Ancient Tools and Toys – Real Old

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Oldest Known Objects

Made by Man

(and his Ancestors)

Whenever something incredibly ancient and incredibly cool turns up, there’s always someone on hand to shout that it’s evidence of aliens. Awesome as it would be to know ET was hanging out here in 10,000 B.C. (or whenever), the truth is both much simpler and much more interesting. See, you don’t need aliens to explain away intricate ancient objects. We humans have been capable of creating incredible stuff since before there were even humans.

 The following objects are all man made in the sense that ‘a proto-human intelligence was responsible for their creation’. But not all of them came from the mind of homo sapiens. Instead, some come courtesy of our distant ancestors, the thinking apes who preceded us and helped us on our journey. Think the prehistoric world is dull? Think again.

10. Ice Age “Batons” (Approx. 28,000 years old)

Yes, we know what you’re thinking. Something along the lines of: “Gee, these ice age batons sure look like a certain part of the male anatomy.” So before we go any further, let us just categorically state that, yes, these batons do indeed look like a bunch of comedy-sized wangs. And there’s a good reason for that. Wanna guess what it is? That’s right, far from being immature, you’ve hit on what these probably were. You’re looking at an image of a stone age sex toy.

Known euphemistically as ‘batons’, these proto-Ann Summers toys have been found in a number of Ice Age sites, no doubt leading to many awkward conversations among archeologists. The oldest of all is from Germany, specifically a place known as Hohle Fels Cave. Now, pay attention, because you’re gonna be hearing that name again and again in this article. Hohle Fels contains one of our best-preserved collections of Ice Age artifacts anywhere in the world. In 2003, it also turned out to contain the oldest baton yet found. The one you see above dates from around 28,000-30,000 B.C.

Just think about that, for a second. This ancient – ahem – toy is older than Stonehenge, Machu Picchu and yo momma combined. Not that it was all dirty. According to those who found it, the tool was also used for “knapping flints” (whatever the heck that is).

9. Animal Figurines (30,000-40,000 years old)

Sometimes, the world just likes to drop something incredible in our laps, presumably just for the fun of watching us collectively freak out. The ancient figurines found at Hohle Fels (that place again) are one of those somethings. Among the oldest sculptures ever found, they depict miniture birds, horses’ heads, and half-animal humans in jaw-dropping detail. Did we mention the detail? When they were made public, in late 2003, archeology expert Dr Anthony Sinclair declared: “They are as good as anything you will see thousands of years later – from 3-4,000 BC.” Suck it, Ancient Greece.

But even these works of genius have nothing on the oldest figurine we’ve yet found. Discovered in the same cave of wonders as the figurines was the Venus of Hohle Fels. A tiny carving of a woman, the Venus may also be the earliest extant work of erotica. The carving has improbably large breasts, a big backside, and exaggerated genitals. She’s also a lot fatter than we’re guessing any Ice Age human ever was, unless there’s a prehistoric McDonalds waiting to be found in Hohle Fels somewhere. This suggests she may have been a fantasy, an example of Ice Age man’s longing for a well-stacked, fleshy woman. Nice to see some things never change.

8. Neanderthal Cave Art (40,800 years ago)

Yeah, Neanderthals aren’t human. Well, get used to it. We’re gonna be leaving homo sapiens for good in a little while to go gallivanting around the world of Homo erectus and all his extinct pals. But first, let’s just pause and take a breather, and admire the view of one of the oldest expressions of abstract art ever found. Discovered in a Spanish cave in 2012, this image dates back a staggering 40,800 years in time.

Imagine the incredible amount of time that exists between you and Julius Caesar or Jesus Christ. Now times that unimaginable distance by ten. Now double it, and then give up and throw the whole concept of picturing this away, because you’re never gonna be able to really grasp just how stupidly long ago this was. Back then, ‘popping out for a bite’ meant stepping outside and being swallowed by a sabretooth tiger. It was a world so unimaginably different from ours as to be… well, unimaginable. Yet the not-quite-humans who inhabited this space still felt moved to do something uniquely human. They created art, using the only things they had: their hands and some plant pigment. And we think that’s just swell.

7. Ancient Flutes (42,000 years old)

The Aurignacian culture is the coolest thing you’ve probably never heard of. A bunch of early humans who started doing their thing in the Upper Paleolithic era, the Aurignacians mark the point where art and music and specialized tools began to emerge. So, yeah, pretty much everything you take for granted today started here. At one point, scientists thought this period of intense change started no earlier than 40,000 years ago. Then someone stumbled across a 42,000 year old bone flute in yetanother German cave and the dates had to be revised upwards.

