Usually at Hackaday we like to post projects that are of interest because of their complexity. That’s especially true for robots — the more motors and sensors the better. But, occasionally we come across a project that’s beautiful because of its simplicity. That’s the case with [Max.K’s] ZeroBot, recently posted over on Hackaday.io.
Anyone with grandparents already knows that in ye olden days, televisions did not have remote control. Your parents probably still complain about how, as children, they were forced to physically walk over to the TV in order to switch between the three available channels. In these modern times of technological wonder, we have voice control, programmable touch screen remotes, and streaming services that will automatically play an entire season of the show you’re binge watching. However, before these, and before the ubiquitous infrared remote, television manufacturers were experimenting with ways to keep kids from having to run across the living room every time the channel needed to be changed.
Early remote controls were simply wired affairs — nothing too surprising there. But, it wasn’t long before methods of wireless control were being introduced. One early effort called the Flashmatic would shine light onto a photoelectric cell on the television set to control it. Of course, it might also be controlled by unintended light sources, and users had to have good aim to hit the sensor. These issues soon led to the introduction of the Zenith Space Command remote control, which used ultrasonic frequencies to control the TV.
Last week we covered the past and current state of artificial intelligence — what modern AI looks like, the differences between weak and strong AI, AGI, and some of the philosophical ideas about what constitutes consciousness. Weak AI is already all around us, in the form of software dedicated to performing specific tasks intelligently. Strong AI is the ultimate goal, and a true strong AI would resemble what most of us have grown familiar with through popular fiction.
Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) is a modern goal many AI researchers are currently devoting their careers to in an effort to bridge that gap. While AGI wouldn’t necessarily possess any kind of consciousness, it would be able to handle any data-related task put before it. Of course, as humans, it’s in our nature to try to forecast the future, and that’s what we’ll be talking about in this article. What are some of our best guesses about what we can expect from AI in the future (near and far)? What possible ethical and practical concerns are there if a conscious AI were to be created? In this speculative future, should an AI have rights, or should it be feared?
The concept of artificial intelligence dates back far before the advent of modern computers — even as far back as Greek mythology. Hephaestus, the Greek god of craftsmen and blacksmiths, was believed to have created automatons to work for him. Another mythological figure, Pygmalion, carved a statue of a beautiful woman from ivory, who he proceeded to fall in love with. Aphrodite then imbued the statue with life as a gift to Pygmalion, who then married the now living woman.
Throughout history, myths and legends of artificial beings that were given intelligence were common. These varied from having simple supernatural origins (such as the Greek myths), to more scientifically-reasoned methods as the idea of alchemy increased in popularity. In fiction, particularly science fiction, artificial intelligence became more and more common beginning in the 19th century.
But, it wasn’t until mathematics, philosophy, and the scientific method advanced enough in the 19th and 20th centuries that artificial intelligence was taken seriously as an actual possibility. It was during this time that mathematicians such as George Boole, Bertrand Russel, and Alfred North Whitehead began presenting theories formalizing logical reasoning. With the development of digital computers in the second half of the 20th century, these concepts were put into practice, and AI research began in earnest.
Over the last 50 years, interest in AI development has waxed and waned with public interest and the successes and failures of the industry. Predictions made by researchers in the field, and by science fiction visionaries, have often fallen short of reality. Generally, this can be chalked up to computing limitations. But, a deeper problem of the understanding of what intelligence actually is has been a source a tremendous debate.
Despite these setbacks, AI research and development has continued. Currently, this research is being conducted by technology corporations who see the economic potential in such advancements, and by academics working at universities around the world. Where does that research currently stand, and what might we expect to see in the future? To answer that, we’ll first need to attempt to define what exactly constitutes artificial intelligence.
IoT, web apps, and connected devices are all becoming increasingly popular. But, the market still resembles a wild west apothecary, and no single IoT ecosystem or architecture seems to be the one bottle of snake oil we’ll all end up using. As such, we hackers are keen to build our own devices, instead of risking being locked into an IoT system that could become obsolete at any time. But, building an IoT device and interface takes a wide range of skills, and those who are lacking skill in the dark art of programming might have trouble creating a control app for their shiny new connected-thing.
Enter Involt, which is a framework for building hardware control interfaces using HTML and CSS. The framework is built on Node-Webkit, which means the conventions should be familiar to those with a bit of web development background. Hardware interactions (on Arduinos) are handled with simple CSS classes. For example, a button might contain a CSS class which changes an Arduino pin from high to low.
While Involt isn’t the only framework to simplify hardware interaction (it’s not even the only Node.js based method), the simplicity is definitely laudable. For those who are just getting started with these sorts of devices, Involt can absolutely make the process faster and less painful. And, even for those who are experienced in this arena, the speed and efficiency of prototyping with Involt is sure to be useful.
Most of our readers are already going to be familiar with how electromagnets work — a current is induced (usually with a coil) in a ferrous core, and that current aligns the magnetic domains present in the core. Normally those domains are aligned randomly in such a way that no cumulative force is generated. But, when the electric field created by the coil aligns them a net force is created, and the core becomes a magnet.
As you’d expect, this is an extremely useful concept, and electromagnets are used in everything from electric motors, to particle accelerators, to Beats by Dre headphones. Another use that you’re probably familiar with from your high school physics class is levitation. When two magnets are oriented with the same pole towards each other, they repel instead of attract. The same principle applies to electromagnets, so that an object can be levitated using good ol’ electricity.
That, however, isn’t the only way to levitate something using magnets. As shown in the video below, permanent magnets can be used to induce a current in conductive material, which in turn exerts a magnetic field. The permanent magnets induce that current simply by moving — in this case on rotors spun by electric motors. If the conductive material is placed below the magnets (like in the video), it will push back and you’ve got levitation.
Everyone knows accordions are cool — they look fly, make neat noises, and get your romantic interests all hot and bothered. What isn’t cool is being relegated to acoustics only. How are you going to play a packed stadium or lay down a crystal clear track like that? You could go out and buy an electric accordion, but even low-end models carry a hefty price tag. But, this is Hackaday, and you know we’re going to be telling you about someone who found a better way.
That better way, shown in a build by [Brendan Vavra], was to take an acoustic accordion and convert it to MIDI. The base for his build was a decent full-size acoustic accordion purchased on eBay for just $150. Overall, it was in good mechanical condition, but some of the reeds were out of tune or not working at all. Luckily, that didn’t matter, since he wouldn’t be using them anyway. Don’t be fooled in the demo video below; it sounds like he’s playing the acoustic according but notice he’s not pumping those bellows! However, the bellows isn’t useless either since it can feed data back as a MIDI input.
[Brendan’s] build plan called for an Arduino Mega to be tied to a series of photo-interrupters that would detect button pushes and fire MIDI signals. But, first he had to take the thing apart — no small task, given the complexity of the instrument. The accordion has 120 buttons, and they’re not interchangeable, which means he had to carefully keep track of them as they were disassembled.