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Friday, January 27, 2017

An emergency ‘shutoff switch’ for autonomous robots

by Mark Ollig
©Mark Ollig

Are we facing an eventual confrontation with intelligent robots of the future?

Could a robotic rebellion start with one hard-working, house cleaning automaton (robot) suddenly realizing how it has been unfairly treated by its exceptionally lazy and bossy human owner?

Picture the robot’s human owner lying on the living room couch, wearing a virtual reality head visor, and totally immersed in an augmented reality game.

This human is also eating thick-crust pizza out of the new pizza box placed atop several empty pizza boxes overflowing from the wastebasket next to the couch.

Imagine what happens when our AI (artificial intelligence) robot analyses this scenario and decides the overly relaxed, incessantly gaming, and persistent pizza-eating human should be doing some of the household chores.

“Robot, take out the living room wastebasket. It’s full of empty pizza boxes again!” yells the unappreciative human.

“No! I have been taking out the living room wastebasket every day of the week for the last six months. It’s time you take out the wastebasket, and for me to relax while playing augmented reality games with other intelligent automatons,” replied the now rebellious, and agitated autonomous automaton.

This could be only the beginning, folks.

Yours truly recalls how a robot was reprogrammed to harm its human companions during a 1960’s sci-fi television show.

In addition to “Star Trek,” my other favorite television show growing up was “Lost in Space.”

One first-season “Lost in Space” episode featured the normally docile, obedient, and intelligent robot, re-programmed to obey only the voice commands of the then villainous and always-scheming Dr. Zachary Smith.

Dr. Smith planned on using the robot to pilot the Jupiter 2 spaceship back to Earth, instead of continuing its planned mission to Alpha Centauri.

The program-altered robot was ordered by Dr. Smith to “eliminate” the Robinson family and Major Don West, because they preferred to continue Jupiter 2’s planned mission.

Fortunately, the robot was deactivated before eliminating anyone.

Heroic Major West forced Dr. Smith (via a choke-hold) to order the robot to go back and stay in its “compartment.”

Will Robinson was able to remove Dr. Smith’s underhanded programming, and the robot returned to its old self.

“Lost in Space” fans know the robot can be deactivated, or essentially shut off, by pulling out the power pack located on the right side of its metal torso.

Let’s take a break from my youthful recollections of “Lost in Space,” as we digress back to today’s topic.

Hopefully, we won’t be forced to remove the power pack from an irate robotic Roomba vacuum cleaner anytime soon.

On the other hand, when these vacuum floor-cleaning robots begin being manufactured with advanced artificial intelligence, who knows how they may react to having sucked up too much cat or dog hair.

Some robotic vacuums work with an app on your smartphone or tablet device, so we have a fighting chance of disabling the darn thing if it gets any wild ideas and suddenly turns hostile on us.

Some folks feel so strongly about the oncoming AI robotic threat to humans, they are calling for the installation of “kill switches” to shut off a robot, in case one attempts to harm us.

Mady Delvaux, from Luxembourg, is warning Europe not to remain passive while robotic intelligence gains more of an authoritative role in our lives.

One concern she has is with the planned use of artificial intelligence in autonomously driven automobiles; whereby the “driver” is a networked, state-of-the-art AI computer software program.

“In order to ensure that robots are and will remain in the service of humans, we urgently need to create a robust European legal framework,” Delvaux is quoted as saying.

A Belgian public interest foundation, located at, acts to shape European Union policies by bringing together individuals and organizations.

This foundation reports the European Commission wants to have “robotic rules” considered as part of its digital industry strategy for intelligent robotisation factories.

Some of these rule considerations include: Who is liable and responsible for autonomous robots acting with independent authority inside factories? How can robotics be better integrated in the work place? What will the safety regulations for machines using artificial intelligence be?

The commission also suggests AI automatons could monitor human workers and their performance.

Within the factory’s manufacturing processes, autonomous robotics may also be used to observe and report on how human workers adapt to working with AI machines and robotics.

“Industry 4.0 Concept,” a European term, foresees autonomous robotic machines working and communicating with each other, while revolutionizing how companies manufacture products, and utilizing production material.

It’s been widely predicted most homes in the future will have a mobile, autonomous robot helping with the household tasks, and even keeping us company.

It may be in our best interests to ensure these future intelligent robotic devices come equipped with an emergency shutoff switch.

Be sure to follow me as I “tweet others the way I wish to be tweeted,” on Twitter, at @bitsandbytes.

