Foresight 2010 Conference Day One

A roundup of some very thought provoking presentations from the first day of the Foresight 2010 conference. Interesting predictions include a $100 DNA test.

Foresight 2010 Conference Day One

Great presentation by Larry Millstein on “Sequencing Singla DNA molecules.” Cost per Human Genome sequence has been dropping rapidly and is on track to hit $1,000 in two to four years and $100 could happen this decade. This is enabling companies like Knome to offer complete genome sequencing and analysis for individuals. Another firm offering low cost DNA based testing (but not full sequencing) is  23andMe.

Some of the firms driving the sequencing revolution are

Another outstanding presentation was by Hod Lipson on “Adaptive and Self-Reflective Systems.” This video from TED on “Self-Aware Robots” includes short video segments that were included in his presentation; the videos page of the Cornell Computational Synthesis Laboratory contains more interesting videos. Some key points:

  • If you give the controller the ability to run experiments you don’t need to give it as much information and it can actually climb out of “local minima” through experimentation more easily than existing controllers searching much larger databases.
  • This also gives the robot the ability to respond either to damage or changes in the environment since it will continue to run experiments and refine it’s model of itself and the world.
  • “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.” His Eureqa program helps you make sense of data sets detecting hidden relationships and equations in the data. It was featured in Wired last year: “Download Your Own Robot Scientist.”
  • He made these same remarks in his talk from his paper “Evolutionary Robotics and Open-Ended Design Automation“:
    IMAGINE A LEGO SET AT YOUR DISPOSAL: Bricks, rods, wheels, motors, sensors and logic are your “atomic” building blocks, and you must find a way to put them together to achieve a given high-level functionality: A machine that can move itself, say. You know the physics of the individual components’ behaviors; you know the repertoire of pieces available, and you know how they are allowed to connect. But how do you determine the combination that gives you the desired functionality? This is the problem of Synthesis. Although engineers practice it and teach it all the time, we do not have a formal model of how open-ended synthesis can be done automatically. Applications are numerous. This is the meta-problem of engineering: Design a machine that can design other machines.

Brad Templeton gave a good talk on self-driving cars. They are much closer than you might think due to efforts by the Japanese and the US Military in particular. The last few entries for the “RoboCars” category of his blog provide a lot of the very interesting material and videos he worked into his presentation.

Brad notes in his blog: “I will also be doing my general Robocar talk on Wednesday, February 24th at the “Homebrew Robotics Club” of Silicon Valley. This is a great group of people who hack robotics as a hobby, and it means at the CMU building at NASA Ames Research Center. This event is free and open to the public.”

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