 If the thought of an ancient flute doesn’t send a chill down your spine, you may want to quickly double check and make sure you’re not in traction. These finds mean the earliest European humans were creating music from almost the moment they arrived on the continent. Just imagine. It’s dark. You’ve just come back from a long day’s woolly mammoth punching, or whatever the heck Stone Age man used to do. The only light in your cave is from the flickering of the fire. You sit around, staring into its shifting flames. And then, slowly, someone pulls out a flute and starts to play…

See what we mean? Magical. This is the dawn of human emotion we’re witnessing here, and we’ve still got well over a million years of history left to go.

6. Aterian Beads (110,000 years old)

Grotte des Pigeons is a cave in Eastern Morocco that for ages wanted nothing more than for people to forget it had such a stupid name. Then, sometime in the mid-20thCentury, some archeology guys came along and decided, hey, this looks like a pretty good spot to dig. So they dug and they dug and they dug until suddenly everyone was too busy exclaiming over all the crazy awesomeness in Grotte des Pigeons to concentrate on its stupid name. There were ashes and tools and carved rocks and all sorts of treasures. But the biggest treasure of all may have been the beads.

 Made of shells with perforated holes, some still with traces of red ochre on them, the beads were likely the earliest examples of jewelry we have. The researchers dated them to an impossibly-distant 110,000 years ago, a time when the wheel was a far-off dream, and the concept of agriculture was like witchcraft. Yet our ancestors were still making jewelry. Even in a world of unrelenting danger, bear attacks and lifespans of under 30 years, we still just wanted to look good. We can’t tell if that’s shameful or the coolest thing ever.

5. Bone Awls (200,000-400,000 years old)

OK, from here on in, the dates get vague and the periods of time involved become utterly incomprehensible. If you’re cool with that then stick with us, because this is also where we’re gonna find the coolest stuff. For this entry, that means bone awls. A feature of the Middle Stone Age (MSA), bone awls were little sharpened bits of bone, probably used for piercing holes in hide and making clothes. As such, they show our ancestors moving on from just wrapping themselves in the skin of a dead zebra to actually creating their own garments.

Like most of the stuff in the MSA, bone awls were likely invented in Africa and then taken to Europe along with the first early humans. Good job, too, as Europe back then was likely freezing. Honestly, we complain if we get stuck without heating for half a day during a mild winter. Imagine having to huddle round a fire in a cave for warmth AND design your own clothes using only sharpened bits of bone and the flesh of whatever you’d killed. There are residents of Jersey Shore who live more-fulfilling lives than that (kidding. No they don’t).

4. Projectile Points (200,000-400,000 years old)

This is where the MSA really hit its stride. Before early humans perfected projectile points, killing an animal meant charging at it with a kamikaze yell, waving an axe above your head and hoping it didn’t eat you (it frequently did). With the advent of sharpenedprojectile points, the equation changed dramatically. Now you didn’t have to get within eating-distance to kill your dinner. Humanity’s time at the top of the food chain had survived.

Stop and think about this for a second, about all the stuff we take for granted. Before projectile points were invented, the only time you got to eat a fast moving animal like a bird was when it dropped dead of kidney failure right in front of you. Suddenly having spears and arrows allowed humans to expand their diets. It allowed them to create small stockpiles of food and defend themselves from a distance. Some have even suggested formulating complicated hunting plans using these tools helped us develop modern human intelligence.

Of course, our ancestors did plenty of hunting before the invention of spears and arrows. But, still. Their coming was a gamechanger that reorganized our entire species.

3. Hand Axe (1.76m years old)

Long before the Aurignacian came along with their music and painting and liberal hippy art stuff, the hottest culture in human history was the Acheulian. Occurring sometime around 1.76 million years ago, this stone age revolution saw our ancestors discard the simplistic tools they’d been using up until then, and start crafting complex weapons unlike anything ever seen before. Stones with specially-sharpened ends that were wielded by hand, these ‘hand axes’ saw early humans able to easily kill other animals for the first time in history.

For a long time, scientists thought the Acheulian revolution started around 1.4 million years ago, the period a number of hand axes found in Ethiopia dated from. Then 2011 came along and turned all that on its head. That was the year that archeologists digging on the muddy banks of Lake Turkana in Kenya uncovered hand axes dating from 1.76 million years ago. That’s a difference of 360,000 years; equivalent to the distance in time between you reading this on your tablet and our ancestors’ creation of stone projectile points.