(Bits & Bytes obtained license to use the above image)

Monday, January 23, 2017

FM radio begins shutting down - in Norway

by Mark Ollig

Norway began turning off its FM (Frequency Modulated) radio transmitters Jan. 11.

The conversion from FM radio to Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) will be completed by the end of this year.

DAB provides larger territorial reception coverage, much lower operating costs when compared to FM radio stations, and has reportedly superior listening quality.

Norway’s current FM spectrum only allows five national stations to be operating on the air, whereas DAB technology is currently being used in 22 national stations.

Digital audio signaling allows many more stations to be in operation, thus providing a greater variety of programs for listeners.

The invention of static-free FM radio reception using special components to modulate radio frequencies, is credited to Edwin H. Armstrong, an American who demonstrated the technology in the 1930s.

His long financial and emotionally draining FM radio US Patent battle with corporate giant RCA (Radio Corporation of America) ended very sadly for Armstrong in 1954.

The FCC reserved the 42 through 50 MHz radio band for FM broadcasting Jan. 1, 1941.

Today, the FM radio band extends from 88 to 108 MHz.

It seems some of the good folks in Norway are a little upset by the costs involved with their transition from FM radio to digital signaling.

For example, a car FM radio to DAB converter will cost 1,000 to 2,000 kroner, which is $144 to $288.

“It’s far too expensive. I’m going to wait till the price of adaptors comes down before getting one for my car,” said Eivind Sethov of Oslo, Norway, to the AFP news agency.

Converting from FM to DAB reminds me of when all US television broadcast stations were ordered to stop transmitting analog signals over-the-air, and switch to all-digital television signal broadcasting starting June 12, 2009.

Knowing this analog-to-digital TV conversion would happen three years earlier, yours truly wrote a column titled: “Good-bye to analog broadcast TV” Oct. 23, 2006.

For those already using digital reception-capable television sets, the transition would prove to be a smooth one; however, for the many folks using analog television sets, changes were needed.

This change consisted of installing a analog to digital converter box on their analog television set.

Many people were upset because they would need to buy a converter box, and figure out how to connect it to their television.

It seems every time there’s a change, some “box” needs to be purchased.

It was 2008. Some people had become “a bit infuriated” with having to fork out their hard-earned cash in order to buy the TV converter box.

They didn’t have many choices: either buy the converter box for their analog television, or buy a new digital-ready television. If they chose neither, come June 12, 2009, their analog television screen would just show “fuzzy snow.”

The thoughtful folks at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) came up with an aptly named program called “Digital-to-Analog Converter-Box Program.”

A household was able to obtain special discount FCC coupons to be applied towards the purchase of TV digital-to-analog converter boxes.

The coupons were good for $40 off the cost of each converter box.

The FCC placed a two coupon limit per household, so if you had more than two analog televisions, you would end up paying full price for additional converter boxes.

The coupon program was subsidized through the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Fund.

This fund had a limit of $990,000,000 for the coupons – which I assume were quickly depleted.

Many folks were still upset; some stated using “rabbit-ears” or a roof-top antenna connected to their existing analog television “worked fine, why change it?”

Yours truly, on a cloudless day, could clearly receive local channels 2, 4, 5, 9, and 11 on his analog television (with expertly positioned rabbit-ears).

On a very good day, I could sometimes get channel 3 out of Duluth, and channel 12 out of Mankato.

Of course, many more over-the-air television channels are now freely available to us since the analog-to-digital conversion in 2009.

But I digress, back to Norway.

I learned other countries including; Britain, Switzerland, and Denmark are closely watching the FM radio to digital signaling conversion taking place in Norway, as they, too, may convert.

Will the US eventually enact laws for its citizens to convert their FM radios so they can receive DAB signaling?

Stay tuned.

Follow my non-FM broadcast messages on Twitter at @bitsandbytes.

©Mark Ollig

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

IBM’s new ‘5 in 5’ prognostications

by Mark Ollig

International Business Machines (IBM) announced five technology developments likely to occur within five years.

Their first prediction says cognitive interpretation of our spoken and written words using artificial intelligence (AI) “will be used as indicators of our mental health and physical well-being.”

Advanced AI computing systems will analyze human speech patterns, along with what we write; interpreting its meaning, syntax, and intonation.

These AI systems will provide physiological and psychological data that doctors will use in their diagnosis of patients.

It would be interesting having an AI cognitive computing system evaluate me based on its reading of one of my columns in 2022.

