Daily Archives: June 16, 2009

Prince William dons ceremonial robes as he renews oath of allegiance to Order of the Garter


Prince William (L) with Prince Andrew (C) and Prince Charles (R) wearing ceremonial robes during the procession to St George’s Chapel in Windsor as part of the annual Order of the Garter service

Daily Mail | Jun 15, 2009

By Rebecca English

Prince William swapped his flying helmet for an extravagantly plumed hat at today’s Most Noble Order of the Garter Service.

The future king, who was created a knight of Britain’s oldest order of chivalry last year, took part in the annual procession alongside his father, grandmother and grandfather in the precincts of Windsor Castle.

Founded by Edward 111 in 1348, there is a maximum of 24 companion knights at any one time and their number is usually made up of senior politicians, members of the Royal Family and eminent public figures.
Knights of the order are required to display a banner of arms at the chapel, together with a helmet, crest and sword and an enamelled stallplate. They also carry the letters KG after their name for life.

Unusually, the honour is in the Queen’s personal gift without advice from Government ministers and William’s inclusion is the first of several offices he will hold as his royal duties increase.

Dressed in a blue velvet cloak and black hat complete with ostrich plume, the 26-year-old prince, who is currently training to become an RAF Search and Rescue helicopter pilot, towered over his father and other family members, which included the Duke of York, the Princess Royal and Earl of Wessex.

A spokesman said he had been given the day off from training at RAF Shawbury to attend the event but would be back in the cockpit the following day.

He smiled shyly and gave the occasional wave to cheering members of the public allowed inside to watch the knights walk from the castle, where they had enjoyed lunch with the Queen, to St George’s Chapel for the traditional service of thanksgiving.

One notable absence from the event was Baroness Thatcher, who remains in hospital after breaking her arm last week in a fall at her London home.

The 83-year-old former Prime Minister – who was made a member of the ancient order in April 1995 a few years after her time in office had ended – was always doubtful for the event after the accident.

Plans had been put in place, however, to have her pre-seated in St George’s Chapel for the service instead of walking through the grounds of the castle just in case.

However a spokesman said that Lady Thatcher will be kept in for several more days at London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital as a precaution.

Experts Claim Dome Over Entire City of Houston May Help Environment


The science of mega engineering says we can save Houston with a Dome. Imagine building a huge Dome that covers the entire city, that is higher than Houston’s skyscrapers.  (Image: Discovery)

One solution to counter the almost overwhelming environmental challenges facing Houston is to cover it with a giant geodesic dome. You can watch the video at the Discovery channel and explore how a giant geodesic dome may save the city from a grim environmental future.

Huliq | Jun 16, 2009

Houston is in peril. The country’s fourth most populous city faces heat, hurricanes and other natural disasters. Houston has always been vulnerable to hurricanes and severe weather.

Houston city center shut down for nearly a week from last year’s hurricane. It caused the city a 10 billion dollar damage. It’s not only the hurricanes, but also heat and humidity that keep oppressing this great city. On nearly 100 days each year the temperature climbs above 90 degrees.

Air conditioning helps, but it comes at a very high cost. Houston is using more electricity than Los Angeles.

This is why some scientists think the only way to save the city is to move it indoors, in other words to build a huge dome for Houston. Houston dome area will stretch over 21 Million square feet, making it the biggest structure with the largest roof in the world.


Houston: The First Domed City?

Explore The Houston Dome

Houston Dome’s broadest panels will be 15 feet across. It will take 147,000 panels to cover the city of Houston. Glass will not work for Houston Dome. It will be so heavy that it can’t hold. Houston Dome will require a much lighter material. It may come from the German city of Bremen, from a factory of Vector Foil Company.

Vector Foiltec invented the use of Texlon® ETFE, the climatic envelope, over twenty five years ago and has successfully developed and promoted the use of this innovative technology worldwide. This is light polymer and is the future of glass.

This material, called ETFE is the only material that will make a fuller city-size dome possible, even for a city like Houston. At just one percent of glass, ETFE is described as 99 percent nothing. Without ETF the Houston dome can never become reality. It is so light that 99 percent lighter than glass is tremendous change.

Since it’s not possible to stop the life in Houston to build the Dome and army of dirigibles will be used to complete the construction.