Those who created and used these hand axes, by the way, definitely weren’t human. They were probably Homo Erectus, the guys who decided walking on two legs was the way to go.

2. Oldowan Tools (Around 2.5m years ago)

Unlike the hand axes of the Acheulian revolution, no non-experts today would be able to recognize Oldowan Tools as even being tools. They were pebbles and rocks that had been crudely chipped to give one serrated edge, likely for cutting, chopping and scraping. We’re talking the absolute most basic of basic implements, here. This was the dawn of the Paleolithic era, the point in time when hominids realized you could get more done with implements than you could with your teeth. It sounds simple to us now, but back then no-one had ever even thought of it. How could they? They were little more than apes at this point.

Despite the mind-blowing chasms of time between us and the first Oldowan tools, they’ve been found all over the world. At least, all over the world as it would have been back then, which basically means ‘Africa’. At this point, Europe and Asia were as alien to these tool makers as planet Weezigg-Cloop is to you (we’re gonna discover it in about 4,000 years. It’s gonna be awesome).

Interestingly, some scholars think those using these tools may have been vegetarian, hence their being content with not developing better tools for like 700,000 years. Who needs an animal-killing hand axe when you don’t eat animals?

1. Contents of the Lake Turkana Toolbox (3.3m years old)

And then we have the Lake Turkana Toolbox.

To be clear, the Lake Turkana Toolbox shouldn’t exist. Digging it up and dating it to 3.3m years ago is like opening Tutankhamun’s Tomb to find a Boeing 747 inside. In fact, scratch that. The distance of time is so vast that it would be like opening Tutankhamun’s Tomb to find a Sci-fi device that won’t be invented for another 796,000 years. One that does stuff we in backward old 2017 can’t even imagine. 3.3m years ago is meant to be a time when no species existed that was capable of making tools. And yet, in 2015, scientists discovered that this was exactly what the apes hanging around Lake Turkanahad been doing.

 To be sure, they don’t look like tools. They look like sharp rocks. But, like the Oldowan Tools above, the point is that someone – or something – made them sharp. Whatever that pre-human creature was, it was starting Earth’s sentient species down a path that would eventually lead to hand axes, then projectile points, then beads, then art, then music, then sculpture… and so-on right the way up to the tablets and spacecraft and 3D printers of today. When you look at it like that, you gotta admit these dull old rocks are secretly kinda cool.

Ancient Tools and Toys

– Real Old

The NULL Solution = Episode 36

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The NULL Solution = Episode 36

A straw that stirs the drink would be an apt depiction of Lorgan…

Known to Earth as Lorgan, that “shiny meddler” seems to have an agenda and the ability to navigate space with impunity. Its effects appear to vary widely, as it applies to any unique affected party.

  • Wipe out an Eridanian scouting mission & drive them into isolation and ultimately, hibernation?
  • Spy on what “it” considers a primitive world by hiding behind Earth’s star & singling out the planet’s most dangerous society?
  • Disable the outposts of the paranoid Seljuk, while stirring their suspicions as to who is responsible?
  • Expose the Ÿ€Ð to the harshness of their proximity of their star & provoking them into an offensive position?

A straw that stirs the drink would be an apt depiction of Lorgan, but you best keep a safe distance.  The drink itself is the Great Expanse. But what exactly are the purposes of the straw? Where does the straw come from? You will likely get four different answers from the 4 affected parties.

“Take a look at this Crip,” Fletcher Fitch has been digging in the recesses of the NASA mainframe, searching for something, anything that will give him a leg-up on that whippersnapper Gus McKinney. Understanding Stellar Explorer’s unexplainable improvements, as well as defining the undefinable Lorgan, has turned into an earnest competition. He points at a complicated schematic that has appeared out of nowhere into the NASA mainframe.

“Is that what I think it is?”

“Some sort of energy field?”

Before the engineer can expand on his thoughts, another diagram piggybacks on the first.

“Now hold your horses. This one looks like a molecular disruptor! I’m not sure where this stuff is coming from, but I can tell you it’s not from any of us.” Fitch would know.

“Somebody must think we may need these improvements in the future.” None of this technology would make sense for an organization in the business of mere exploration, with only fractional knowledge of extraterrestrial entities.

A third program spills into the supercomputer.

“These are the schemes for the molecular stabilizers.”

Davinci 2 by chillara on DeviantArt

“And the answers to how SEx went from warp1 to warp3.”

They are accidental inventors, every one.

This is like discovering every single one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s notes or Edison’s drawings of his numerous world-changing inventions. Technology, barely comprehensible by current science, is falling into their laps.


