Search Results for “answering”.

Ah yes, dear Acowlytes, it is true. Our old friends Steorn have emerged once more from their mossy grotto in the depths of leprechaun country with more tales of a wonderful pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow. Quite incredibly, the Irish swindlers (who I expected to have vanished long ago into the annals of failed perpetual motion ventures) are again attempting to get people with money to part with it on the strength of their brainless ‘Orbo’ – a gadget that, to speak technically for a moment, retrieves fairy dust from the Caverns of Tinkerbellius and turns it into electricity.

This time, they have struck on a novel new approach to their answering their critics (no, it’s not scientific evidence – don’t get excited). They have released a video on YouTube that is designed to ridicule all those who have in the past ridiculed them! Brilliant! Instead of merely demonstrating that their machine actually does what they claim (which would have been the definitive answer to pretty much any criticism) they have spent money on an expensive version of ‘Nyah nyah nyah – does SO work!’1

‘But surely Reverend,’ I here you exclaim in disbelief, ‘Steorn can’t just keep stringing people along ad infinitum on the whiff of a promise of their magical device delivering the goods?!’

‘Hahahahaha, my keen young Acowlyte,’ I say, patting you on the head, ‘One would think not in this world chock full of rationalism and commonsense! But if you go to this page on the Steorn site, you will see that for a small scattering of coins into their coffers, Steorn will offer to let you in on their magical secret by way of their Steorn Knowledge Development Base, or SKBD!’

Yes, that’s right. Once more, instead of just showing everyone that they have some real science, they are going to eke out (in tiny pay-as-you-go increments over a long period of time, no doubt) tantalising tidbits about how Orbo is really cool, and stuff, and y’know, awesome and gee-whiz and OMG – this is mind-blowing! and wow, can you believe it? and this is going to change the way we think about energy and on and on and on and on and on and on…

Wind some religion into all this and before you know it Steorn will be an Irish version of Scientology.

Just what the world needs.


*Imagining things doesn’t make them possible. No matter how hard you imagine.


  1. I am somewhat miffed that Steorn had a go at Engadget and Wired for dissing them, but left out some of my excellent sarcasm… []


You may remember that in my post about the Coming of the Robots a little while back I talked about Hiroshi Ishiguro’s actroids and the inventor’s attempt to give his automatons a realistic human appearance. I penned the words:

…the closer these things come to having the semblance of humanness, the greater is my desire to punch them.

As I wrote in that post, my feeling is that there is something more disconcerting about the almost human appearance of these robots than there would be about having a clumsy metal quite obviously artificial ‘Robbie’ as a manservant.

Well I discovered today that there is in fact some interesting thinking devoted to exactly this idea, and even better, a cool term.

It is called The Uncanny Valley.

The Uncanny Valley hypothesis was advanced by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori and basically states that, as robots develop and become increasingly ‘human’ in appearance, humans start to find it easier to accept and interact with them. However, there comes a certain point beyond which acceptance gives way, quite abruptly, to revulsion. Then (Mori’s hypothesis asserts) as the facsimile approaches even greater realism (that is, the ‘ideal’ human form) acceptance increases once more to ‘human’ level tolerance.

If you viewed the videos of Ishiguro’s actroids you’ll understand exactly what the Uncanny Valley idea encompasses – these robots are creepy and disturbing and there’s no way I’d want one lurking in my house after dark. Or before dark for that matter. So much so that I’m even wary of Mori’s use of the term ‘Valley’ in his hypothesis – from where I stand it looks more like an Uncanny Grand Canyon.

Mori has been criticised on this very point – there is of course no evidence so far that robots will become sufficiently lifelike to make the Uncanny Valley anything more than an Uncanny Precipice.

In fact Mori’s whole concept has been called into question by commentators such as US roboticist and sculptor David Hanson and Swiss artificial intelligence scientist Dario Floreano* who go so far to say that it is pseudoscience. Well, it may be true that there is little actual science behind the idea of the Uncanny Valley as yet, but to my mind at least it makes good common sense that we instinctively don’t lend our trust to something that could be human but also might not be. It’s not a new concept to humans in any way – it has been the subject of paranoid science fiction for decades, and before that an idea that surfaces in folk tales and myths as far back as we have records.

As I said in We Are the Robots, when we used to have the old electronic ‘cut-up’ voices on telephone answering services, it was clear that we were dealing with machines. In my opinion, as superficial semblance to machines decreases (in these ‘voice robots’ at least) then we expect, quite correctly I think, that their behaviour should increase in realism at the same rate or better. And as much as I respect the obviously informed opinions of people such as Hanson and Floreano I think that the Uncanny Valley will persist until such times as robots are indistinguishable from humans.

In other words, when the androids get as convincingly lifelike as Rachel in Blade Runner, then maybe The Uncanny Valley might start to look more like a Grassy Meadow.


*Floreano has an MA in Visual Psychophysics. Oh, how much do I want one of those!


Yet another link in the chain of strange messages left on my answering machine… tonight:


Is Mrs Crap there please? I’d like to speak to her. Oh. Ok. Bye.

Maybe they’re all pieces of some strange puzzle that will make sense some day…

(Oh, and don’t worry, there’s still more to come in the Peter Popoff Saga. Stay tuned!)

Regular Cow visitors will remember some of the weird messages I’ve managed to attract to my answering machine. Today I arrived home to find another one. I can only think that the universe is trying to tell me something. I really wish I understood Universalese.

Chicken machine?

(I totally swear that these are real messages).


Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, the reason that the nice English lady always says ‘Monday, 12am’ is that every time the power fails the answering machine clock defaults. I used to reset it but I just gave up…


The latest* in the continuing saga of strange messages left on my answering machine.


*See ‘Half a Bladder’

I get strange messages on my answering machine. It’s happened since I’ve lived here. Very few of them are directed toward me and I sometimes feel like some kind of unwitting spirit medium for the phone age. This one from last night:

Robbie, did I say “half a kidney, or half a bladder?”. It’s “half a bladder”. OK mate? Sorry about that if I made a mistake. Bye.

Thing is, I’m trying to work out a context in which this would make sense, but I just can’t. Half a bladder? Half a kidney? Here, listen to it yourself and help me with this metaphysical telecommunications conundrum:

[Link] – mp3 file.