Houston Dome will take years of construction and billions of dollars. The Dome is designed to protect a city from a category-5 hurricane. The ETFEpanels and the space-frame steel structure that supports them are the key. ETFE can withstand winds of 180 miles per hour. This is higher velocity than the strongest category 5 hurricane.

Houston Dome idea is very intriguing. But I am just left with one idea. Will Houston ever see rain? If no, is it possible to sustain an ecosystem of such a size without rain?

EU security proposals are ‘dangerously authoritarian’

The European Union is stepping up efforts to build an enhanced pan-European system of security and surveillance which critics have described as “dangerously authoritarian”.

Telgraph | Jun 15, 2009

By Bruno Waterfield in Brussels

Civil liberties groups say the proposals would create an EU ID card register, internet surveillance systems, satellite surveillance, automated exit-entry border systems operated by machines reading biometrics and risk profiling systems.

Europe’s justice ministers will hold talks on the “domestic security policy” and surveillance network proposals, known in Brussels circles as the “Stockholm programme”, on July 15 with the aim of finishing work on the EU’s first ever internal security policy by the end of 2009.

Jacques Barrot, the European justice and security commissioner, yesterday publicly declared that the aim was to “develop a domestic security strategy for the EU”, once regarded as a strictly national “home affairs” area of policy.

“National frontiers should no longer restrict our activities,” he said.

Mark Francois, Conservative spokesman on Europe, has demanded “immediate clarity on where the government stands on this”.

“These are potentially dangerous proposals which could interfere in Britain’s internal security,” he said.

“The chaos and division in Gordon Brown’s government is crippling Britain’s ability to make its voice heard in Europe.”

Critics of the plans have claimed that moves to create a new “information system architecture” of Europe-wide police and security databases will create a “surveillance state”.

Tony Bunyan, of the European Civil Liberties Network (ECLN), has warned that EU security officials are seeking to harness a “digital tsunami” of new information technology without asking “political and moral questions first”.

“An increasingly sophisticated internal and external security apparatus is developing under the auspices of the EU,” he said.

Mr Bunyan has suggested that existing and new proposals will create an EU ID card register, internet surveillance systems, satellite surveillance, automated exit-entry border systems operated by machines reading biometrics and risk profiling systems.

“In five or 10 years time when we have the surveillance and database state people will look back and ask, ‘what were you doing in 2009 to stop this happening?’,” he said.

Civil liberties groups are particularly concerned over “convergence” proposals to herald standardise European police surveillance techniques and to create “tool-pools” of common data gathering systems to be operated at the EU level.

Under the plans the scope of information available to law enforcement agencies and “public security organisations” would be extended from the sharing of existing DNA and fingerprint databases, kept and stored for new digital generation ID cards, to include CCTV video footage and material gathered from internet surveillance.

The Lisbon Treaty, currently stalled after Ireland’s referendum rejection last year, creates a secretive new Standing Committee for Internal Security, known as COSI, to co-ordinate policy between national forces and EU organisations such as Europol, the Frontex borders agency, the European Gendarmerie Force and the Brussels intelligence sharing Joint Situation Centre or Sitcen.

EU officials have told The Daily Telegraph that the radical plans will be controversial and will need powers contained within the Lisbon Treaty, currently awaiting a second Irish vote this autumn.

“The British and some others will not like it as it moves policy to the EU,” said an official. “Some of things we want to do will only be realistic with the Lisbon Treaty in place, so we need that too.”

Reality shows ‘eroding children’s sense of reality’

Big Brother ‘eroding children’s sense of reality’

Children’s sense of reality is being eroded by soap operas, game shows and computer games, according to a leading headmaster.

Telegraph | Jun 15, 2009

By Graeme Paton

The influence of programmes such as Big Brother and I’m A Celebrity… are leading to young people losing awareness of the challenges facing them as they grow up, it is claimed.

Robert Holroyd, head of Repton School, in Derbyshire, said teachers should encourage pupils to watch the news and read quality papers including The Daily Telegraph to provide a “reality check”.

The comments follow a survey of 800 teachers that found that the vast majority believed TV programmes had a negative effect on the behaviour of pupils.

