted to zero …

    Companies are transcending power now. We are becoming the eminent vehicles for change and influence, and capital structures that matter. If companies shut down, the stock market would collapse. If the government shuts down, nothing happens and we all move on, because it just doesn’t matter. Stasis in the government is actually good for all of us. It means they can neither do anything semi-useful nor anything really stupid. They just sit there and they just kind of, you know …


    Calacanis: There you have it.

    This exchange is extraordinary for a few reasons. First, it’s factually suspect. Palihapitiya implies that the stock market’s tepid response to the debt-ceiling shenanigans means that investors don’t care about political outcomes — an assertion that doesn’t square with the stock market’s huge rally today on news that House Republicans were getting ready to sign a debt-limit extension.

    But the bigger takeaway from Palihapitiya’s rant is that a certain strain of influential Silicon Valley thought has moved past passive political apathy and into a kind of anarchist cheerleading. Dysfunction and shutdowns are good, this line of thinking goes, because it hamstrings Washington’s ability to mess with the private sector’s profit-making schemes. And as long as the Bay Area is still churning out successful start-ups, what does it matter if hundreds of thousands of government workers are furloughed, essential services are cut off for low-income Americans, and the threat of a sovereign default endangers the entire economy?

    Palihapitiya isn’t the only Silicon Valley bigwig who has made the claim that government dysfunction is a good thing, on the whole. His statement mirrors what venture capitalist Marc Andreessen said last year, when he proclaimed, “I love gridlock!”

    It would be an easy view to write off, if it weren’t so influential. Silicon Valley is, after all, the country’s most lucrative economic engine right now, and it is accumulating political capital to accompany its profits. If tech leaders like Palihapitiya and groups like FWD.us have their way, future bouts of dysfunction in Washington might not just be about the tea party clashing with Democrats and the Republican Establishment. One day, they might be carried in by a Bay Area breeze.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 21, 2013, 8:32 pm
  12. “Google executives said the company would honor existing military contracts, but that it did not plan to move toward becoming a military contractor on its own.” So says the executives that just bought a company that builds hunter-killer cheetah-bots for the Pentagon:

    The New York Times
    Google Adds to Its Menagerie of Robots

    Published: December 14, 2013

    SAN FRANCISCO — BigDog, Cheetah, WildCat and Atlas have joined Google’s growing robot menagerie.

    Google confirmed on Friday that it had completed the acquisition of Boston Dynamics, an engineering company that has designed mobile research robots for the Pentagon. The company, based in Waltham, Mass., has gained an international reputation for machines that walk with an uncanny sense of balance and even — cheetahlike — run faster than the fastest humans.

    It is the eighth robotics company that Google has acquired in the last half-year. Executives at the Internet giant are circumspect about what exactly they plan to do with their robot collection. But Boston Dynamics and its animal kingdom-themed machines bring significant cachet to Google’s robotic efforts, which are being led by Andy Rubin, the Google executive who spearheaded the development of Android, the world’s most widely used smartphone software.

    The deal is also the clearest indication yet that Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care.

    Boston Dynamics was founded in 1992 by Marc Raibert, a former professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It has not sold robots commercially, but has pushed the limits of mobile and off-road robotics technology, mostly for Pentagon clients like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa. Early on, the company also did consulting work for Sony on consumer robots like the Aibo robotic dog.

    Boston Dynamics’ walking robots have a reputation for being extraordinarily agile, able to walk over rough terrain and handle surfaces that in some cases are challenging even for humans.

    A video of one of its robots named BigDog shows a noisy, gas-powered, four-legged, walking robot that climbs hills, travels through snow, skitters precariously on ice and even manages to stay upright in response to a well-placed human kick. BigDog development started in 2003 in partnership with the British robot maker Foster-Miller, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Harvard.

    The video has been viewed more than 15 million times since it was posted on YouTube in 2008.

    More recently, Boston Dynamics distributed a video of a four-legged robot named WildCat, galloping in high-speed circles in a parking lot.

    Although the videos frequently inspire comments that the robots will evolve into scary killing machines straight out of the “Terminator” movies, Dr. Raibert has said in the past that he does not consider his company to be a military contractor — it is merely trying to advance robotics technology. Google executives said the company would honor existing military contracts, but that it did not plan to move toward becoming a military contractor on its own.

    Under a $10.8 million contract, Boston Dynamics is currently supplying Darpa with a set of humanoid robots named Atlas to participate in the Darpa Robotics Challenge, a two-year contest with a $2 million prize. The contest’s goal is creating a class of robots that can operate in natural disasters and catastrophes like the nuclear power plant meltdown in Fukushima, Japan.

