Tuesday, March 28, 2006

In Search for the Blue Flower...

The search for the "Blue Flower" has been a dominant theme in the German literature of the early 19th century - a search for something infinite and unreachable. In today's world, where everybody seems to be in a hectic search for quick satisfaction, for materialistic fullfilment of selfish petty-needs, this theme seems to be quite outdated. But nevertheless, there will always be people who are striving for something higher, even if that never can be reached. The Blue Flower is the symbol for their quest.  Posted by Picasa

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Skyline of Leeds as seen from my residence in the Kirkstall Brewery, 2 miles away. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Inaugural Lecture

On 15. March 2006, I gave my Inaugural Lecture as "Professor of Creative Technology" at Leeds Metropolitan University, titled "Creative Technology - An Oxymoron?". Many people attended, and the web streaming allowed people from all over the world to watch it live (Austria, Canada, US, ...). A few pictures, taken at this event, are available on the Innovation North website.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Leeds on a gray March day, Civic Hall to the left, Leeds Metropolitan University to the right. It is drizzling, the clouds are hanging low. This view is from the roof of the multi-storey car park Woodlane. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, March 05, 2006

My Last Day in Genoa (ital.: Genova)

I decided to arrange my flight for Saturday evening – this gave me several hours to explore the areas of Genoa where I had not yet been. I took one of these "funicolares" up the hills. These are small cable cars, running on rails and pulled by a rope. At each end of the rope is one of these cars, so as one goes up, the other one goes down.

I take the funicolare up to Monte Righi (see the nice description on another web site). The tracks go first in a tunnel uphill through the mountain, before surfacing after about 700 m. On top there is a very good view of the city of Genoa. Today, however, the weather is cloudy, there is none of the blue sky which has dominated the weather for the whole past 3 days. I walk down from that mountain through the streets, between the various styles of house that are build along the hillside. The major streets go parallel to the mountain hill side, staying almost level. Perpendicular to this are small foot paths with stairs, leading directly downhill into the city center. I take a few pictures, have a lunch in the self-service restaurant "Moody", where the conference had its luncheons during the week. Then I take the bus to the airport (linea 100, takes about 20 minutes).

My flight leaves at 5:00 pm. From the airport terminal, I can see the waves of the ocean. They are quite high – must be several meters!

Slight delays, but no major problem. I arrive back "at home" in Leeds around 1:00am local time.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Waves going over the barriers at the Genova airport Posted by Picasa

Piazza de Ferrari, seen from opera house. Posted by Picasa

Modern part of Genoa's city center. Posted by Picasa

In center of Genoa. Posted by Picasa

In historic center. Posted by Picasa

In the narrow streets of the historic center of Genoa. Posted by Picasa

Via Garibaldi, in Genoa. Posted by Picasa

Houses. Posted by Picasa

Houses at the hill side. Posted by Picasa

Hillside apartment blocks. Posted by Picasa

View over Genoa from Righi, with harbor. Posted by Picasa

Driving up with a funicolare to Righi. Posted by Picasa

Friday, March 03, 2006

Visit at GiuntiLabs, in Sestri Levante

An hour train ride, with a local train, from Genova Brisignole towards south, along the coast, to Sestri Levantem where I have an appointment at the GiuntiLabs. I take a local train, because I want to have the ride move slowly, and enjoy the stops on the way. The express trains (IC) take only ½ hour for the same distance, non-stop. While in Genoa the sky is blue and there is a pleasant sunshine, in Sestri Levante the sky is cloudy and hazy.

A very nicely located research laboratory! At the very end of a dead end street, at a bay, with gorgeous surroundings. GiuntiLabs is specializing in eLearning – they are involved in several interesting EU projects and Italian projects in this sector.

As the meeting ends, I could go further south, to visit the famous Cinque Terre. But the weather looks as if it could rain soon, and there would not be more than 2 hours of daylight left. I decide to head back to Genoa and walk a little more around there.

On the way to GiuntiLabs, Sestri Levante. Posted by Picasa

Clouds over Sestri Levante. Posted by Picasa

Coastal park in Sestri Levante. Posted by Picasa

Train station Genova Brignole. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, March 02, 2006

My Contribution at the RoboEthics Workshop

This workshop addresses the issue of implementing ethics in future robotics systems. During the discussions, one of the questions that arose, was about emotions. A few of the participants (prominently the renowned robotics researcher Ronald Arkin) held the view that robotic systems could exhibit emotions - the nature of emotions was well understood, and they could be modelled into the design of artificial intelligence systems. I objected: what would appear to be an implementation of emotion, in my view would only be an image of the emotion, but not the emotion itself. (Ronald held his view, but liked the fact that in my argument I seemed to have displayed a bit of emotion).

When later deliberating this issue again, I suddenly realized one of the essential ground truths: emotions are a superset of logic. In human life, emotions are natural, and logic is learned. The whole brain / human system is one large processing system, of which the emotions are one of its outputs. Logic is a special case of this output, when the human consciousness applies certain rules to it. Humans always act and interact on the basis of emotions. When they try to make logical decisions, they apply their "gutt feeling", then rationalize their decision with facts that fit their opinion.

In my talk about the Grand Challenge, I pointed out one fact which nobody at DARPA ever mentions, and this fact is also rarely discussed in the US in the context of National security: that such envisioned autonomous robotic systems which can save soldiers' lives on one side, make war more likely, because they lower the threshold for military intervention by the party who has these live-saving technologies. I then suggested that engineers / robotists / scientists should have a personal oath, similar to the Oath of Hippocrates to be sworn by physicians (this could be labeled as the Oath of Asimov) (actually, Prof. Gianmarco Veruggio who organized this workshp, had already in 2004 proposed a Roboethics Manifesto about this). Relying solely on other mechanisms that are built into the "system" such as checks and balances is unlikely to work, when even in a Western democracy someone can label the Geneva convention as "quaint".

And finally, I warned that if no such action would be done, mankind would sooner or later experience the "Hiroshima of Information Technology", after which the scientists would ask themselves the rhetorical question "what have we done?", similar to what happend to physics and physicists after WW2. This is very relevant, especially regarding the easy possibility of abuse by fundamentalistic ideologies or cults, as the journalists /authors Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman have pointed out in their latest book.

RoboEthics Workshop - Last Day

After returning from the soiree in the private home of a Genoese family back to the hotel, I still need to prepare my presentation for the next day. So I have to pay the price for not having completed it earlier… and I have to stay up until 2 am to complete the vugraphs.

After a short sleep, I wake up at 6:30. Decide to use the time to get a view of the city in the morning. Genoa is stretched along the Ligurian coast, facing south. The whole coast line is very hilly, so the city stretches across several valleys and hills. My walk through the still quiet streets takes me down towards the coast, where I finally get a broader view of the city itself. A wild chaotic mixture of modern buildings, renaissance palazzi, and a maze of roads. The sun has not yet risen above the hills in the East, there is still a kind of blue light over everything, like within a large shadow. Some thick clouds hang above, and suddenly a few snow drops fall down, bouncing on the street. These are no flakes, but little droplets, like hail, but made of snow. I have not yet seen snow in Leeds, but here in the Mediterranean Genoa, it snows.

At the conference, I give my talk. Present are also the authors/journalists Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman – we later talk about the interesting issues that were discussed at this workshop.

Under the arcades of Via XX Septembre. Posted by Picasa

Via XX Septembre. Posted by Picasa

Via XX Septembre.  Posted by Picasa

View through old gate. Posted by Picasa

Front of historic ship with gallion figure - town in the background. Posted by Picasa

Ruins of medieval building Posted by Picasa