The NULL Solution =

Episode 36


page 40

Indestructible Products – Try as You Might

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Amazing Indestructible

Products

You Can Buy

Today

If only we could bid for a Clark Kent-esque supersuit on eBay — life would be pretty awesome if we were invincible. Ridiculous daydreams aside, some people are hard at working developing indestructible materials. No one has succeeded yet,  but while we’re waiting there are a few things you can get your hands on today that come pretty close.

1. Embassy Tactical Pen

2. Kaventsmann Triggerfish Watch

3. Tungsten Ring

4. Yachiyo Metal Rug

5. Hurricane Proof Monolithic Dome Home

6. Bulletproof Suit

7. Bulletproof Public Toilet

8. ioSafe N2 Indestructible Hard Dive

9. Toyota Hilux

10. Indestructible Tires

This video was written by Mike Brown for TopTenz.net and reproduced by Writing Is Fun-damental


Indestructible Products

– Try as You Might

 

At-Home Experiments – WIF Mad Science

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– Mad Scientist –

Experiments

You Can Do at Home

Image result for mad science

For any of you who grew up watching the Back to the Future series, Dexter’s Lab, or anything that showcased zany inventions, then you probably love the idea of mad science. Experiments and projects that look really cool, and provide a lot of fun and awe factor, but may not necessarily be something with a lot of practical value. Below are several cool projects that will make you feel like Doc Brown himself.

While these types of projects can be a lot of fun, and a great way to learn new things, some of them can still pose some small dangers. Always exercise caution, especially when working with electricity or tools of any kind.

10. Make Your Own Miniature Tesla Coil

Tesla himself has basically become an internet celebrity, partly because of a Tesla revival movement, but also because the internet tends to appreciate a good showman. The inventor of the Tesla coil knew what he had created, and used it constantly to wow crowds to help increase his funding.

You can make your own smaller version to wow your friends and wow yourself. Using a capacitor, a small lightbulb, some wire and a few other parts, you will be showing everyone what a science genius you are in no time. You can check out the video above for a full tutorial.

9. Make A Sweet Potato Gun For Cheap

Potato guns are a somewhat controversial project — for those who aren’t aware, a potato gun doesn’t shoot whole potatoes, just little chunks from them. They are hardly truly dangerous for the most part, but some people have abused this childhood “weapon,” and gotten it banned in certain localities. However, the truth is that both when building them or trying to use them, the dangers generally come when trying to build an incredibly large pneumatic potato gun.

This is unnecessarily dangerous, especially for what should just be a fun project. In the video above, there is a tutorial from youtube for how to build a small potato gun using an empty spray bottle and a few other fairly common items.

8. Hack A Nerf Gun To Make It Way More Awesome

Most of us remember Nerf guns from our childhoods. They were incredibly cool, decked out in bright colors that excited the children of the time period, and often had all kinds of cool features. Some could shoot in multiple directions, some had secret hidden attachments and so on — they were the epitome of cool. However, the one thing we all wished was that they shot a bit farther and a bit harder.

It’s not like they would have hurt if they hit harder. They were soft foam and rubber, designed to be absurdly safe. However, the manufacturers made sure that the guns would be incredibly lawsuit and fun safe, and kept the pressure on them quite low. Some have found with some tinkering though, that the pressure can actually be increased. In the video a modder takes a nerf gun apart, and shows how to remove the installed inhibitor device that keeps it from shooting as far as it truly has the potential to. With just a little work, you can unleash the true power of the Nerf.

7. Build Your Own Drone For Whatever Fun Purposes You Wish

When most people think of drones, they think of gigantic remote controlled airplanes with bombs that shoot enemies in the Middle East. However, drones are becoming increasingly common, both commercially and as a hobby, and most of them are quite small. The average hobby drone involves a small body with some parts salvaged from old fans, enough electronic equipment to control it remotely, and usually a mounted camera as well.

In the video above, you can see a full tutorial that many hobbyists have found useful. While it takes a little bit of work, the parts are fairly easy to acquire, and the build is within reach for someone without much experience. Alternatively, if you are feeling really cheap, perhaps you could try strapping a GoPro to an RC helicopter.

6. Construct Your Own Theremin At Home

The Theremin is pretty much the musical instrument for mad scientists, and a must have if you want to have both the coolest and nerdiest way to make music possible. For those who aren’t familiar with them, a theremin is an instrument where you essentially move your hands through a magnetic field to make very otherworldly sounding notes. There are not many people who can play a Theremin well, but those who do provide some amazingly haunting sounding melodies.

