Why Rube Goldberg machines still matter in 2012
May 7th, 2012
06:48 PM ET

Why Rube Goldberg machines still matter in 2012

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - Rube Goldberg machines - those contraptions that, like the board game Mouse Trap, aim to accomplish a simple task in a needlessly complex way - don't really fit in an age obsessed with efficiency and perfection.

Yet, online, these fun-to-watch systems do seem to have incredible currency. Think OK Go music videos, for starters.

The machine below, called Mini-Melvin, caught my eye this week. Housed inside two suitcases, Mini-Melvin employs an alarm clock, a smartphone, a child's xylophone, a toy train and many other trinkets - all to stamp a short message on a postcard.

Check out the video below:

FULL POST

Post by:
Filed under: Art • Culture • Design • Tech
Swapping dog poop for free Wi-Fi
May 7th, 2012
12:12 PM ET

Swapping dog poop for free Wi-Fi

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - OK, I know this sounds ridiculous. But hear me out. An Internet company in Mexico City recently tested the idea of giving responsible pet owners a treat for picking up after their dogs in public parks.

People put their dogs' droppings in a special container which measured the weight of the poop. The container, which doubled as a router, then emitted a set number of minutes of free Wi-Fi for every pound of feces it collected.

Yeah, that's kind of gross. And no, there apparently was nothing stopping Wi-Fi cheaters from putting rocks or other heavy objects in the bins instead of dog poop. But it's yet another example of game mechanics getting tacked on top of the real world we live in - trying to influence our behavior, for better or worse, with rewards. The same kind we give to our pets. FULL POST

Post by:
Filed under: Environment • Gaming • Innovation • Internet • Tech
Intel: Smartphones will plug into your brain
May 3rd, 2012
02:34 PM ET

Intel: Smartphones will plug into your brain

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - This almost doesn't require comment. Check out David Goldman's CNNMoney story about a new white paper commissioned by Intel, in which researchers say it is inevitable - inevitable! - that smarpthones will plug into brains.

Here's Goldman's explanation of what could happen:

... Step one: a lag-free operating system that anyone can use intuitively to perform any computing task.

Step two: Interfacing with the body. These kinds of interfaces are already operating in a relatively rudimentary way, with implants and pacemakers. But in its paper, Intel suggests that the link-up will be much more robust.

How robust? Well, have you seen "The Matrix?" FULL POST

Post by:
Filed under: Future • Innovation • Smartphones • Tech
The Big Idea: Robots should take our jobs
May 2nd, 2012
09:38 AM ET

The Big Idea: Robots should take our jobs

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - At a time when computer programs are threatening to become competent journalists, capable of spitting out clear-headed reports on financial earnings reports and the like, this could get a little personal. But I thought I would draw your attention to a provocative statement posted on Wednesday by Kevin Kelly, the Wired magazine co-founder and author of "What Technology Wants."

Here's what Kelly has to say about robots stealing our jobs:

The fact that a task is routine enough to be measured suggests that it is routine enough to go to the robots. In my opinion, many of the jobs that are being fought over by unions today are jobs that will be outlawed within several generations as inhumane.

If a job is so routine that it could be done by robots - usually robots that can't really think but are really good at doing mechanical tasks over and over - will it be seen as "inhumane" by future generations? And - gasp! - are today's punch-out-the-facts journalism jobs going to be seen by our future selves as harmfully routine and monotonous? This takes the idea of a "paragraph factory" to a whole new level.

This is obviously not an endorsement, just a conversation starter.

Feel free to debate in the comments section below.

Update: Some of your comments were aggregated by CNN's news blog, This Just In. Check it out. As always, thanks for participating in the conversation.

Post by:
Filed under: Innovation • Robots • Tech
May 1st, 2012
02:59 PM ET

The Big Idea: Banjo music connects America and China

By John D. Sutter, CNN

Over in our opinion section, Abigail Washburn writes thoughtfully about the power of music to connect people from different cultures. She has a unique persective from which to make this claim, since she's a banjo-playing bluegrass musician - with curly blonde hair - who sometimes sings in Chinese.

Here's what she has to say about music's cross-cultural powers:

Music is a powerful way to connect cultures. I see it when I'm on a stage at a bluegrass festival in Virginia. When I look out at the sea of people in lawn chairs and bust into a song in Chinese, everybody's eyes pop wide open and they nudge their neighbor: "Is that girl singing in Chinese?" After a show, people would come up to me; everyone seems to have a story about their connection to China. And I see the power of music when I'm on stage in China: I start a Chinese song and the audience roars with delight that the blond, curly-haired girl with the banjo can sing their music.