Mr Holroyd said: “An increasing number of young people think that celebrity status is available to everyone, usually through television. Many also have the impression – generated by reality TV, computer games and soap operas – that the world beyond a small area or community has no impact on people’s lives.

“They need to understand that ‘reality television’ often shows a modified and highly influenced form of reality.”

He added: “Big Brother and I’m A Celebrity are the biggest concerns here. In a sense I want to draw a distinction between that sort of programme and some of the talent shows like Britain’s Got Talent which has at least got an element of rewarding hard work.

“At least that may make children look at their own performance and think ‘what would Amanda Holden or Simon Cowell say about me?'”

He was speaking ahead of a conference at the school, which charges up to £25,000 per year for boarders. The Global Perspective event on Thursday to Saturday for sixth-formers will feature speeches and workshops on the environment, wealth distribution and use of natural resources.

The school has already opened a second campus in Dubai for up to 1,500 international pupils.

Mr Holroyd said schools had a duty to promote awareness of global issues. This includes ensuring children are “regularly reading a good quality newspaper and listening to or watching the news or factual documentaries”.

The school encourages pupils to subscribe to broadsheet newspapers instead of magazines and limits access to the internet amid concerns over its effect on young people.

“The first thing a child often goes for when they walk into a newsagent is a corrosive magazine, particularly those marketed towards teenage girls which are packed with premature relationship issues,” he said. “What they are missing out on is the every day exposure to real life that reading a quality daily like The Daily Telegraph can give them. That’s why we encourage our pupils to read the newspapers.”

The comments follow research from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers which warned access to inappropriate TV was turning young children into “Vicky Pollards” – the rude Little Britain character known for her “Yeah-but, no-but” catchphrase.

Two thirds of those questioned said Big Brother was a bad influence on children’s behaviour with 61 per cent naming Little Britain and 43 per cent picking out EastEnders as responsible for changes in how they act.

March of the killer robots


Killing machine: one of America’s unmanned Reaper hunter-killer aircraft Photo: PHILIP COBURN

The development of mechanical soldiers and remote-controlled tanks and planes is changing war for ever – but the moral consequences have often been overlooked.

Telegraph | Jun 15, 2009

By Noel Sharkey

It’s the most realistic shoot-’em-up game ever. The player has a choice of two planes: a Predator with two Hellfire missiles, or a Reaper with 14. The action takes place in the Middle East, where you can attack villages and kill the inhabitants with impunity. But don’t bother looking for it in the shops: to play this deadly game, you’ll have to travel to Creech Air Force base in the Nevada desert. That’s because the planes are real, and so are the casualties.

The first time a Predator made a kill was in Yemen, in 2002, when the CIA used it to destroy a vehicle carrying an al-Qaeda leader and five of his associates. The fleet now stands at around 200 craft, which have flown more than 400,000 combat hours. The company that makes them, General Atomics, can’t keep up with the demand. The bigger, badder version – the Reaper hunter-killer – is also flying off the shelves. There are now around 30 in active service, with the first kill taking place in the mountains of Afghanistan in October 2007.

In every field of warfare, mechanical soldiers are fighting alongside – or instead of – human beings. Apart from unmanned combat air vehicles such as Predators, the skies above Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are filled with drones carrying out surveillance operations. On the ground are between 6,000 and 12,000 robots, up from a mere 150 in 2004. Their role is mostly to protect our soldiers by disrupting improvised explosive devices, or to carry out surveillance of dangerous places such as caves and buildings.

Our image of such robots owes a great deal to films – most notably The Terminator or Transformers, both of which have sequels out this month. But the actual models being used are more like miniature tanks, similar to the contraptions seen on the television series Robot Wars. The most popular is the PackBot made by the US company iRobot, which is normally used for bomb disposal. As the company started out making robotic vacuum cleaners known as Roombas, the 18kg PackBot is sometimes jokingly referred to as the “Roomba of doom” or “Doomba” – much to the displeasure of the firm’s management, who would clearly hope to keep the two brands separate.

Recently, iRobot joined forces with Taser International to mount the allegedly non-lethal weapons on the “bots”. But that pales in comparison with the ordnance that comes with the Talon, a larger device made by Foster-Miller, a US subsidiary of the British firm QinetiQ. It comes with chemical, gas, temperature and radiation sensors and can be mounted with a choice of grenade launcher, machine gun, incendiary weapon or 50-calibre rifle. Its bigger brother, the MAARS robot, ups the stakes with a tanklike turret.