And now, you can too, without paying huge amounts to buy a large sized Theremin you may never fully take advantage of. With the help of the YouTube tutorial above, you will be well on your way to making your own theremin. An amplifier, and a power supply are going to be some of the biggest ticket supplies you will need, and even those can be acquired for fairly cheap if you aren’t trying to be picky about sound quality.

5. Make Your Remote Controlled Robot Out Of Cheap Materials

Pretty much everyone wants their own robot. Especially those who want to impress their friends, or their enemies, with their knowledge of insane science. While a truly autonomous robot isn’t that practical and requires extremely complex programming, a remote controlled minion can still be very impressive and requires much less effort.

In the video above, you can see a tutorial on how to build a remote controlled robot that can even walk on uneven paths, and looks quite cool doing so. This robot was built with incredibly cheap and easy to use parts, such as styrofoam, glue, small pieces of crafting wood, and a small motor and battery. Most of it is incredibly easy to acquire and safe to work with. Using the same basic principles, you could easily modify the look a bit to make it feel more like your own personal robot minion.

4. Make Your Own Plasma At Home And Impress Your Friends

If you have ever seen a plasma globe, you have probably wanted to own one at least as a passing thought, and many of you probably have splurged on one at one point or another. Plasma globes are extremely cool, especially the way you can move your fingers across the globe to make it dance around inside. For those of you love science projects, making your own plasma globe is actually quite easy — although it won’t be quite as big or impressive as the commercial ones.

In the video above, you can see the full tutorial, but the parts you need will be minimal. A spark coil, a spring, an incandescent lightbulb and a capacitor. You will also need electrical tape, and you will want to read up first on safety precautions for working on electricity if you aren’t already familiar, to ensure that you stay properly grounded, just in case.

3. Make Your Own Solar Powered Radio Using Recycled Materials

For those of you who have ever went camping for a while, you may have brought along a solar powered radio. They can also be incredibly useful if the power goes out, and they often have lights built into them so you can see in an emergency as well. However, if you like to tinker, you can also take your own old radio, then salvage a solar panel from something else and put together your own solar powered radio.

In the video above, you can see an example of how the project can be completed. However, keep in mind that you really don’t need to buy your own solar panel from a manufacturer, as than can be expensive. There are many different, easy to acquire objects, that you could salvage solar panels from. And, if you are feeling really adventurous, you could always make your own solar panels.

2. You Can Build A Segway At Home For A Fraction Of The Price

Many people are familiar with the Segway, a device that was incredibly popular about a decade ago, and was more recently feature in the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop. For those of the latest generation, a Segway is sort of like those recent hoverboards — the ones that don’t hover — except it has a giant handle on it to make standing long term easier. The segway goes for an asking price of several thousand dollars, and while the recent “hoverboards” are fairly cheap, they have been known to be fire hazards, and generally made as toys for smaller people, and aren’t high quality.

Using the video tutorial below, which also has a link to the original instructable, you can build your own full Segway, with all the power of a real one, for a fraction of the price — just a few hundred dollars. You can learn and get practice in several new skills, and the project is designed to be approachable even if you don’t have prior experience in any of them. If you want a hoverboard, you can just leave off the handle, and feel safer knowing yours is probably less likely to catch on fire abruptly.

1. You Can Do All Kinds Of Fun Experiments With Non-Newtonian Fluids

Making a non-newtonian fluid is really easy to do at home, perfectly safe, and incredibly fun to play with. Non-newtonian fluids are fluids that act differently under stress, and not just due to changes in temperature. One example of this is ketchup, which acts like a solid in the bottle when upside down, until you apply force to change its viscosity. For those who want to experiment with the properties, the best way is to use a mixture of two parts cornstarch to one part water.

Experimenting with it will show very strange results. When hit, it will act like a solid in that particular spot, even while the rest will ripple. If you pick it up and apply force you can form it into a ball, but if you release the force it will turn back into a liquid and drip through your fingers. With a large enough pool of it, you can basically walk across it and when it is put on top of speakers, it moves around like a strange alien being dancing to the music.


At-Home Experiments

WIF Space-001

– WIF Mad Science

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 199

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 199

…the American people are not about to tamper with the perception of perfection… perception being the trigger for reality…

Perfection in Octad, 2010 by Rizwana A Mundewadi

It becomes very apparent by the pre-election year of 2035 that no one has the stomach to mount a challenge to Crippen/Walker. Not even the garden-variety armchair billionaire, with cash to burn and no need of a good reputation, will waste his time or money. Oh, the Democrats have scrounged up a glossy young candidate for convention purposes, but that only serves as a checks/balance to incumbent power, thereby preserving a solid 2.5-party system for future use.