More importantly, I see how music directly connects people's hearts. Like the time a little Chinese girl came up to me after I performed at a relocation school in Sichuan's earthquake disaster zone and asked: "Big Sister Wang, can I sing you a song that my mom sang before she was swallowed in the earthquake...?" She sat on my lap and I could feel the warmth of her body. She sang me the song, and tears started rolling down her cheeks and tears started rolling down mine. The light shining from her eyes felt like a place I could stay forever.

Check out the full post on CNN Opinion, and watch a video interview above.

Post by:
Filed under: Art • Culture • Innovation • Music
May 1st, 2012
02:36 PM ET

How computer code could better our cities

Check out this CNN video. Code for America's Jennifer Pahlka explains.

Post by:
Filed under: Design • Innovation • Internet • Social change
Meet the huggable, semi-robotic (and semi-creepy) pillow phone
April 30th, 2012
12:07 PM ET

Meet the huggable, semi-robotic (and semi-creepy) pillow phone

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - A Japanese roboticist recently showed off a giant, person-shaped pillow that also doubles as a cell phone and vibrates based on the frequency of the voice of the person you're talking to. If you're inclined to give this the benefit of the doubt, think of it as a step forward in "haptic" technology, which aims to bring the largely missing sense of touch into the realm of digital communications.

Or, if you're a skeptic: Just call it creepy.

The "Hugvie" robot reportedly is the work of Japanese roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro, who, among other things, is known for making a robotic version of himself.  He also created a Telenoid robot that stands in for humans and, as IEEE Spectrum described it, looks like "a supersized fetus." FULL POST

Post by:
Filed under: Culture • Design • Innovation • Robots • Tech
iPhone app aims to program your dreams ('Inception' anyone?)
April 17th, 2012
11:04 AM ET

iPhone app aims to program your dreams ('Inception' anyone?)

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - Harvard PhD student Daniel Nadler is trying to bring a really rudimentary version of the movie "Inception" to life with a new iPhone app that aims to help you "program your dreams."

Called Sigmund, the 99-cent app builds off of pre-existing sleep science to help people "program" the content of their dreams from a list of 1,000 keywords. After you select one to five words from the list, a sorta-soothing, sorta-robotic female voice reads the words you select during the deepest moments of your sleep cycle - the REM cycles - when you're most likely to dream vividly. In a sleep study that was the basis for the app, 34% to 40% of participants' dreams were memorably altered by the suggestive readings, he said.

"Obviously what goes on in the sleeping brain is not entirely remembered so it could actually be a higher incorporation rate," he said. FULL POST

Post by:
Filed under: Future • Innovation • Science • Smartphones • Tech
April 12th, 2012
04:00 PM ET

Games 'tap into the best version of yourself'

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - Think video games are evil? Spend some time with Jane McGonigal.

McGonigal - a designer who's queen of a genre called "Alternate Reality Games," or ARGs - believes games make us better people. They can be used to combat climate change, reduce poverty and, as she knows personally, help victims of conditions like depression, head injuries and cancer recover more quickly.

"Games are an extraordinary way to tap into the best version of yourself, the most determined, the most creative, the most resilient in the face of failure, the most likely to collaborate with other people - sort of heroic qualities," she said in a recent interview with CNN's "The Next List," which will feature McGonigal on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET. "And it seems that if we play more games - games that we love - these qualities can actually spill over into our real lives." FULL POST

Post by:
Filed under: Future • Gaming • Innovation • Social change • Tech • The Next List • Uncategorized
Inside Netflix's popular 'recommendation' algorithm
April 9th, 2012
10:04 AM ET

Inside Netflix's popular 'recommendation' algorithm

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - Netflix recently lifted the hood on its recommendation algorithm, which helps people who use that video-streaming service to find movies and shows that they may not know about but that they would like.

The most interesting stat the company listed on its corporate blog: 75% of the videos people watch are found via some kind of recommendation that the company employs on its apps and website. That means most pieces of content people end up watching on Netflix are found with the help of a computer equation that thinks it know what you want to watch - or via Facebook, for people outside the United States (Netflix doesn't connect with Facebook in the U.S. because some say the Video Privacy Protection Act prohibits video rental records from being shared. There is some confusion over when and how that law applies.)

In any event, here's what Netflix has to say about the popularity of its digital recommendations: FULL POST

Post by:
Filed under: Film • Innovation • Tech
« older posts
newer posts »