    “Competitions like the Darpa Robotics Challenge stretch participants to try to solve problems that matter and we hope to learn from the teams’ insights around disaster relief,” Mr. Rubin said in a statement released by Google.

    Boston Dynamics has also designed robots that can climb walls and trees as well as other two- and four-legged walking robots, a neat match to Mr. Rubin’s notion that “computers are starting to sprout legs and move around in the environment.”

    A recent video shows a robot named Cheetah running on a treadmill. This year, the robot was clocked running 29 miles per hour, surpassing the previous legged robot land speed record of 13.1 m.p.h., set in 1999. That’s about one mile per hour faster than Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, the two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 100-meter dash. But it’s far short of a real cheetah, which can hit 65 m.p.h.

    Google’s other robotics acquisitions include companies in the United States and Japan that have pioneered a range of technologies including software for advanced robot arms, grasping technology and computer vision. Mr. Rubin has also said that he is interested in advancing sensor technology.

    Mr. Rubin has called his robotics effort a “moonshot,” but has declined to describe specific products that might come from the project. He has, however, also said that he does not expect initial product development to go on for years, indicating that Google commercial robots of some nature could be available in the next several years.

    Google declined to say how much it paid for its newest robotics acquisition and said that it did not plan to release financial information on any of the other companies it has recently bought.

    The countdown begins for the inevitable bear vs cheetah-bot fight because it’s only a matter of time before Google sticks Google Street-View cameras on their new toys and sends them off into the wilderness. While one should obviously be rooting for the bear in such a conflict, the cheetah-bot might be the better bet.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 16, 2013, 11:38 am
  13. Here’s a reminder that we should probably assume that today’s techno-oligarchs have every intent on being tomorrow’s techno-oligarchs. Indefinitely:

    Pando Daily
    Eric Schmidt updates his techtopian vision for the future

    Michael Carney_PandoDaily By Michael Carney
    On March 7, 2014

    To say that technology will be a defining force in shaping the future of the world is so obvious, it hardly bears mentioning. Trying to predict how that future will unfold and what technology’s impact will be, however, is an exercise that allows much less certainty. That’s exactly the challenge undertaken by “The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business,” the now year-old book written by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and Director of Google Ideas Jared Cohen.

    Schmidt and Cohen continued their whirlwind global book tour this week stopping by the Oasis: The Monty Summit technology conference in Santa Monica for a keynote address on the state of technology. A lot has transpired in the year since the book went to press. The Arab Spring and the Edward Snowden-led NSA leaks have both demonstrated technology’s power to drive change, but also the unexpected consequences that can unfold.

    “I think we’ve seen the unpredictability of political change due to technology,” Schmidt said during the interview conducted by Bloomberg TV’s Emily Chang. He went on to add, “It’s very easy to unseat an autocrat, but what next? Revolutions are easy to start, but hard to finish.” According to Cohen, “There’s a limit to technological optimism – the gun still speaks. That may not be a good thing, but it’s true.”

    Schmidt and Cohen also looked into their crystal ball to predict which areas of technology would have the most impact in the coming years. Cohen’s answer was that the growth in mobile adoption, which in turn brings internet access to entirely new populations would have a profound impact on education, particularly for women.

    Schmidt, on the other hand, points to advances in artificial intelligence and the use of automation in our everyday lives as an area of profound impact.

    “Robots will become omnipresent in our lives in a good way,” he says. “Technology is evolving from asking a question to making a relevant recommendation. It will figure out things you care about and make recommendations. That’s possible with today’s technology.”

    Of course Google has been actively acquiring robotics and home automation companies over the last year, including blockbuster deals to absorb Nest Labs, the $3.2 billion maker of smart thermostats and smoke detectors, Deepmind, the $500 million artificial intelligence company, and Boston Dynamics the company known for developing robotics and software for human simulation (for an undisclosed sum).

    Add in Android, the company’s dominant mobile platform, its fledgling wearables division led by Google Glass, and its driverless car program and Google seems better positioned than anyone to lead us into an automated future. Asked what he sees Google “being” in 10 years, Schmidt responded, “[our goal is to see that] improvement in AI make things more efficient and enjoyable.”

    Whether consumers, regulators, and privacy watchdogs will view this as positively as Schmidt does is another matter entirely.

