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Fun Media Science Technology

The Edge of Knowledge

quote-life-is-a-travelling-to-the-edge-of-knowledge-then-a-leap-taken-david-herbert-lawrence-108885

What do you think about machines that think? Or should I say machines who think? That is the 2015 EDGE question.

Edge of Knowledge

Edge.org was launched in 1996 as the online version of “The Reality Club” and as a living document on the Web to display the activities of “The Third Culture”. What is the third culture? Oh to put it in their words.  ‘the third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are’.

And members (Edgies) have been responding to an annual question now for some time.

What should we be worried about? What is your favourite explanation? How is the Internet changing the way you think? What will change everything? You know, just regular questions. OK big questions.

And this group contains a lot of famous names. Well this group is made up of famous people is a better description, from many walks of life, and so the answers are extremely interesting. Go and check a few out on the website.

Artificial Intelligence

As is the preamble on the website:

“In recent years, the 1980s-era philosophical discussions about artificial intelligence (AI)—whether computers can “really” think, refer, be conscious, and so on—have led to new conversations about how we should deal with the forms that many argue actually are implemented. These “AIs”, if they achieve “Superintelligence” (Nick Bostrom), could pose “existential risks” that lead to “Our Final Hour” (Martin Rees). And Stephen Hawking recently made international headlines when he noted “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

But wait! Should we also ask what machines that think, or, “AIs”, might be thinking about? Do they want, do they expect civil rights? Do they have feelings? What kind of government (for us) would an AI choose? What kind of society would they want to structure for themselves? Or is “their” society “our” society? Will we, and the AIs, include each other within our respective circles of empathy?”

So how close are we to these predictions, dreams and nightmares? There is plenty of stuff on the web to feed the interested, and surely enough developments will surely move in that direction. Last week we learned that a computer can work out aspects of your personality thanks to your social media use (see the post here). But intelligence? Computing variables is not intelligence.

And can we say that learning is intelligence? Computers can certainly learn, but can they think? Can they reason? What does it mean to think? To make a decision based on what? If the decision is based on experience then to some extent it is a calculation, or a computation, and if that is the case then a computer can think.

So back to the question. What Do You Think About Machines That Think?

Categories
Computers Fun

Vintage Computers For Sale

Buoyed by the sale of one of the first and few remaining Apple 1 computers for $650,000 I started thinking about the old machines that were lying in my mum’s garage and wondering if I was sitting on a fortune.

Although I myself was never interested in computers my younger brother was a guru, going on to study computing at University, so we have a real vintage lot just awaiting discovery.

The first Hankins computer was a 1981 Sinclair ZX81. What a machine that was. It was manufactured by the famous watch maker Timex in Scotland, and really represents the movement from mechanical to digital technology. I remember recording programs onto a cassette recorder that were broadcast over the radio as a series of sounds similar to the noise a fax makes. Then you play them into the machine and bang you are off, you could use your 1kB of memory to do almost anything (or nothing).

A Sinclair ZX81
A Sinclair ZX81

The keys were part of the machine, like an old cash register, and it is through these that my brother learned the skills of programming in Basic, although I never got to grips with it. Then he moved on to Extended Basic and machine code (whatever that is).

Anyway it will not make me rich, they go from about $2 to $20 on eBay.

But even 1 kB of memory was not enough for us so a couple of years later we (my parents) invested in what was in its day the height of technology, a TI99. This was altogether greatly improved, it had a cartridge system in the front so you could slide in games and use the cursors to maneuver through the asteroid fields.

The TI99 was manufactured by calculator maker Texas Instruments and was the first computer with a 16 bit processor. Texas Instruments were big on voice synthesis and the big use of it for us was during the game Parsec. With 16kB of memory we had moved on considerably, and my brother made the most of learning Extended Basic using their wonderful program.

A TI99 Home Computer
A TI99 Home Computer

Just look at the lines on this beast, a design classic it sold almost 3 million units and with 68 by 48 pixels in colour the picture was a joy to behold when plugged into our TV.

It was high finance though for our family, it cost more than $500 US when newly released but as with all of these things the price fell over the following years to $150, and so the question arises again, am I rich today?

The answer unfortunately is no, you can buy one on eBay for about $20. Could be a great investment though, they have one in a museum in Paris.

Well a couple of years passed and my brother needed a serious computer to take to University. At great expense my parents went for the BBC Microcomputer built by Acorn. This was much more of an educational tool, and its release was followed by a BBC educational series that taught its user (my brother and unfortunately not me) to program, and it was the machine of choice for UK universities and schools.

