On Fembots and Gynoids

With the launch of Sputnik in 1957, the idea that in fifty years the Russians would be using gynoids to seduce men and compromise security might have seemed plausible. Fact:

A program that can mimic online flirtation and then extract personal information from its unsuspecting conversation partners is making the rounds in Russian chat forums, according to security software firm PC Tools.

The artificial intelligence of CyberLover’s automated chats is good enough that victims have a tough time distinguishing the “bot” from a real potential suitor, PC Tools said. The software can work quickly too, establishing up to 10 relationships in 30 minutes, PC Tools said. It compiles a report on every person it meets complete with name, contact information, and photos.

“As a tool that can be used by hackers to conduct identity fraud, CyberLover demonstrates an unprecedented level of social engineering,” PC Tools senior malware analyst Sergei Shevchenko said in a statement.

Among CyberLover’s creepy features is its ability to offer a range of different profiles from “romantic lover” to “sexual predator.” It can also lead victims to a “personal” Web site, which could be used to deliver malware, PC Tools said.

Combine software like this and a (hot) robot hardware platform and you would have the most powerful human intelligence tool in history. Sounds like a job for haptics!

Problems and prospects for Gibson's self-tuning guitar

Gibson has announced a guitar with a built-in self-tuning mechanism. Some have suggested that there is a problem with allowing people to skip learning how to tune a guitar before they play it, because tuning helps develop the ear. I think this is a valid concern, and readers of my papers would know I don’t think lowering the entry fee for musical instrumental interaction is, in itself, a “good thing.” At the same time, there are plenty of advantages offered by a self-tuning guitar that have nothing at all to do with ear training, such as avoiding the need to bring a capo to gigs, or to bring more than one guitar to a show for quickly playing two consecutive songs than require drastically different guitar tunings. (Besides, there are plenty of other excellent ways to train your ear.) Quick but accurate tuning changes will also surely be exploited in composition; tuning changes can be done in the middle of a piece, and the musical capabilities and quirkiness of the auto-tuner could even be used for some as-yet-unknown artistic end.

What I find especially interesting is how the words “world’s first robot guitar” are tossed around in this press release. First of all, it seems as if the word “robot” is being used vaguely to refer to the presence of a servo system. If this guitar is robotic, then so is my laptop for its ability to read and eject optical media. I think we’re going to see more of this, similar to the way “net” was overused in the nineties. We are entering a robo-sheik era where any product that can possibly justify doing so will be incorporating the word “robot” into its name.

As for the “world’s first” claim, someone should tell Gibson about TransPerformance, the company that has already been selling automatic tuner retrofits since 2005, as well as the dozens of other music technology projects that are based on guitar interaction and involve motors. It’s old, but anyone who hasn’t yet seen the League of Musical Urban Robots (LEMUR) video of the LEMUR Guitar Bot should check it out:

It’s easier for me to accept calling the LEMUR Guitar Bot a “robot” than the Gibson self-tuner. What do you think?