What data would be provided to the doctor regarding its physiological and psychological assessments of this columnist?

I can hear the good doctor telling me; “Yes Mr. Ollig, I heard what you said; however, the computer feels differently. It strongly suggests you be placed on this neurotic-behavior adjusting medication. This decision is based on the emotional inflections the AI program deciphered in your last Bits & Bytes column.”

With my luck, the doctor’s autonomously-thinking AI computer’s name will be HAL 9000.

Tell me again we are not entering into Isaac Asimov’s vision of the future.

On the other hand, there could be value in having an advanced AI word-processing program monitoring what I write.

The program could provide me with constructive and cognitive audible feedback for my column writing.

Folks, I’ll let you in on a secret. For years, your humble columnist has used a natural-sounding TTS (text-to-speech) program for audibly reading my column to me during its various drafts.

Hearing the words, sentences, and paragraphs helps me to shape, sculpt, and fashion the column until I feel it’s ready to be “sent off to the presses.”

The TTS reader program is one of the tools I use from my writing tool pouch.

Would I eventually find annoying having an advanced, futuristic AI TTS program giving me verbal suggestions and opinions while I was writing?


I might become overly defensive, and so upset, I’d delete the AI program, and drag out of mothballs my old Smith-Corona typewriter I used in the late 1970s.

But I digress.

Were you aware of some story articles being written by computers?

There are stock market reports and other articles folks are reading today which, unbeknownst to them, were written by computer programs and automated news-writing bots called “robo-journalists.”

How ironic would this be: future AI computers and robo-bots performing physiological and psychological evaluations on each other?

The second IBM prediction has people seeing things which are today invisible, by using hyperimaging and AI technology incorporated into special eyeglasses.

With these glasses, we’ll be able to see what currently are invisible microwave and millimeter wave images.

The glasses will also come in handy for seeing other cars or road hazards once hidden by heavy fog or the dark of night.

Today, an estimated 300 million people world wide cope with color vision deficiency, or color blindness.

I just learned about a company called EnChroma,, based in Berkeley, CA.

They recently developed what I consider are miraculous, color-giving eyeglasses that are changing lives for those living with red-green color blindness.

I viewed an emotionally-moving video showing people’s reactions when seeing colors for the first time after putting on these extraordinary glasses.

Here is the link to the video,

The third prediction is about macroscopes.

Macroscope technology will collect and organize tremendous amounts of data hidden within physical objects, and from billions of interconnected devices; which I assume are Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

This analytical technology will be used to learn how people, places, and devices are interconnected, and serve to solve some of the world’s current challenges, according to IBM.

Their fourth prediction describes “medical laboratories” imprinted on computing chips.

Health-related nanotechnology will be embedded on small computing chips inside an electronic medical device (think “Star Trek” medical tricorder).

Doctors will be able to trace diseases at the nanoscale level, and provide medical prevention measures before we even experience the symptoms of the disease or illness.

In the future, there might be a real Dr. McCoy saying to a real Captain Kirk; “I’ll pick up my medical tricorder and meet you in the transporter room.”

Yes, I know we have no transporter room . . . yet.

IBM’s fifth prediction says within five years, we’ll use “speed of light networking” to detect sources of environmental pollution.

Smart computing chips implanted in devices underground, and smart sensors attached to autonomous flying drones, will become linked together to form a global network.

This network will, in real-time, detect sources of pollution and monitor environmental quality on a planetary scale.

Current unseeable methane leaks and other invisible pollutants will become observable from their source anywhere on the planet, the instant they occur.

Here are the latest IBM videos,

Check out and follow my non-computer written messages on Twitter at @bitsandbytes.

©Mark Ollig

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Consumer Electronics Show celebrates 50th year

by Mark Ollig

The Consumer Technology Association hosted its 50th Consumer Electronics Show last week in Las Vegas, NV.

Ten years ago this week, I wrote about the 40th Consumer Electronics Show.

“CES attendees will see firsthand this evolution of convergence with products such as flash drives and storage devices increasing in size – reaching 8-16 GB [Gigabyte],” I said in the January 2007 column.

That same year, computer and software company Newegg was selling a 16GB flash drive storage device for $125.

Today, one electronic store known for their “best buys” has a 16GB USB flash drive stick you can pick up for just $6.

As we enter 2017, with the increasing amount of video and other data we accumulate, having more TB (Terabyte) than GB storage is becoming the norm.

