Apply some lessons learned in Sci-Fi literature and you’ll come to the same realization I have: Google is going to unknowingly enslave humanity to an artificial intelligence.
I read a lot of science fiction. Generally, the future of technology can be found in great novels if you read between the lines. One of my favorites in this regard is, of course, [Neal Stephenson] who writes cripplingly long books that are totally worth the read due to his brand of fact-backed forward thinking. Look back on my posts here at Hackaday and you’ll see that I frequently apply concepts from his book The Diamond Age to what we see in emerging technology.
Last year my friend [Nils] suggested I give [William Hertling] a try, specifically his Singularity Series which starts with the novel Avogadro Corp. The fictional company is the world leader in free email and data storage. Sound like someone we know? One of the research projects within the company is an email plugin called ELOPe that will parse all past communications and choose topics and phrases that have the highest probability of eliciting a positive response from the recipient. When funding for the project is threatened, the system is turned on. I’d like to avoid spoilers, but let’s just say this puts the system on a path toward enslaving society.
Google is now boasting “Machine Intelligence for You”. It’s a research project based around Gmail which is called Inbox. Inbox has been around for a while but the newly announced feature is an algorithm that reads the email for you and suggests a set of responses. Compared to Avogadro Corp this is only missing two things: the ability to respond automatically, and the directive to protect itself at all costs.
One of the things I liked best about [William Hertling’s] take on an Artificial Intelligence was the low-key nature of the entity. It wasn’t a super-high-level thinker that interacts just like a human would. It was a poor choice by one programmer that led to horrible and far-reaching unintended consequences. No, I don’t really think Google’s Inbox will enslave us. But I appreciate the irony of life imitating art.
Firefighters and firehouses are not as glamorous as your kindergarten self would lead you to believe. Most firefighters in the US are volunteers, and most firefighters don’t live in the firehouse. Instead of hanging out at the fire house all the time, they use a call-in system that displays a list on a web page saying, ‘Joe is coming to the fire house’ or ‘Jack will meet you at the scene’. It’s highly efficient given the budgets they’re working with, but as [Andy] discovered, this same system can be replicated with Google Voice.
The system relies on a Google Voice account that’s set to have all calls go straight to voicemail. The missed call sends off a voicemail notification to the Gmail inbox, effectively turning the Gmail inbox into a call-in system for free.
In testing, [Andy] noticed the Gmail inbox doesn’t quite refresh fast enough for his purposes, so he whipped up a simple webpage with a little bit of PHP to parse the emails and display everything automatically. The idea being that this webpage could just be displayed on a monitor in the station, waiting for the next call.
Another improvement [Andy] points out could be setting up several numbers, each for different status codes. It’s an astonishing simple system, and now something that can be replicated for free.
[Ben Miller] and his dad combined forces to create this automatic dog feeder. It not only keeps their two schnauzers happy, but gives them peace of mind as they can double-check that he feeding happened by pulling up an image on the Internet. Make sure you make it through all three posts of the build to get the entire picture.
The project started with some research which turned up a project that used a commercially available automatic feeder. That one used Arduino, but because of the cost the board plus a WiFi shield is a bit high, [Ben] went with a Raspberry Pi and a USB WiFi dongle instead. The Pi is much more powerful and adds the functionality for capturing images via a webcam.
After a convoluted process of connecting the Pi to the existing button traces on the automatic feeder it was time to start coding. The system runs from a Perl script which monitors a Gmail account for remote commands (in addition to a regular feeding schedule). The final touch is a bit of mechanical engineering which splits the output into two bowls so the dogs each have their own serving.
We still use the Autodine we built several years back but its single-serving limitation has always kept a second version on our project list. Hopefully seeing a well-executed system like this will motivate us to get building!
One of the marks of how busy you are – or how well your spam filters are set up – is how many unread emails you have in your inbox. [trumpkin] over on Instructables posted a great tutorial for making a wireless counter that displays the number of unread emails in your Gmail account.
[trumpkin] used a tiny and inexpensive 419 MHz transmitter and receiver combo to make this project work. On his desktop, he wired up a USB to UART bridge attached to the transmitter. For the receiver side, an ATMega328 reads the data coming off the receiver and displays the number of unread emails on two seven-segment displays.
The wireless device runs off of two AA batteries and should provide enough power to keep the email monitor running for a long time. More than enough time for your inbox to fill up and for you to become overwhelmed with the work you should be doing.
Tis the season for hacking, and [Nick McClanahan] at the GadgetGangster is certainly showing off his Christmas spirit with his most recent creation. He had an animatronic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer toy sitting around and thought it would be fun to convert him into an email reading machine.
He tore open the toy, removing its innards, disconnecting the built-in speaker and servos from the original PCB. He then extended wires from those components outside of the body before reassembling the toy. The reindeer is controlled primarily using a Propeller Platform, with an E-Net module and a small audio amp taking care of network communications and audio output, respectively.
Most of the work is done by the software [Nick] is using, which allows Rudolph to periodically check his Gmail inbox for new messages. When the message count increases, the reindeer springs into action, moving and lighting up his nose before announcing the sender’s name.
He’s using a phonemic voice synthesizer for the output, which does the job, though we would go mad if we had to listen to it all day. Since the reindeer is connected to his LAN, it might be feasible to run the data through a more robust voice synth on a PC, returning a better-sounding audio clip for playback.
Check out the video below to see a short clip of Rudolph in action.
Continue reading “Rudolph toy hacked to announce incoming email”
One day computers will exist in every part of our lives. You’ll be standing in the shower, lathering up when Chantal, your holographic computer controlled AI partner, informs you in a cool voice you have a new email. How splendid, it must be the office letting you know there is no work today! “Anything else?” You ask; “Negative” her electronically synthesized voice responds.
Over at TINYenormous they’ve made this dream come true – minus the holographic computer controlled AI partner bit. Rather its simply a physical email notification system consisting of an LED and Arduino with some python code. We like the concept but prefer our Google Desktop with Gmail setup instead. Perhaps by using a small wireless server and rechargeable batteries, it could make a great dinner table centerpiece notifying you of the latest email. How simple, or how complicated would you make a setup?
Rob created a very nice USB version.
Dan made a wireless version from XBee modules and includes an LCD.
J4mie is the original inspiration for the project.
Have your own notification system? Tell us in the comments, And we’ll place it here!
Google’s Gmail is a highly viable option for email. With numerous features and options like widgets, a task list, labels, and chat, Gmail has a slight tendency to get overwhelming and might force us to loose focus on what it is really all about: email.
What can make Gmail better? For starters, how about no ads; they are cluttering and distracting. What about getting rid of the widgets and unnecessary features like labels and chat that we think are supposed to make us more productive but really only make us lose our focus to send, read and reply to email? Nobody knows Zen better than [Leo] at Zen Habits. We weren’t surprised that he and his friends (with Firefox and Greasemonkey) have found a way to trim all the unnecessary elements from Gmail and make it into an email powerhouse that focuses on a basic productive email client. The minimalist inbox for Gmail consists of Greasemonkey scripts for:
- Removing gadgets
- Hiding labels, chat and footer
- Removing ads
- Removing stars
- Getting rid of the Gmail logo and searchbar
- Removing menu navigation bar
- Cleaning up and removing unnecessary buttons
To get started focusing on email, and only email, head on over to ZenHabits for a list of associated scripts and what exactly they can do to help you on your road to the minimalist Gmail.