Despite planned cutbacks in spending on conventional weapons, the Obama administration is increasing its budget for robotics: in 2010, the US Air Force will be given $2.13 billion for unmanned technology, including $489.24 million to procure 24 heavily armed Reapers. The US Army plans to spend $2.13 billion on unmanned vehicle technology, including 36 more Predators, while the Navy and Marine Corps will spend $1.05 billion, part of which will go on armed MQ-8B helicopters.

Of course, when the military describes such systems as “unmanned”, it is stretching the truth very slightly. At the moment, all the armed robots in the Middle East are remote-controlled by humans – there is a “man in the loop” to control them and to decide when and whether to apply lethal force.

But that makes very little difference to villagers in Waziristan, where there have been repeated Predator strikes since 2006, many of them controlled from Creech Air Force Base, thousands of miles away. According to reports coming out of Pakistan, these have killed 14 al-Qaeda leaders and more than 600 civilians.

Such widespread collateral damage suggests that the human remote-controllers are not doing a very good job of restraining their robotic servants. In fact, the role of the “man in the loop” is becoming vanishingly small, and will disappear. “Our decision power [as controllers] is really only to give a veto,” argues Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC. “And, if we are honest with ourselves, it is a veto power we are often unable or unwilling to exercise because we only have a half-second to react.”

As Dyke Weatherington, deputy director of the Pentagon’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Task Force, points out: “There’s really no way that a system that is remotely controlled can effectively operate in an offensive or defensive air combat environment. The requirement of that is a fully autonomous system.”

Sure enough, plans are well under way to develop robots that can locate and destroy targets without human intervention. There are already a number of autonomous ground vehicles, such as the seven-ton “Crusher” developed by DARPA, the US military’s research agency. BAE Systems, a British defence contractor, recently reported that it had “completed a flying trial which, for the first time, demonstrated the co-ordinated control of multiple Unmanned Aerial Vehicles autonomously completing a series of tasks”. The Israelis are already fielding autonomous radar-killer drones known as Harpy and Harop, and the South Koreans use lethal autonomous systems to defend their border with the North.

Many in the military are enthusiastic about such developments. “They don’t get hungry. They’re not afraid. They don’t forget their orders,” says Dr Gordon Johnson, of the Pentagon’s Joint Forces Command. “Will they do a better job than humans? Yes.”

Dr Johnson insists that “there are no legal prohibitions against robots making life-and-death decisions”, adding: “The US military will have these kinds of robots. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.”

The problem, however, is that no autonomous robots or artificial intelligence systems have the necessary capabilities to discriminate between combatants and innocents. Compared with the robots in the Terminator films, they suffer from artificial stupidity. Allowing them to make decisions about who to kill falls foul of the fundamental ethical precepts of the laws of war set up to protect civilians, the sick and wounded, the mentally ill and captives. We are already overreaching the technology and stretching the laws of war.

“Unless we end war, end capitalism and end science, the use of robots will only grow,” says Peter Singer. “We are building and using machines with more and more autonomy because they are viewed by militaries as useful for war, and viewed by companies as profitable business.” Spending on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles is expected to exceed tens of billions of dollars over the next 10 years, and more than 40 countries – including Russia and China – now have their own programmes.

Amid this robotic arms race, there is a sliver of hope. Professor Ron Arkin, of the Georgia Institute of Technology, believes that humans do not have the time to make rational ethical decisions in the modern battlefield. “There appears to be little alternative,” he says, “to the use of more dispassionate autonomous decision-making machinery.” He has funding from the US Army for research on how to programme ethical rules into robots to stop them causing excessive collateral damage. But this does not get around the problem of how to discriminate between innocents and combatants – and Arkin admits that the technology to fully support his system may not be available for 25 years.

The problem is that it is not just a matter of developing adequate sensors. In complex wars, complex human reasoning is often needed to decide when it is appropriate to kill. Robots do not feel anger or seek revenge – but they also don’t have sympathy, empathy, remorse or shame. Nor can they be held accountable for their actions. In subcontracting our wars to our robotic creations, we are abdicating moral responsibility, too.