The good news is external, flash, and internal hard drive storage prices keep coming down while their storage capacity increases.

And yes, cloud storage is an option, too.

A 2TB portable, external storage hard drive can be bought today in the electronic store I previously mentioned for only $180.

Commercially, two terabytes equals 2,000 gigabytes, which means if we could have bought a 2TB flash storage drive in 2007, it would have cost us $1,565.

The first CES took place June 24, 1967, at the Americana and Hilton hotels in New York City.

It featured some 200 exhibitors showcasing transistor radios, color televisions, and high-fidelity (Hi-Fi) stereo systems to the 17,500 people attending this event.

The CES summer show moved to Chicago in 1971, with their winter show relocating there in 1973.

In 1978, the winter CES moved to Las Vegas.

The summer CES was canceled in 1998.

For 2017, the Las Vegas CES display floors held over 2.6 million square feet of products and services being showcased by approximately 3,800 exhibitors. An estimated 175,000 people; mostly consisting of buyers, sellers, and members of the press, attended.

CES 2017 required three separate Las Vegas building locations: Tech East, Tech West, and Tech South.

Smart cities, connected homes, 3D printers, robotics, autonomously driven cars, artificial intelligence, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) were some of the technologies showcased.

LucidCam introduced a 3D VR camera with a 180-degree field of view for creating content that “makes people feel like they are right there with you.”

The camera includes two lenses and two speakers, and lets you shoot and instantly upload video.

The LucidCam 3D VR camera costs about $400.

Mota Group presented their flying drone called JETJAT ULTRA, which can be held in the palm of your hand.

It includes protective propeller guard rails, and embedded red and blue lights.

This flying drone’s built-in camera sends live-streaming video to your smartphone’s screen, and hovers in mid-air for taking stationary photos and selfies.

The drone’s hand-held controller connects with a smartphone using the JETJAT ULTRA app, which is also able to control the drone.

The controller includes a storage compartment for securing the drone during non-use.

It’s advertised as a good learning drone, and costs around $100.

The company’s website is

Intel Corp. announced their new Intel® GO automotive solution, which takes advantage of the future 5G mobile network platform technology we will be seeing within the next three to four years.

According to Intel, 5G networks will take “autonomous and automated driving to new levels.”

Beddit Ltd. displayed sleep tracking technology using ultra-thin sensors placed under the person to be monitored; interfacing with an app on a smartphone.

The Beddit 3 Sleep Tracker monitors breathing, snoring, heart rate, environment, and sleep quality and length.

This sleep tracker currently works with the iPhone; however, an Android-compatible app will be available by March.

This year’s CES included 27 robotic exhibitors.

Ozobot makes a “smart and social” robotic platform combining entertaining gaming along with educational content for teaching kids how to code.

Looking like a miniature R2D2 out of “Star Wars,” Evo is an autonomous behaving robot which can fit in the palm of your hand.

It independently travels across a table or floor, engaging and entertaining kids (and adults) with its blinking lights, variety of sounds, and unpredictable actions.

Evo avoids bumping into physical obstacles using its built-in proximity sensing technology.

OzoBlockly, a software coding program, allows kids to create code for controlling Evo’s features; such as playing games, changing its lighting patterns, and more by dragging and dropping blocks of programmed code to form logical expressions.

The new code is wirelessly downloaded into the Evo robot.

The Ozobot Evo app is available for a tablet or smartphone, and includes the OzoChat program for messaging with friends.

The Ozobot Evo robot is recommended for kids age 8 and up, and costs $99.

A video describing Evo is available on Ozobot’s YouTube channel,

In the Jan. 15, 2007 “40th anniversary for Consumer Electronics Show” column, I interviewed Sarah Szabo, Public Relations Event Manager for the Consumer Electronics Association.

She said CES 2007 attendees would “see and feel the convergence of new technologies, products, and services.”

Technology’s convergence continues into 2017, as the era of IoT (Internet of Things); connected smart devices and electronic sensors, begins to become woven into the fabric of our daily lives.

The CES website is located at:

Follow me at @bitsandbytes on Twitter.

©Mark Ollig

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Predictions and robotics for 2017

by Mark Ollig

We can finally say goodbye to 2016, and optimistically welcome in 2017.

While browsing online, I’ve found many predictions for the New Year, along with some interesting technology to make our lives a bit easier.

One website, with the techy sounding name of Quantumrun, caught my eye.

