Spark 181 - May 6 & 9, 2012

On this episode of Spark: Robot Comedians, Safety Apps, and Social Learning. Click below to listen to the whole show, or download the MP3 (runs 54:00).

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Social Learning

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It's the classic 'desert island' scenario: you find yourself dropped in a land where you don't know how to find food and shelter. How are you going to survive? Will you copy what other people are doing, hoping they're onto something, or strike out on your own and perhaps discover something new? Luke Rendell researches "social learning" - how humans are able to learn from others and pass on that information. It's the source of our strength, but can also be our downfall if the people we're copying are wrong. Luke and his colleagues have designed a contest to try and determine the optimal social learning strategy. (Runs 8:17)

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Makerspaces & the Military

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As founder of MAKE Magazine and Maker Faire, Dale Dougherty's priority is to get Americans making things. That means young people as well. So he applied for, and accepted, a grant from DARPA (the research arm of the US Department of Defense) to fund makerspaces in high schools. This funding has caused a stir in the hacker/maker movement. Nora speaks with Dale about why he thinks the partnership makes sense. She'll also speak with Mitch Altman - considered by many in the North American hacker/maker community as a pioneer and a spokesperson for the movement - who is opposed to DARPA's funding of school makerspaces. (Runs 13:57)

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Safety Apps

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Microsoft has filed for a patent for a mapping app which charts a route based on traffic and distance info as well as crime data. As a result it's been coined the "Avoid Ghetto App", and is part of the controversy around an emerging trend of mobile safety apps designed to protect you from unseen dangers in the city. Do these applications exploit society's paranoia of urban crime? And if so, what are the implications? Spark contributor Edward Birnbaum tells us all about it. (Runs 8:09)

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Human-Robot Interaction

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Can't we all just get along? Humans and robots, that is. Chris Parker is a post-doctoral researcher in robotics at the University of British Columbia, and he looks to a future where robots and humans work alongside one another, or where robots assist us with daily tasks. As humans, we communicate a lot of information about our intentions through subtle physical cues. Chris is researching how to design robots so that they more subtly communicate their states and actions in a way that's easier for humans to understand. (Runs 9:10)

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I Robot, You Laugh

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Heather Knight is a social roboticist doing her doctoral research at Carnegie Mellon University. Through Data -a robot that tells jokes- she's exploring how robots might be able to pick up on human social cues, so they can respond more appropriately. And who needs to respond to changing human moods more than a comedian in front of a crowd? (Runs 7:32)

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