Our model B had 128 kB of memory, a giant leap that allowed graphics programing and increased complexity of use. It also had a floppy disc for ease of data transferral. It was a beast of a thing though as it sat in my brother’s bedroom, and it is the most expensive machine in the house to date.

A BBC Acorn Computer
A BBC Acorn Computer

Oh how I could pay my mum back if it were now worth the same as the first Apple I thought, but once more eBay broke the spell. From $10 to $150 with all the extra hard and software, so sorry mum the Austin Martin will have to wait.

After University (and post BBC) my brother went to work and we moved into company machinery, laptops, blueberry, blackberry, apples and other fruits of commerce, and I lost touch a bit, but I alone have owned 3 desktops and 3 laptops to date and it is all awaiting disposal, so there certainly isn’t much room in my mum’s garage today (certainly not enough for an Aston Martin anyway).

Categories
Gadgets

Exploring arguably essential home gadgets

We all love our gadgets, some people more than others of course – we’ve all got parents or grandparents who haven’t got a clue how to turn a computer on, let alone check their emails or catch up with their family on Facebook. But for the gadget lovers among us there’s nothing better than getting home with a new bit of kit, setting it up and turning it on for the first time. It’s like a birthday and Christmas all rolled into one!

Christmas and birthday in one
Christmas and birthday rolled into one!

But while we all have such affection towards the latest offerings, what would we actually call “essential’? After all, the very latest devices and gadgets don’t come cheap and disposable income isn’t exactly at its peak at the moment. We’re finding that we have to budget more, and even wait until the price drops after a few months before we can get our hands on some devices, an agonizing wait for many I’m sure. So if we had to prioritize our gadgets, what would they be?

Laptop

Of course, you have to have a laptop. Tablets and smartphones are great but sometimes you just need a computer to get certain jobs done as well as they possibly can be with a bigger screen and better all round packages. You’ve got numerous top quality manufacturers to choose between, all offering different packages, with Apple, Dell, HP and co all vying for the title of top laptop manufacturer.

Printer

Obviously, if you’re working on your laptop at home for an important project for work, school, college or University, it’s vital that you have a way to get it off the computer and into a tangible document. For that reason you need a printer capable of producing your work in high quality, something Dell printers for one are synonymous for, while other features can include scanners, photocopiers and fax machine capabilities.

Smartphone

Then when you leave the house it’s vital that you can stay connected to the rest of the world. Smartphones such as the iPhone, BlackBerry and Samsung Galaxy give you the ability to check your emails on the move, update you location to Facebook, look into what Lady Gaga has had to say on Twitter and even buy things, you can do it all while you’re out of the house. Oh, and you can text and make calls too of course!

Tablet

One of the must-have items of the moment, tablet computers such as the iPad are taking the world by storm. On the train, in the boardroom, at the park, they’re all using them as perfect hybrids between smartphones and computers.

Music Player

Finally, of course, you have to have an iPod or similar device to listen to your favourite music on. Whether you’re in the gym, on the train or just relaxing, it’s always good to have some music to keep you in the mood for whatever you’re doing.

These are what I believe are essential home gadgets, but what is your views? Do you consider all these gadgets essential, and if not, which are yours?

Categories
Computers Internet

Data centers – where would we be without them?

It is hardly a controversial opinion to suggest that data centers are an indispensable part of modern life – it really is impossible to envisage a world without the vast capacity and power that data centers grant the business and information technology sectors – where would we all be without Google, eBay and Facebook? But what exactly are the advantages of a data center that their absence would remove? Let’s take a look…

Firstly, the cost to enterprises of running an in-house own data center is increasingly prohibitive, given the growing size requirements of such facilities. As more and more information is transmitted online and more transactions take place online – just as computing power continues to grow – then a data center needs exponentially more power and more hard disk space. Server racks just keep on getting longer and even keeping them cool enough becomes uneconomically costly for most small, medium or even large-sized enterprises.

Server RoomSecurity is the second big issue – in a world where cyber-crime and espionage is constantly growing, there needs to be a very robust response to security. Most enterprises just don’t have the time and resources to police their IT operations to the level required, and a good data center can give them the reassurances they need. Technicians can be on hand throughout the 24-hour cycle, not just to ensure that the server racks keep on functioning perfectly and that any problems are swiftly dealt with, but also to ensure that information is kept safe and secure and that hacking or phishing attempts are roundly thwarted.

