Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto

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Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto

Japanese efforts to overcome the Uncanny Valley Effect (the feeling of revulsion people experience when encountering robots that are not genuinely lifelike):

To make Paro [a robotic baby seal] realistic, Takanori Shibata…flew out to a floating ice field in Northeast Canada to record real baby seals in their natural habitat. In addition to replicating those sounds in the robot, he designed it to seek out eye contact, respond to touch, cuddle, remember faces, and learn actions that generate a favorable reaction. Just like animals used in pet therapy, Shibata argues, Paro can help relieve depression and anxiety—but it never needs to be fed and doesn’t die.

At the elder-care facility in Yokohama, I watch a nurse place a Paro in the arms of a blind 90-year-old man in a wheelchair. “What is this?” he asks. Then, as the seal snuggles into him, he lets out a joyful, “Oh!”, clutches it tightly to his chest, and flashes a toothless grin.

Interesting thoughts on the cultural-specificity of Japanese reactions to robots, too:

Those fears [about robots] don’t particularly resonate in Japan. Unlike in Western nations, many citizens have always felt comfortable with the concept of robots. One reason for this, Hornyak suggests, is the country’s Shintoist heritage. The religion has imbued Japanese culture with deep animist beliefs, a tendency to ascribe spirit and personality to inanimate objects. The tradition, embedded in Japanese folklore and myth, can be seen around Tokyo even today. The city has a monument to eyeglasses in one park, Hornyak notes, and there’s an annual ceremony at Sensoji Temple to pay respect to needles that have seen their last use. “Would you ever find a monument erected to belts or something, in a U.S. park?” he asks. “I don’t think so.”

H/t: Instapundit

The harmful effects of multitasking

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The harmful effects of multitasking

…in addition to slowing you [mentally] down, multitasking lowers your IQ. A study at the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child.

That strikes me as correct. But I view this with a healthy dose of skepticism:

Researchers at the University of Sussex in the UK compared the amount of time people spend on multiple devices (such as texting while watching TV) to MRI scans of their brains. They found that high multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control.

Brain changes seen from light usage of marijuana

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Brain changes seen from light usage of marijuana

The study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, which compared high-resolution MRI brain scans of recreational marijuana users aged 18 to 25 with those of nonusers, found significant abnormalities in the left nucleus accumbens and the left amygdala of marijuana users, even those who smoked just once per week. These regions of the brain are responsible for pleasure and reward, processing memory, emotional reactions, and the assessment of negative consequences.

The Carrington Event

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The Carrington Event

A massive solar flare that struck Earth back in 1859. Never heard of it before.

“Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed, in some cases giving telegraph operators electric shocks. Telegraph pylons threw sparks. Some telegraph systems continued to send and receive messages despite having been disconnected from their power supplies.”