    Finally, Schmidt and Cohen touched on the future potential for technology to extend lifespans and push the current boundaries of mortality. Google has reportedly invested “hundreds of millions of dollars” into Calico, a clandestine anti-aging healthcare startup, but Schmidt declined to discuss details of the work taking place there. He did, however, discuss a future preventative medicine scenario in which we might all wear sensors that conduct real-time, non-invasive health monitoring, such as for example high resolution cameras that monitor changes in our skin that can be indicative of the onset of disease or other health changes.

    It’s not everyday that you get to hear two of the most well-informed technologists of our time prognosticate on where the future might lead us. In Schmidt and Cohen’s telling, that future will be one in which technology increases the pace of political change, information is more readily available, and health is a matter of prevention rather than repair.

    It’s a compelling and occasionally idealistic view. But as I said at the outset, predicting the future is an exercise that by definition does not allow for much certainty.

    Yep, Eric Schmidt declined to discuss the details of Google’s new longevity biotech company during a talk about the profound changes technology might have on society. How odd.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 9, 2014, 6:24 pm
  14. Check out the latest investment by Peter Thiel’s Mithril Capital Management firm: They’re going to compete with the emerging mini-nuclear fission power plant industry with mini-nuclear fusion plants:

    Y Combinator And Mithril Invest In Helion, A Nuclear Fusion Startup
    8/14/2014 by Kyle Russell

    Building a nuclear fusion reactor that can generate more energy than is put in to make it work is one of the biggest challenges facing engineers today. Like quantum computing, decades of research have mostly resulted in proofs of concept, not hardware that can be rolled out commercially.

    So it came as a surprise to hear that Y Combinator and Mithril Capital Management are investing $1.5 million in Helion Energy, a Redmond, Washingon-based startup that says it has a plan to build a fusion reactor that breaks even on energy input and output, a challenge whose solution has been considered decades away for, well, decades. Helion CEO David Kirtley says that his company can do it in three years.

    Helion was founded by four scientists working at MSNW, an organization spun-off from the University of Washington that focuses on determining the feasibility of turning plasma physics research into commercializable hardware with aerospace and power-generation applications.

    When the team left to form their own company, they did so with the express intention of using electronics advancements from other fields to create a magnetic-inertial confinement fusion reactor.

    That was one of the big reasons Mithril took an interest in Helion when first introduced early this year. “The founding team has spent ten years working on the problem. Between 2003 and 2009 they found many solutions that don’t work, many paths not to take,” Mithril managing general partner Ajay Royan told me on a phone call.

    The team saw that the technology being built for space propulsion and the smart grid could be used to control a magnetic field that contains plasma undergoing nuclear fusion — and even “squeeze” the plasma to increase the rate of reaction.

    Unlike ITER, the international effort to build the world’s largest experimental fusion reactor, Helion isn’t aiming at designing a full-scale power station. That comes with several advantages, the biggest being that they don’t think it will cost them anywhere near $50 billion to construct a reactor that achieves break-even, and full-scale plasma experiments will begin well before ITER’s new goal of 2027. Kirtly says that they estimate that reaching break-even with their design should require “just a few tens of millions of dollars.”

    Instead of building at the scale of a gigawatt power station right out of the gate, the company is looking to compete with smaller, more distributed plants, like large diesel generators in regions where fuel has to be trucked in. It’s a market where the current “best” solution isn’t great and the barriers to entry are far easier to deal with than when competing with the big guys.

    At the scale they’re designing for, the team thinks that it will have significant price advantages once they go to market. Their design collects charged particles with each pulse, meaning it can generate electricity without having to construct a pricey turbine in addition to the reactor. The reactor is fueled by deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen that is abundant in sea water, making it more affordable than truckloads of diesel.

    In an ideal world, everything works out for Helion over the next few years. They achieve break-even, raise an Uber-like mountain of capital in a Series C to begin building factories, and begin cranking out reactors that provide reliable, emissions-free energy without any nuclear waste to dispose of. As they transition from providing a niche product for remote regions to massive power stations, the idea that we had to burn fossil fuels to sustain our way of life begins to seem quaint. Hurrah for humanity.

    That long-term dream is what motivated Y Combinator president to begin looking for opportunities in nuclear fission and fusion one and a half years ago. “Any time you can come up with a new, cheaper source of energy, it has a huge impact on quality of life for everyone,” Altman told me earlier this week. “Clean, safe, renewable energy is the best thing you can do for the poorest half of the world.”