At this particular point in history, the American people are not about to tamper with the perception of perfection… perception being the trigger for reality.

There is, however, steadily rising suspicion surrounding the United States’ and Roy Crippen’s inspired pet-project: SOL. Once it is achieved, speed-of-light travel will give the creator and his nation the single largest advantage ever attained by man.

  1. Unless you count 5000 BCE, when the wheel was invented.
  2. Or before that, some ancient figured out how to start a fire manually.
  3. Or, after all that, anything from “The Wizard of Menlo Park” (Edison).

To those who are screaming foul, Roy Crippen reminds those earth-bound worriers that SOL is only possible in the darkness of space. During his various discourses on the subject, President Roy reminds the wider-world that when plans for Space Colony II were vacated, with each nation taking the cash-out option from the insurance settlement, gone are the days when every new technology is shared. For those who are jealous, SOL translates to “s**t-out-of-luck”.

Surely the usual defendants, i.e. Russia, China, United Korea, Talibanistan, will do their best to beg, borrow or steal the expertise, but Prez Roy has cleverly invited them to the technology feast, on his terms only, with pre-approved scientists. The former Aldona Afridi, using his Fletcher Fitch disguise, is in charge of (dis)parsing the know-how.

The Crippen dedication to the SOL Project is a given, with the trusting approval of the voting public. Of course there are the “Starships cause hardships” arguers, but they need only look to everyday improvements to their lives for moral validation.

And now Deke & Gus McKinney, having blossomed during the SOL (also the ancient Roman Sun-god) era at NASA, has their hand prints all over the wet-cement that is the speed-of-light. And though the stairs only go to the second floor, look for them to lift it out – off the drawing board and past the Moon.


THE RETURN TRIP

2nd Floor Upstairs Neon by Dean Harte

Episode 199


page 238

Contents TRT

 

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 144

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 144

…Before we get sidetracked by sonic overload, I was trying to tell you – that I think I could fly the NEWFOUNDLANDER back to Earth…

Sonic Overload by Caleb Brown

“Your title as Commander is hereby revoked. We are on an alien spaceship and you cannot make anything work around here without my help.”

“That is true, but the rent is paid off ‘til the end of the year and the groceries are free.”

“Money for nothing and the chicks for free.. and the music IS free, that’s right, the slightest gesture sets off some out-of-this-world sounds.” What humans refer to as musical notes and reverberations, the Newfoundlians use a form of communication. “I really miss my Justin Timberlake Collection.”

“You do have a sexy back, but I do not miss that guy… Galactic Static is more my taste.”

“How did we ever stand each other’s taste in music, long enough to get married?”

“Before we get sidetracked by sonic overload, which we can’t turn off, I was trying to tell you that I think I could fly this thing home.”

“And pass up the rescue mission without them seeing us? And when we land, if you can land it, can we convince our own people that the NEWFOUNDLANDER means them no harm,” she teases. “We would probably be shot down by air defenses, thinking we were an incoming Korean bomber.”

“But Korea is harmless, remember what President Sanchez told the world?”

“The New Mayflower expects to find us more than half-starved and happy to see them, so lets let them be half-right.”

“Good point Lt. Cmdr. McKinney, but I still may try to fly it back just to prove I can.”

Try is the operative word Sam. You are light years from understanding their technology and probably 20 light years from the folks who do.”

“I hate it when you’re right.”

“Always right and when did you finally come to that brilliant conclusion?”

“But, but, but… with me and a crew of three, I think I could get us back to Earth!” Right now, he would be 1.5 short of that.

“Let’s just concentrate on studying these beings, their technology, and find out where they came from. We have the time to have a complete dossier prepared, in the 2-odd months we have left. We can ‘present it as a present’, this incredible discovery, to the world; Perhaps the greatest contribution to the world since the wheel or fire.”

“I was thinking the microprocessor, but you are right, let’s get to work.”

She was right again. They have all the time in the world; the difference being that Mars is currently their world and the word “time” means different things to different people.


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 144


page 177

Contents TRT

i Robot – Disturbing Automation

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Creepy

Real Life

Robots

Robot “Doctor Who”

Even leaving aside the pop culture jokes about Skynet from the Terminator series and similarly-themed science fiction that provides a violent robot revolution, the future of automation has some unsettling possibilities. On the most practical level, there’s the potential impact many more jobs becoming automated will have on the economy for the working class. There are the military applications, even if the extra step is never taken of installing artificial intelligence in them.