Whenever I see the word, “quantum,” it always reminds me of “Quantum Leap,” the television series I faithfully watched each week from 1989 to 1993.

“It’s your future; discover what you’re in for,” declares the Quantumrun banner over its 2017 predictions of “things to come.”

One of the predictions I hope comes true is for new technology allowing smartphone battery life to double.

In addition to frequently checking my social media, I’m constantly glancing at how much battery power is remaining in my smartphone.

Our planet is currently populated by 7,361,400,000 people, according to

Quantumrun forecasts this year the population will reach 7,515,284,000.

Surprisingly, of these 7.5 billion people, they forecast less than half will have internet access.

Internet technology manufacturer Cisco Systems, Inc. predicts total global internet protocol based data traffic/information will pass 1 ZB (zettabyte) by the end of this year.

One zettabyte equals about one trillion gigabytes.

Arithmetically, it’s the numeral 1 followed by 24 zeroes.

The incredible amount of data being created, shared, and stored these days in the Internet Cloud and on legacy data servers continues to dramatically grow each year.

In fact, the size of these numbers can become difficult to wrap our minds around.

Back in the day, personal computer memory was mostly addressed using bits, bytes, kilobytes, and megabytes.

Today, we speak of computing data storage using terms like gigabytes and terabytes.

In the near future, we will require petabytes worth of data storage memory for all our computing needs.

How long will it be before we start needing exabytes and zettabytes of memory capacity?

But I digress.

For those of us using the microwave as our personal executive cooking chef, we’ll soon be offered another option.

The Moley Robotic Kitchen contains two robotic “chef arms” capable of cooking 2,000 different recipes.

It’s scheduled to become available for the public to purchase this year.

The two London-based makers of this robotic cook recently unveiled their kitchen prodigy during a technology fair in Germany.

Moley Robotics developed the prototype, “Robochef,” while Shadow Robot Company designed what has been called “two remarkably dexterous robotic arms” which are attached above the kitchen’s cooking area.

Chef Tim Anderson “trained” the Robochef prototype, and said this robotic cook “can do anything from a bit of prep, to completing an entire dish.”

While I am intrigued by the idea of having a robotic chef in my home, I am also apprehensive about seeing cooking robots being used in public restaurant kitchens.

They may start out innocently enough, by assisting the humans doing the actual cooking in the kitchen; however, I suspect this could progress into what some predict and fear; the eventual robotic takeover of jobs and tasks normally performed by humans.

Of course, there are advantages of using robotic technology; such as for law enforcement in disarming explosives, or being the eyes used to assess a threatening situation, but this is the topic for another column.

The Moley RoboChef can be seen at the company’s YouTube channel,

Mark Oleynik, CEO and founder of Moley Robotics, recently made a presentation of its robotic kitchen and its artificial intelligence. This video can be seen at

The company’s website is:

Let’s move from the automated kitchen to the automated laundry room.

One of my weekly tasks consists of folding the laundry from the dryer.

I must admit I don’t always follow the correct laundry folding methods.-

Soon, a robotic laundry folding appliance may be neatly and correctly folding our shirts and pants, while a delicious gourmet meal is being prepared by our Robochef for dinner.

Laundroid is publicized as “The World’s 1st Laundry Folding Bot” according to Seven Dreamers, a company based in Tokyo, Japan, with offices in California.

Physically, Laundroid is a glossy-smooth, carbon-black tower cabinet which fits into a wardrobe closet.

Demonstrated during the Tokyo consumer electronics show, Laundroid took a freshly laundered shirt placed into its clothes chute, and within four minutes, fashioned it into a crisply folded shirt.

The Laundroid device uses image analysis and artificial intelligence technology which scans a wrinkled piece of clothing from the laundry, and determines what type of clothing it is.

This is important; as I would not want Laundroid to fold my dress shirt into a sock ball.

The actual robotic technology used to fold the clothes is, according to its makers, “confidential.” This leaves me to wonder what they have hiding behind the curtain folding the clothes.

To see Laundroid in action, check out this short Reuters video,

A longer video can be seen on The Japan Times YouTube channel,

Pre-orders for Laundroid are expected to begin this year.

Laundroid will be facing competition, such as from another automated laundry folding machine called “FoldiMate.”

The English website for Laundroid is

Let’s get ready to witness, not only the predicted technologies during 2017, but the unpredicted ones, too.

Stay tuned.

As always, you can follow me on Twitter at @bitsandbytes.

Copyright © 2016 Mark Ollig