    With all of that said, three years is a long time. All kinds of companies run in to roadblocks that lead to failure over that kind of time frame, and most of those companies aren’t building technologies on the bleeding edge of plasma physics.

    Things could go according to plan for Helion. Or, it could turn out that some key ingredient to building a reactor that actually generates more power than put in is trickier than originally predicted and the company has to put another $100 million into R&D.

    Since we can be pretty sure Thiel has the powering of Seasteading colonies in mind with this technology, let’s hope whatever design they come up with is thoroughly hurricane-proof.

    Keep in mind that Thiel is also prone to warning humanity that technological innovation will stagnate and society will collapse unless we deregulate industry and just let industrialists like Thiel run wild with technology. So, assuming that predicted period of collapse takes place (despite the possible near-term development of cheap, clean fusion technology) and since Thiel is already investing in anti-matter technology and the capacity to build a drone army, one of the more intriguing questions raised by this announcement is whether or not we should prefer that Peter Thiel arms his future drone armies with or fusion bombs or anti-matter bombs? Maybe anti-matter fusion bombs? Which one is going to be more eco-friendly while waging war on a dying world from his Seasteading colony?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 14, 2014, 11:23 am
  15. Festo presents our future workforce: 3D-printed bionic ants. Plus other bionic critters. Plus not you:

    Our Future Worforce
    3D-printed bionic ants

    27 March 15 by Daniel Culpan

    Ants are nature’s very own army: goal-driven, indefatigable and capable of great victories in the face of adversity. Now, a German engineering company is looking to harness the power of these insects using the latest bionic technology, in the hope of revolutionising the workforce of the future.

    As part of its Bionic Learning Network, Festo has created a swarm of BionicANTs: robot insects around the size of a human hand, which unnervingly resemble a super-sized version of their insect forebears. The BionicANTs are programmed to mimic the intelligence of their real world counterparts — including their ability to co-operate and complete fiendishly complex tasks, such as moving objects much larger than themselves, which they’d be unable to do alone.

    Each BionicANT is embedded with a stereo camera in its head and sensors underneath, giving it an intuitive sense of spatial awareness and the ability to locate and grip objects with its pincers. Adding to the robots’ uncanny appearance is their 3D-printed plastic body and six ceramic legs powered by piezo technology, which keeps them scuttling along efficiently to get the job done.

    The swarm uses a wireless network to communicate, effectively creating a mini production powerhouse. By using a series of complex algorithms, Festo’s vision is to pioneer intelligent robots that could help pave the way for factories of the future run by an entirely autonomous workforce.

    But how could robot ants actually be used today? Simone Schmid, from Festo, tells WIRED.co.uk: “Piezo-ceramic actuators are now mainly used as pressure sensors and in energy generation; their use in miniature robots is extremely rare.”

    She continues: “Already today, piezo valves from Festo are used on board vehicles, for example as comfort valves in seats. They are also used in laboratory automation and in medical technology, where they can precisely meter the supply of air and oxygen in mobile respirators. In view of their low energy consumption, their batteries only seldom need changing. Moreover, their switching process is almost silent; this reduces the burden on patients.”

    But before we humans start getting antsy about these intelligent robots potentially leaving us in the unemployment queue, there’s a whole bestiary of bionic animals waiting in the wings. Festo has already turned its hand to creating everything from robotic kangaroos bouncing around on flexible blades to bionic penguins that wouldn’t be out of place in the Antarctic.

    It’s not just earthbound creatures that are undergoing a sci-fi metamorphosis either. The Bionic Learning Network recently sent its eMotionButterflies into flight. These ultra-lightweight insects use an intelligent networking system, comprised of ten high-speed infrared cameras. These then track infrared markers on the tiny, 32-gram bodies of the robo-insects, with the data transferred back to a central computer, allowing their movements to be coordinated and preventing mid-air collisions. Each butterfly has a 50cm wingspan and can fly for four minutes.

    However, it’s unlikely you’ll see an eMotionButterfly fluttering around your garden anytime soon; as with all of Festo’s robotic animal kingdom, these techno-critters are slated to be the basis of future industrial robots

    “But before we humans start getting antsy about these intelligent robots potentially leaving us in the unemployment queue, there’s a whole bestiary of bionic animals waiting in the wings. Festo has already turned its hand to creating everything from robotic kangaroos bouncing around on flexible blades to bionic penguins that wouldn’t be out of place in the Antarctic.”

    Meet your replacement. Training starts Monday.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 29, 2015, 6:47 pm

Post a comment