 And likeliest of all, what if, in attempts to make them highly efficient but still useful, their designers end up making them look really creepy? Or even worse, what if designers try to make them look really relatable and end up just barely off enough that the result is more unsettling than robots intended to kill?

10. Osaka University’s Female Simulants

You wouldn’t think that “receptionist” or “news reader” are positions that it would be expedient to automate. They don’t come with any particular health risks or more immediate danger, and projecting an air of warmth and welcoming seems the thing an inanimate object is least qualified to do. A team at the Department of Systems Innovation at Osaka University, headed by Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, nevertheless decided to devote years working on robots that look as much like conventionally attractive women as possible. Among the models that were previewed at an exhibit in 2014 were the kodomoroid, which was designed to serve as a new anchor, and the Otonaroid, which was supposed to be a science communicator. In 2016 Ishiguro’s team displayed “Erica,” a robot that’s meant to serve as a receptionist, to Bloomberg magazine.

The facial features and skin for these robots are impeccable; at least as good as anything that was ever shown at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. However, the way they move their jaws and the lack of articulation in their eyes makes them seem unnervingly mindless. Also, what’s it say about the personnel at your business that the only way you can keep a receptionist is to purchase a robot?

9. Sophia

Osaka University is by no means alone in the field of making robotic versions of conventionally attractive women. David Hanson, founder of Hanson Robotics, has created an android modeled on Audrey Hepburn and his wife that he dubbed “Sophia.” The android has a large amount of articulation in “her” face and excellently textured skin, although why Hanson left the robot with a transparent back cranium reminiscent of the film Ex Machina is unclear. At present the thing that makes Sophia discomforting is that while she has an array of convincing facial expressions, the way she transitions between them is overly precise and unnatural and her artificial voice is emotionless and, again, overly precise.

Hanson’s got another project, which he released in 2005, will seem only too appropriate to fans of science fiction. He has created an android in tribute to author Philip K. Dick, called PKD. If you’re unfamiliar, Dick was the author of stories such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (better known by the film adaptation’s moniker, Blade Runner), which deal in a sometimes surreal manner with the uncertain subjects of identity, memory, and living beings being replaced with automatons. No doubt the author would be horrified to see this robot or have an identity crisis.  Gotta say, good one Hanson!

8. Underwater Snakes

These Norwegian aquatic robots, which were announced in April 2016, bring to mind the Sentinel robots from the Matrix film series, especially with its ominous red glowing eyes. They were developed by the Norwegian organization Kongsberg Maritime and a natural gas and oil company called Statoil to perform underwater observation and inspection. With it’s lack of fins, propellers, and related forms of locomotion (“thrusters” is the term they use in their videos), it’s ideally suited to enter tight, enclosed spaces and allow flexible analysis, even under severe water pressure.

Presumably, considering the nature of the parent company, the intent was to be able to quickly analyze damaged offshore platforms for faster repairs, though it’s also likely going to be useful for inspecting sunken ships and other wrecks. It goes to show that a robot being a bit creepy does not mean that it is useless.

7. Victorian-Era Crawling Baby Robot

It may be surprising to learn that handheld dolls were designed that could move on their own six years before there were dolls with audio recordings installed in them. In 1871, an engineer named Robert J. Clay patented this device, a slight improvement over his original design. Even this was not the model that eventually went to market, as his employer George Clark redesigned it.

Not that even his version was a success, since it was too heavy for a little girl to play with, to say nothing of how easy it was to break in an era when replacement parts weren’t easily ordered. Still, this early robot is honored by the Smithsonian Museum of American History’scollection instead of being buried deep underground where it can never enter a nightmare again. You’d think they’d at least put some clothes on the display model.

6. Pregnancy Simulator

In 2015, the company Gaumard Scientific released a birth training robot for medical students, beginning with Boston University. Even though they cost $62,500, they seem like a bargain for how thoroughly designed they are for the many factors involved in birth. The blood pressure of mother and baby are monitored. So are the oxygen levels. They are settings for vaginal birth, emergency breech birth, and cesarean sections, and forty-six other contingency conditions. They are not 100% autonomous, as the instructors are needed at controls as well, but they’re still vastly more effective than regular old mannequins, and even seasoned students have said they’re “intimidating.” Probably because they didn’t want to admit how creepy the uncanny robots they’re using are.

Since a doctor can hardly expect a birth to be a clean, pleasant process, the robots have been designed to reflect that. The robots aren’t just capable of making noise in response to stimulus that would be painful for a human. They also have blood packs installed in them for bleeding, and the ability to vomit. It’s a bit off-putting that all of them are designed to have permanent expressions of frozen horror, but then again, the doctor probably shouldn’t be looking up there too much anyway.