So, where would we be without data centers? The answer is that we would have a vastly more limited cyber-world, with businesses forced to keep their computer operations artificially scaled back due to cost considerations, with the knock-on effect of a hobbled e-commerce sector. Social networks would be slow, unsafe and prone to disastrous infiltration, while search engines would also be grindingly slow and frustrating to use – welcome back to the late 1990s.

It’s safe to say that data centers are not only here to stay, but will keep getting bigger and better so long as the computer world leads the way.

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Computers

Commodore is making a comeback

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People who were born after 1990 tend to consider a world without the technology they rely on so much an unimaginable place. However, such a world existed not long ago. In fact, while technology existed a decade prior, it would be considered stone age artifacts by most people today who utilise touchscreen mobile devices and lightning fast desktop computers.

Unfortunately, few people take the time to look back and appreciate the types of devices that paved the way for the popular pieces of technology that we use so often today. Whether it is that massive cell phone from an episode of Saved by the Bell, or the Commodore 64 from 1982, there are many forgotten pieces that were the stepping-stones for modern technology.

An old computer
A Commodore 64

To help neutralise this widespread neglect, the commodore is being re-released with a few modern upgrades. This re-release has been received with high regard by both people from the generation of the original commodore, as well as people from modern generations just discovering its significance.

Below are a few elements of the modern Commodore that people are finding most appealing.

Nostalgia

One of the most notable benefits that people see with the release of the modern commodore is the nostalgic aspect it provides. While the hardware specifications have been modernised, the overall look and feel of the new commodore has remained true to its roots. The keyboard keys are the same shape and colour as the original commodore. Additionally, consumers can even play the old 8-bit games that were all the rage back in the heyday of this classic machine.

Functional Enough For Modern Usage

The new commodore has been equipped with some modern hardware that makes it operational for general use with modern amenities without much trouble. While it does not have the performance capability of an ultrabook, it does have generous processing power with an Intel Atom 1.8 GZ dual core CPU as well as 2 GB of RAM that can be doubled if the consumer wishes for a little more speed. Additionally, there is a wide selection of USB ports available to ensure all of your peripherals can be utilised.

Affordability

Another beneficial element of the commodore that has attracted consumers is the price. Consumers can expect to pay anything from $250 for the most basic option to $850 for the most decked out model.

The re-release of the Commodore has caught the attention of a wide selection of consumers. From people of the generation that used the first C64 model to play their 8-bit video games, to people from modern generations that are just discovering this important machine. Whether you want to relive the good old days of simple technology or just want a fun conversational piece, the new commodore might be a good investment for you.

Categories
Computers How To Guides

Steps to Take Before Throwing Away Your Old PC

In 2010, the FTC recorded over 250,000 complaints of identity theft in the United States. While many identity thieves still get their information from your paper mail, a stolen purse or wallet, or hacked files online, more and more are starting to glean sensitive information from the hard drives of old computers. If you’re getting ready to toss out your desktop or laptop in favor of a newer model, take these steps to protect yourself from identity theft.

What information might be stored?

Not sure it’s worth all that work to wipe your hard drive? After all, you don’t keep a ton of important information on your computer, so what could a hacker possibly find anyway; and if you’re just donating your computer or selling it for cheap, what are the odds that an identity thief is going to get his hands on it?

The problem with this line of thinking is that often times, your computer has stored information that you don’t even know it has stored.

Common information stored on computers includes account numbers, credit card numbers, passwords, registration keys for software programs that you use, medical information, addresses, and even tax returns – which contain pretty much all the personal information necessary for a someone to apply for a credit card or bank loan in your name!

Keep in mind that many identity thieves will actually buy a used computer – or even steal a donated one – in the hope of gleaning such personal information. This information can be worth thousands of dollars to them and can create a huge headache – and financial problems – for you.

How to get rid of the data

So, before you sell your computer or donate it to your local school system, take these steps to get rid of the data for good:

1. Don’t count of just deleting the files. While you’ll want to delete the files from your computer, this is just the first step to take. Identity thieves are often experts at getting deleted information from hard drives by using specialized software.

2. Save any files you want to keep. Before you wipe your hard drive, you will, of course, want to save any files you want to keep. You can transfer your data to a new computer, burn it to a CD, put it on a USB drive, or put it on an external hard drive – a particularly good option if you need to store a ton of files or information.

3. Use a utility program specifically meant to wipe your hard drive. Local tech stores will sell utility programs meant for this purpose that match up with your specific operating system. The best idea is to get a program that will overwrite or wipe the hard drive several times instead of just once, and you’ll definitely want a program that wipes the entire drive.

