UAE launches space centre to oversee Mars mission


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Saturday launched a space centre to oversee the country’s preparation for the Mars exploration mission.

According to UAE’s official WAM news agency UAE’s Vice President and Prime Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, issued a resolution establishing the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC).

According to the resolution, the MBRSC is mandated to develop research, projects and studies on space, in a way that will support UAE’s drive for advancing this sector and for building national capabilities related to the space knowledge and science.

The UAE government’s focus on becoming a space hub are part of the country’s preparation strategy for when oil reserves run out, reports Xinhua.

Type ‘Find My Phone’ in Google to locate your Android phone:


Google on Thursday(16) announced users can now simply type ‘Find My Phone’ in its search box to find their lost or missing Android smartphone.

Google made the announcement on a Google+ post, users would have to simply type ‘find my phone’ in the Google search bar when logged in with the same Google account as registered on their smartphone.

In the search results, they can see the handset last used and Google Maps showing the location of the handset. Users have to have the latest version of the Google app (aka Google Search app) installed on their smartphone for the ‘find my phone’ command to work.

“If the pesky phone is hiding nearby, Google can ring it for you – or you can see it on the map if you, say, forgot it at the bar. Just make sure you’ve got the latest version of the Google app!” says the post.

An option to ring the smartphone will also be shown, clicking on which will ring the smartphone on full volume for five minutes. Users can stop the ringing by pressing the handset’s power button. We tried both the ring and ‘find my phone’ features, and found the lost smartphone’s GPS also needs to be active, otherwise the new feature will not locate the handset.

Google last month rolled out an update to Android Device Manager that was meant to help users find their lost device via an Android Wear device.

The feature can either work with voice command “Ok Google. Start. Find my phone” or by selecting the ‘Find my phone’ option from the start menu. If your device is mapped with Android Device Manager, it will start ringing at full volume till the time your Android Wear device/ smartwatch is in range (Bluetooth range).

The Android Device Manager was introduced in 2013 and essentially allowed locating, resetting and deleting data for Android devices from Web.


India, China Run by Forceful Leaders Today: TIME


NEW YORK: Both India and China are today run by “forceful leaders” eager to put their “stamp on history”, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi working to lead from the front after Manmohan Singh’s decade of “increasingly listless rule”, according to TIME magazine.

Modi was named by TIME among the 100 most influential people in the world in its annual list yesterday, with US President Barack Obama penning a flattering profile of him. The publication said among the lessons that can be drawn from the ‘2015 TIME 100 list’ is that Asia has a crop of strong leaders after years of being run by not-so-dynamic politicians.

“China and India may be two of the most dynamic countries in the world, but for years their leaders were anything but,” TIME said, adding that from 2002 to 2012 China was run by the “colourless and cautious” President Hu Jintao, though most decisions were made not by him alone but through consensus among the top tier of the Communist Party.

In India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh presided over a decade of “increasingly listless rule”, ending in 2014 when he left office at the age of 81. “But today, both China and India are run by forceful leaders eager to put their stamp on history,” it said. TIME referred to Modi’s rock-star reception at the Madison Square Garden during his visit to the US last year, saying not many world leaders can get the kind of audience he commanded at the iconic city arena.

Unlike many of his predecessors, Modi has “worked to lead from the front, and he’s already carved out an impressive international profile – not too many other international leaders can pack Madison Square Garden for a speech, as Modi did last September”.

Obama notes that Modi has “laid out an ambitious vision to reduce extreme poverty, improve education, empower women and girls and unleash India’s true economic potential”. TIME said that Chinese President Xi Jinping “is even more powerful” and more determined to exert direct control of his country. In the ‘TIME 100′, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd writes that Xi is now “likely to be China’s most powerful leader since Mao”. “That’s not always a good thing. While Xi is carrying out reforms that are needed to make China’s economy more sustainable, he’s also ruthlessly cracked down on civil society and challenged the US for global leadership,” said the magazine.


Two Sri Lankan Parties on the Verge of Splitting


COLOMBO: Two Sri Lankan parties, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) are on the verge of splitting.

Fifty seven MPs of the SLFP recently gathered at the country residence of former Sri Lankan President and former SLFP chairman Mahinda Rajapaksa at Tangalle in South Sri Lanka to express solidarity with him in his bid to come back to politics and take over the SLFP from the incumbent Lankan President and party chairman, Maithripala Sirisena.

Apart from the known supporters of Rajapaksa there were those who were recently expelled from the Central Committee like T.B.Ekanayake, Salinda Dissanayake, Mahindananda Aluthgamage and Gamini Lokuge. Prof.G.L.Peiris who has been writing articles against the Sirisena government, was also present. Former Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardene, the latest to be sacked from the Central Committee, is also likely to troop to Tangalle.

Meanwhile, the former chief of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), Somawansa Amarasinghe, has announced that he is leaving the party and starting his own. The present JVP has failed to live up to the expectations of the people, he told newsmen here on Thursday.

Amarasinghe had retired from the leadership last year and handed over the position to the much younger Anura Kumara Dissanayake. While Dissanayake is a popular speaker and a crusader against corruption, he has taken the party away from mass nationalist cum leftist politics to issues which agitate the politically conservative urban middle classes. He is now close to the right wing urban middle class party, the United National Party (UNP), both ideologically and politically. This rankles many traditional supporters of the JVP. Informed sources say that Amarasinghe may be representing this alienated class of partymen and followers.