5. Affeto the Robot Baby

The uncanny valley is mentioned a lot when a robot is so close to a human being, but not quite there. But this particular robot, another one from Osaka University, doesn’t look that close to a human being, yet it’s much more unsettling than the robot receptionists and everything else from our previous entries. If nothing else, Hisashi Ishihara and Minoru Asada’s 2012 creation really goes to show just how far the development of artificial skin has come in the past few years.

It must be said that the demo video for this robot is needlessly creepy. It begins by showing the mechanical inner workings of Affeto, and considering it has twenty pneumatic actuators, it has very mobile arms and a pretty flexible spine. Then they take a moment to show that an artifical ribcage was made for it, as if the skinless face didn’t already closely resemble a skull with eyeballs. Finally, they show what it looks like with skin, and the flesh color could only be described as corpse white. All told, it’s an impressive feat of engineering for a year and a half of work, and very far from cute.

4. Spermazoidal Medical Microbots

As far as robots that operate in aquatic environments go, 2016 also witnessed the announcement of robots so small and useful that they make the somewhat similarly designed underwater snakes from the eighth entry on our list look quaint. They’re robots small enough that they can be injected into the bloodstream that, through the use of harmless electromagnetic fields outside the body, can be made to move tails like bacterial flagellum so that they can “swim” through the body.

Indeed, the design for these microbots was directly inspired by studying bacteria. The idea is that they can operate around or even clear up blood clots, or be used to apply medicine directly where it’s needed in the host’s body. It should be noted that while there are many working prototypes available, inventors Selman Sakar, Hen-Wei Wuang, and Bradley Nelson stressed in their announcement that these robots are still very much in the research and development phase. So it will still be a while before you have to worry about the mental image of countless microscopic tadpole-like robots being remote-controlled through your body.

3. Cassie

This robot, which is mostly just a pair of legs, was unveiled by Agility Robotics, a company comprised of Oregon State University students, in 2017. The company has very high aspirations for this chicken-legged robot that was developed with a million dollar grant. Beyond being used for commercial deliveries and search and rescue missions, Agility Robotics claims that it will function in highly radioactive areas, making it ideal for dealing with nuclear waste.

Cassie’s backward legs are useful in allowing it access to areas that cannot be reached by most wheeled robots. On the other hand, its central component looks like the head of the ED-209 robot from the film Robocop and the thigh areas on its legs look like odd growths.CNBC’s news story on the release of the robot bluntly (but accurately) called it “creepy.”

2. Bomb Robot

Not every robot needs to look creepy to be disturbing. This particular robot is benign in appearance and usually its purpose is almost heroic. However, on July 8, 2016, police in Dallas, Texas were engaged with active shooter Micah Xavier Johnson, who’d barricaded himself in a parking garage. Johnson had been suspected of fatally shooting four officers and wounding seven others during his pursuit and claimed that he’d placed bombs inside the parking garage. Rather than risk any more lives, the police turned to a historically unprecedented solution: they attached an explosive to a bomb removal unit, and used it to take down Johnson.

Now just to be clear, this is in no way a condemnation of the Dallas Police Department. Considering the number of people that had been killed, it is perfectly understandable to neutralize the suspect in such a way. But imagine the precedent this may establish for using robots to deliver bombs to neutralize other suspects or enemy combatants. Or imagine if someone with less morally justifiable motivation than the Dallas Police decides to employ robots in this manner.

1. Robot with the Face of Your Friend

It’s uncomfortable enough to see a face on a robot that’s not quite human. So imagine how disquieting it would be to see the distorted face of a family member, friend, or coworker projected from the inside onto a mannequin head for the duration of an online chat. That’s the promise of the Socibot-Mini, made by the British company Engineered Arts.

First appearing on the market in 2014, it’s built with a connection to a camera that does a 3D scan of the face of the caller speaking through the device, and it also scans the face of the person responding to the face to adjust the facial expression it projects. A reporter for New Scientist claimed it’s accurate enough for the computer to guess the person’s age. Additionally it has a neck that can be remotely adjusted so that the distorted face can maintain a sight line with the other caller. Even Will Jackson, one of the product’s developers, described it as “spooky as all hell.”

Not that it stopped Jackson and the rest of Engineered Arts from charging $9,500 for it. There were plans for a Kickstarter campaign, but no evidence of one ever being attempted surfaced online.


i Robot

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– Disturbing Automation