If you know your computer has particularly sensitive information on it and you don’t trust a utility program to get rid of the information, you can always destroy the hard drive physically.

Businesses in particular, often use hard drive shredding services, as their computers tend to have lots of personal information on both employees and customers of the business.

A hard disk shredder
A hard drive being shredded

Once you shred the hard drive, you can simply sell or donate the rest of the computer without it, and the new owner can then completely replace the hard drive.

Watching for identity theft

Even if you are careful to destroy information on your computer before you sell or donate it, it’s a good idea to be wary of potential identity theft.

Check your credit reports regularly to ensure that everything is accurate. Credit reports are normally the first place you’ll see evidence of identity theft when new accounts pop up that you didn’t open. If you do think you’ve been a victim of identity theft, get identity theft assistance as soon as possible.

Report the problem to the credit reporting bureaus, who will place a fraud alert on your account. Then close the new, fraudulent accounts. Finally, report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission and your local police department.

If you’ve taken steps to protect your personal information from being stolen, you may never have to deal with the problem of identity theft, but it’s always a good idea to be aware of what you should do if your identity should be stolen.

Categories
Business How To Guides

How to Improve Your Business Using Technology

In today’s day and age, you will very rarely find a business owner sitting on their laurels and simply allowing their business to move from one day to the next without change. With the current unsteady financial climate, most should be doing their utmost to move their business forward in order to attract and secure enough new customs to stay afloat. One of the many ways in which this can be achieved is to invest in the latest technology for your particular field of business.

Whilst this may seem a daunting prospect both in terms of a lack of technological experience and a strain on already limited finances, the advantages of making the investment could be profound. No matter what industry you find yourself in, there is almost certainly going to be a form of technology at your disposal – whether this be a specific system, programme or piece of equipment – that can have a positive effect on the way in which your business is run.

For instance, a retail setting that is behind the times in terms of technology could definitely benefit from the introduction of point of sale and EPOS software to make payment transactions swifter and stock counting easier. Although the transition from traditional ways to modern alternatives may be unnerving, if you are able to keep track on the amount of stock you have on the shelves whilst making payment at the tills quicker, this could have long-term financial benefits.

In an office environment, a large number of computers has now become the norm. In the world of computer technology, new system updates and program developments are common place so ensuring that your business stays up to date with such regular changes can be a struggle. However, by investing in professional help, you may then be able to divert your attention away from this area to concentrate on other pressing matters, safe in the knowledge that everything is being taken care of on your behalf.

IT support cartoon
Professional tech support could help prevent employees from needing their own!

Whether you decide to develop an in-house team to offer support when it comes to your IT systems, or decide that outsourcing will be a more cost-effective option, having one individual or a team of technologically savvy employees who are aware of technical changes that could influence the performance of your business will give you an advantage over your competitors.

It is no secret that attracting new custom can be a struggle and with many consumers now using the internet to find local services, ensuring you have a fully functional website and an online presence is more important than ever. Attractive website design coupled with an SEO campaign to get your business ranking in the search engines for particular terms related to what you offer could make all the difference and give your company the edge when attracting new customers.

Although the current financial climate leaves many businesses in a perilous position, it is clear to see that with an investment in new technology, things may well turn around. From developing a fresh and invigorating website through to purchasing the latest equipment and calling upon professionals to offer assistance, you and your business could see a turn in fortunes that leaves you in a far more stable position.

Categories
Business Technology

The benefits of remote working for SMEs over winter

In order to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) continue to operate in severe weather conditions over winter, industry experts now advise small firms to consider implementing flexible remote working systems, allowing employees to work from home.

Business man's hand writing virtual private network concept
Remote working has grown to become an important element of business productivity for SMEs.

With the current technology available, firms now needn’t suspend their business in severe weather, with a combination of remote technologies and common sense allowing SMEs to continue trading.

Remote working can maintain productivity and reduce office costs over the winter months. Studies have found in the past that employees working away from the distractions of their desk and the surrounding office environment increased their productivity by a considerable margin.

What exactly is remote working?

Put simply, remote working is when people do their work at home or outside the workplace. With the current financial climate tighter than ever, businesses are always looking to bring down their running costs and remote working is one way of achieving this goal.

In many industries Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are created to enable employees to login to a company network and access all the information they need to carry out their work, whether it is word documents, emails or project briefs. Remote working also enables businesses to employ and outsource work to people all over the world.

