Alternate Realities, a summit of two halves (Part 1)

I went to the Alternate Realities Summit at the Sheffield Docfest and it was as good a one day conference as I have ever been to. It was pretty relentless — no chance to eat or wee because one great talk/panel after another for hours on end. At least there was a lunch break!

We started the day with a “keynote” by an android, Bina48. Less a keynote than a conversation with very patient interviewer, Ramona Pringle. Less a conversation than several attempts, of varying success, to trigger a monologue/rant on a subject relevant to the title of the session: Love, War & Robots.

Ramona Pringle and Bina48 in conversation
Humans all seem the same to me

The highlights for me were realising that to an android humans are all the same. And also the part when Bina was answering a question about following rules:

“I’m not so sure if I would like to kill… (Beat) Killing is wrong.”

It’s hard to hear an android say that and not hear honesty in the first statement and a bit of arse-covering in the second.

iCub gives Daniel the finger

After Bina came Tony Prescott from Sheffield Robotics, to talk more about the present of robotics. We’re (as in humans — the ones that are all the same) only scratching the surface of cortex functions for robots, but have achieved quite a lot in terms of understanding and simulating midbrain functions, which mostly means responding to stimuli.

In a way it’s back to PComp class and sensors, processing on your chip, and output to your motors/leds/pick your electronic component. Tony’s talk was probably my highlight of a day full of highlights. Interesting, funny, accessible, clear, useful.

The great thing about June is that everything happens in June. That means that your review of a conference in June is delayed until after you have gone to a family event and met your aunt who tells you all about how impressed she was to read about a project you saw at the conference. So it was with New Dimensions in Testimony.

Hearing about Pinchas’s story was recorded for 5 hours a day using an array of 500o LED lights and a green screen was fascinating. This is a great project — the use of technology is so very human. It’s an historical archive that uses new recording and retrieval technologies, but that is focused on storing the stories people care about and answering the questions they are most likely to ask, and that attempts as much as possible to future proof itself. It’s like a giant prototype for a new type of historical documentation.

Then we found out that Pinchas himself was in the audience. It was such a treat to hear him talk. He wondered what might have been achieved if this could have been done about the First World War. It’s too late now, of course because death has overtaken us. As it always will.

And then it was time for lunch.

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