Spark 158 - October 9 & 12, 2011

On this episode of Spark: White-collar Robots, Solar Catastrophes, and the Steam Computer. Click below to listen to the whole show, or download the MP3 (runs 54:00).

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I, Robottke

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Can an algorithm have good taste? Back in 2009, Nora Young interviewed blogger Jason Kottke about his influential, taste making blog kottke.org. Now Slate Magazine's Chris Wilson has created a robot version of Jason Kottke (dubbed "Robottke") that demonstrates the potential, and limitations, of algorithm-based recommendation systems. (Runs 7:14)

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Algorithmic Culture

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Now Robottke is just one example of what some people have called "the algorithmization of culture." Ted Striphas is an associate professor in the Department of Communication & Culture at Indiana University and he's been doing some algorithmic culture spotting - watching the increase of automated recommendations and suggestion engines, and noting they're slowly replacing culture itself. (Runs 9:41)

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Elderly Kinect

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Last week, we looked at what happens when sensors are embedded in the environments around us - monitoring, tracking, and in some cases, allowing our cities and homes to respond in real time. Marjorie Skubic is the director of the Center for Elder Care and Rehabilitation Technology at the University of Missouri and she has another example - how Microsoft Kinect video game sensors are being used as an early-warning system to deal with illnesses in an aging population. (Runs 4:40)

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White-collar Robots

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We've already had a long history of automation replacing humans on the job. You know, robotics, artificial intelligence, software...but in a new series he's written for Slate, Farhad Manjoo looks at who is next in the crosshairs. Turns out it's people in some of the most sought after jobs around. Highly skilled jobs that require a lot of education. (Runs 9:43)

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The Future's So Bright

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In 2013 a solar storm is expected. Spark contributor Sonya Buyting tells us that scientists all over the world are watching closely and getting ready, because if massive enough, a single solar-induced catastrophe could wipe out our entire electrical infrastructure in one fell swoop. What? How would we tweet about it then? (Runs 8:44)

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Building the Steam Computer

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Back in 1837, mathematician Charles Babbage proposed something he called an Analytical Engine - essentially a steam-powered, mechanical computer. Now in 2011, John Graham-Cumming, a computer programmer and author, is trying to build Babbage's machine. (Runs 6:31)

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