The JVP had split earlier too. Sinhalese nationalist Wimal Weerawansa broke away to form the National Freedom Front. NFF struck an alliance with the Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist Mahinda Rajapaksa. Kumar Gunaratnam, a left radical, broke away and formed the radical Frontline Socialist Party.


What Is a Robot, Anyway?


Quick – think of a robot, any robot.

If you’re into movies, you might imagine the android from the new movie Chappie, a machine with artificial intelligence that learns morally questionable behavior. If you think more about industry, you might imagine a mechanical arm programmed to install parts on a production line. If you have dirty floors, you might think of a Roomba.

What do these and other robots have in common? What is it about them that makes them a robot? Finding an all-encompassing definition of a robot is actually a difficult problem, even for world-class roboticists. Form-factors, intelligence, and the purpose of robots can all vary significantly. And yet many of us think we know a robot when we see one. How is this so?

For Westerners at least, our working cultural definition owes a lot to robots in stories and film, as well as real-life robots past and present. But it’s worth looking further for a more considered definition, starting with the origin of the word itself.

Before robot meant what it does today, the word meant “forced labor” or “hard work.” The robot was a central European system of serfdom – according to the Oxford English Dictionary – abolished in the Austrian Empire in 1848.

Then, in 1920, a Czech writer named Karel Čapek wrote a play called Rossum’s Universal Robots, coining a new meaning for the word. In R.U.R., as it’s known, Čapek’s robots were mass produced workers assembled from artificially synthesized organic material. The play featured the first robot uprising, and the genre of dystopian robot sci-fi was born. Descendants include Terminator and Battlestar Galactica, among others.

While some research groups are working hard to make highly intelligent humanoid robots as those depicted in R.U.R., most real-life robotics efforts are decidedly less dramatic. A good place to find the staid, real-life state of robots is the International Federation of Robotics, or IFR. Helpfully, the IFR categorizes today’s robots into two major categories: industrial robots and service robots.

The IFR defines an industrial robot as “an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose manipulator programmable in three or more axes, which may be either fixed in place or mobile for use in industrial automation applications.” For years industrial robots were all that a real robot could be.

The first industrial robot was installed in a Swedish metalworks plant in 1959. It was a jointed, actuated arm that weighed two tons. Controlled by a program on a magnetic drum, the robot relied on hydraulic actuators to adjust its position over a set of pre-programmed joint angles. It was precise, but not necessarily elegant.

By 1973, there were 3,000 industrial robots in operation. By 2003, there were 800,000. Today, more than 1.3 million industrial robots are in use or available in various industries including automotive, electronics, rubber and plastics, cosmetics, pharmaceutical, and food and beverage. Their market value is $9.5 billion. (A more complete history can be found here.)

Industrial robots will always have a place in the economy, but the relative newcomers on the scene are service robots. This category, according to the IFR, is populated by autonomous machines that complete tasks outside industrial applications. This means service robots are found in personal and professional settings: a telepresence robot at work, a robot in the operating room, an educational robot helping students learn to write code, a research robot exploring the ocean, a robot in space helping astronauts make repairs, and so on.

The industrial vs. service distinction is helpful because it defines robots based on their relationship with people and work more than around any technical factor. Combining industrial and service robots, we can generalize to offer a basic definition of a robot as an artificially created system designed, built, and implemented to perform tasks or services for people.

There are echoes of the original meaning of the word robot here, as robots are doing labor and hard work. And while this labor has historically been physical, we might also consider that robots needn’t have actuating limbs.

Much of work today is knowledge work, therefore the definition of a robot should extend even to automated computer programs to include cognitive computing, which describes IT systems that can sense, comprehend, and act. This includes pre-programmed Twitterbots on the low end and IPSoft’s Amelia artificial intelligence system on the high-end. Across the spectrum, though, robots perform rule-based work, and tend to be configurable with basic features like authentication, security, auditing, logging, and exception handling.

But even this broad definition will have to evolve as robots progress. What should we expect from machines built to be stronger and smarter than the people who made them? Will they always be limited to doing work for people? It’s a question that conjures Čapek’s robot uprising, and has prompted many essays invoking Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, among other texts of monsters and unintended technological consequences.

It’s with good reason engineers, scientists, writers, ethicists, and philosophers are considering the ramifications of advanced robotics and artificial intelligence. Even if real robots are unlikely to match their dystopian sci-fi counterparts anytime soon, they still disrupt economic sectors and directly affect the way people live and work.

Some clues to our robot future could come from an emerging field called “wise computing,” presented at the recent annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Jose, Calif. Wise computing as a research field originated in Japan, where cultural attitudes toward robots are less fraught as in Western countries.

The movement’s aims are to investigate the ethical, legal, and social relationships between humans and machines, to develop machines that can make decisions with a kind of programmatic wisdom, and to help humans make wiser decisions themselves. At the AAAS panel, researchers from industry and universities in Japan and the UK discussed the possibilities and challenges of such an approach.

While it might not catch on in the western world anytime soon, wise computing offers an intriguing modification to the western cultural definition of robots. Imagine: Future robots could be built to include a kind of ethical clause that limits what they are allowed to do. As we progress with these technical, social, and ethical challenges, our definition of what a robot is will have to change too.



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