Attend the Austin Robotics Conference (aka, SXSWi Monday, March 14!)

Monday, March 14 has shaped up to be an amazing day of programming at South-by-Southwest if you have even micron of interest in any element of robotics.

Because, like an eventful Matryoshka doll, the Southby organizers have essentially programmed a daylong mini “conference within a conference” with the robotics minitrack that is assembled.

Beginning at 9:30am in the Hilton Garden Inn – Sabine Room (located at 500 North IH 35) and ending sometime around 6:00pm, enthusiasts of robotics – or what I like to refer to as the “ultimate field of digital interactive” convergence – will be treated to an outstanding line-up of topics and speakers.

Just browse the agenda below!

FIRST Robotics: Technically You’re Changing the World, 9:30 am 

Students say it’s “the hardest fun you will ever have.” Just like “real world” product development, building a competitive robot requires diverse science and engineering disciplines and kids all over the world are doing it! This panel includes experienced robot makers and mentors from Texas Instruments and National Instruments who can answer your questions and have you wishing you were still in school.

Presenters: Brian Powell, Eric VanWyk, Joe Hershberger, Rebecca Philips, Tim Ousley

The SINGULARITY: Humanity’s Huge Techno Challenge, 11:00 am 

Will supercomputing intelligences outsmart human-level intelligence? Ray Kurzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines is the world’s most known advocacy of a technology breakthrough that will change the face of humanity and the entire world. Kurzweil claims that the accelerating, exponential growth of technology will result in such a Singularity. This panel dissects the very core of the Singularity, if and when it will occur, and what we can expect to happen.

Presenters: Doug Lenat, Michael Vassar, Natasha Vita-More

Robot Art Lessons, 12:30pm 

Robots seem to be everywhere – from car assembly on factory floors to debris sweeping on your kitchen floor. But, with the popularity of events like Maker Faire, they are broadly entering the creative fields in new and innovative ways. More than an exotic, whimsical exercise, much of the work behind robot-inspired art installations is driving the discovery of technical innovations …come pick up lessons learned from the converging areas of materials science, haptics, interactive control, and communications that contribute to this new art form.

Presenters: Alan Majer, Steve Guengerich (yes, yours truly!)

Congratulations, Your Robot Just Accepted Your Friend Request, 3:30pm 

Telepresence is a straightforward application of robot technology — a robot becomes your eyes, ears and possibly arms and legs which allows you to become “telepresent” in a remote location. But telepresence is only one example of how you might want to interact with a robot over the web. We are using social networks to interact with robots and physical devices so they can become part of your custom information network. We use Google technologies such a Gtalk and Android to form the basis of the network. This project is open source.

Presenter: Rich LeGrand

Hacking Space Exploration: Robots, the Universe and Everything, 5:00pm 

From launching robots into space to discovering distant galaxies: how the public is hacking into open source space exploration. As technology shifts from a means of passive consumption to active creation, people are collaborating on a massive scale. Amateurs were once considered to be at the crux of scientific discovery, but over time have been put on the sidelines. Despite this, citizen science is witnessing a renaissance. Agencies such as NASA no longer have a monopoly on the global space program and more participatory projects are harnessing the power of open collaboration for exploring space on a faster schedule. But you don’t need to be a robotics engineer to participate – open source teams are open for anyone to join.

Presenter: Ariel Waldman

We hope you can join us – it should be an astonishing day of sharing, learning, and advancing this major field of tech innovation!

The Singularity Is Near

I read a lot of books. In fact, it’s hard for me to believe sometimes that the average American reads fewer than 3 books per year, according to at least one recent fuzzy math tally

Because if that number is true, then there must be at least two dozen of my fellow citizens who aren’t reading a single book to get to the average when I’m added in.

I read so much, in fact, that about 7-8 years ago, I found I was spending way too much on Amazon to possess books that 9 times out of 10 might have been modestly entertaining or informative, but not really worthy of keeping. So I shifted my habit and began to patronize the local library, which only further fed my reading diversity.

Thus, now when I turn to Amazon, it’s only to purchase a book that I can’t seem to find in a local library or it’s to purchase a book that I’ve read that has made a large enough impression to be one that I know I’ll want to return to many times.

One such book I read this summer that I recommend is The Singularity is Near, by inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil. (That’s Ray, on the left, with Peter Diamandis, another pretty interesting gent.)

It made such an impression, that – looking back to my posts this year – I’m surprised I haven’t mentioned it yet.  Because the book speaks to many topics that are very aligned with my personal instincts and interests regarding the future impact of technology on humanity.

What is the singularity? In Kurzweil’s words in the opening chapter, the singularity is a “future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.”

Then, for the next 100 pages of the book, as if he were a defendant’s worst nightmare, Kurzweil walks you through the case for the singularity, with a systematic, step-by-step analysis of important societal and technological trends that is compelling and persuasive.

When do we reach the singularity? Kurzweil’s conclusion:

“I set the date for the singularity – representing a profound and disruptive transformation in human capability – as 2045. The non-biological intelligence created in that year will be one billion times more powerful than all human intelligence today.”


Of course, on the other hand, balancing out Kurzweil’s analysis, you’ve got a great deal of de facto evidence to validate the claim – and I include myself, when I say this – that people are stupid and that we will never allow such a future to be manifested, no matter how positive the benefits may be.

Let’s call that version of the future “the Dilbertarity,” with its chief propagandist being Scott Adams, whether he would accept the claim or not.

In any event, I urge you to check out The Singularity is Near from your local library.  Or, if you want to get a taste of some of the topics, browse the Singularity Hub.

And, if you count yourself as a skeptic, then do yourself a favor and start with Chapter Nine of the book, “A Response to Critics,” which you can think of as Kurzweil’s closing argument. Every bit as a convincing as the final comments from McCoy in an episode of Law & Order, where you know the bad guy is going to jail.