There are many other advantages of remote working for both small business owners and employees alike:

Advantages of remote working for SME owners

  • Fewer office costs – with staff able to use remote and cloud computing to access emails, files and any other necessary information, SMEs can cut costs such as printing, electricity and any other staff management charges.
  • Increased productivity and results – Instead of having to down tools and stop work on client projects, owners can allow staff to carry on their work from home. This is also an excellent employee incentive as staff can save money on travel to and from the office or studio.
  • Greener working – remote working can dramatically reduce a businesses’ impact on the environment by reducing the number of employees that commute to the office or studio.

Advantages of remote working for employees

  • Enhanced work-life balance – employees that are allowed to work remotely in severe weather naturally have an improved work-life balance, with the ability to spend more time with children and spouses.
  • Reduced stress levels – taking your employees away from the cut and thrust of the office environment can reduce stress levels. Remote working in more comfortable, homely surroundings can foster greater productivity.
  • Increased trust and responsibility – While SME owners must choose the right people to work remotely, those fortunate enough to be able to work from home will have their morale boosted by the extra trust and responsibility placed upon them by their employer.

The key challenge for SMEs is to ensure employees are disciplined enough to handle the freedom of remote working. Today an increasing number of small business owners appreciate the benefits working from home can bring to their company.

Categories
News Science Technology

Want to do your bit for science? LHC@home

What on earth is LHC@home?

LHC@home stands for Large Hadron Collider at home. LHC@home is a new project involving your PC and the Large Hadron Collider. But why do they need your PC?

Too much data

Basically, the Large Hadron Collider throws particles around a 27km tunnel underneath the Swiss Alps and then smashes them into each other. The process is much more complicated than that, but you get the idea.

All this creates astronomical amounts of data, far too much for the projects computers to cope with. So how are the scientists ever going to make sense of the data they have gathered? The answer: you.

LHC@home 2.0

Way back in 2004 there was the idea to use the computing power of willing members of the public, to help analyse the data collected from the collider. This project was called LHC@home. To say the least, it didn’t really work out as planned, which is why project LHC@home 2.0 is now underway.


LHC@home 2.0 is an improved and updated version of LHC@home. Home computers are now much more powerful than in 2004 meaning that they are more likely to be able to cope with the complexity of simulating highly complex particle collisions.

The public aren’t going to be doing all the work, the Large Hadron Collider has it’s own massive supercomputer network, however by harnessing the spare capacity on (hopefully soon to be) millions of peoples home PC’s worldwide, then data can be analysed much faster.

SETI@home

LHC@home isn’t the first project of it’s kind however. SETI@home is another project which users can get involved in. All you do is install a screen saver and then when you are not using your PC, it starts to help in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence!

SETI@home screen saver
The SETI@home project screen saver

Do your bit for science!

Why not do your bit for science and offer your PC to help the LHC@home or SETI@home project?

Categories
Computers Internet News Science Search Engines

Search engines are changing the way our memory works

A recent article in Science Mag suggests that the use of computers and the internet might actually be changing the way our memory works.

A series of psychology experiments recently carried out have shown that sometimes, when people were presented with hard to answer questions, they began to think of computers.

If participants believed that it would be easy to find answers on Google later, then they had poorer recall of the actual answer, and yet a greater memory of where the answer was stored.

A head x-ray showing someone with a computer for a brainThe researchers said that the internet acts as a tool which we now depend upon to to aid our memories, by remembering some data for us.

Here is the abstract for the journal entry

The advent of the Internet, with sophisticated algorithmic search engines, has made accessing information as easy as lifting a finger. No longer do we have to make costly efforts to find the things we want. We can “Google” the old classmate, find articles online, or look up the actor who was on the tip of our tongue. The results of four studies suggest that when faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it. The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.

In more simplified English, what this is basically saying is that it is now much easier to access data online, mainly thanks to search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo. If we have a question, we can find the answer in seconds.


This has lead the the human brain associating the thought of a problem with computers, as it believes that the internet will be the source of the solution. Search engines are now embeded so much in our brain, that when we think of a problem, we no longer bother trying to work out the answer for ourselves, but instead we associate the possibility of finding the solution of the problem with a search engine.

Let’s be honest, who hasn’t been bugged by something, asked someone else who also wasn’t able to help and as a result was either told “Google it” or thought “I could Google that”? I have, in fact I would say it happens on a weekly basis!

Question time

So what do you think? Are computers, the internet and search engines making us stupid, or is it just that we are now adapting as a race to more efficient ways of finding out information?