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Robo-computer, GSOH, seeks companionship

Robo-computer, GSOH, seeks companionship

Downtime was disquieted to read this week about a robot computer that has recently been developed in the US that can read the mood of its user.

It is bad enough falling out with your work colleagues, but the idea of a computer that pipes up with, "Cheer up it may never happen," whenever you look a bit glum is more than we can bear.

It will not work quite like that, of course. According to the creators of RoCo, the idea is that the computer will be able to mimic its user's posture and this will enable more of a "rapport" between man and machine.

RoCo was invented in a back room in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, and has a monitor for a head and an LCD screen for a face.

Apparently it expresses itself using its double-jointed neck, which is equipped with "actuators" that shift the monitor up and down, tilt it forward and back and swivel it from side to side, rather like Pixar's animated lamp. An attached camera can detect when its user moves, allowing RoCo to adjust its posture accordingly.

It sounds about as appealing as Microsoft Word's irritating animated paperclip, but we are prepared to reserve judgement until we have tried it out for ourselves.

While we are on the subject, which "humanising" bits of technology grate with you? E-mails to computer.weekly@rbi.co.uk.

Olde worlde smartphone goes for a song at £138k

The world may have gone gadget-mad in recent years, but nifty gadgets have been around for a fair old while, it seems.

At an auction in London last week an astrolabe quadrant was sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for a world record price of £138,000.

The quadrant - from the 14th century, no less - was the smartphone of its day. It could tell the time, help you map the stars and calculate the height of buildings.

Weighing just 42g and measuring 7cm across, the brass instrument has been dated to 1388. It was found during building work in Canterbury two years ago.

According to auctioneer Jon Baddeley, prior to the discovery of the Canterbury astrolabe, there were only seven others known in the world.

"Now there are only eight in the world," Baddeley added helpfully.

Not the kind of chip you want served with gravy

It might sound like something from a Philip K Dick novel, but Downtime was intrigued to read last week that 18 diabetics in the US have signed up to have radio frequency identification tags put under their skin.

It turns out the idea is not to track their every move in true sci-fi fashion. What it means is that, should any of the chipped patients turn up at hospital unconscious or unable to communicate, the RFID tags in their bodies can be scanned using an RFID reader and their details can then be called up from a database.

According to VeriChip, 500 US hospitals have signed up for the system, with more takers in the pipeline.

It is three years since the use of RFID chips in humans was controversially approved by the US's Food and Drug Administration. The European Commission has also theoretically approved its use, although on the proviso it must be done for those in medical need.

Rather more sinisterly, the European Commission has also backed the idea of using RFID to track individual citizens.

That really does sound like something we ought to get worried about.

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