expansionarytimes

Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page

Japan Creates Next-Generation Female “Cybernetic Human”

In Uncategorized on March 16, 2009 at 9:19 pm

(Comment: Japan is forging ahead of most industrialized countries, including the U.S., in the development of robotic technologies and “humanoid” robots. The day is drawing near when such ‘droids will work in factories and homes, and even provide companionship to the elderly. Could these be the new “housepets” of the 21st century?—Michael Zey)

By YURI KAGEYAMA, AP Business Writer Yuri Kageyama, Ap Business Writer Mon Mar 16, 10:14 am ET

TSUKUBA, Japan – A new walking, talking robot from Japan has a female face that can smile and has trimmed down to 43 kilograms (95 pounds) to make a debut at a fashion show. But it still hasn’t cleared safety standards required to share the catwalk with human models.

Three Faces of Eve?

Three Faces of Eve?

 

Developers at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, a government-backed organization, said their “cybernetic human,” shown Monday, wasn’t ready to help with daily chores or work side by side with people — as many hope robots will be able to do in the future.

 

“Technologically, it hasn’t reached that level,” said Hirohisa Hirukawa, one of the robot’s developers. “Even as a fashion model, people in the industry told us she was short and had a rather ordinary figure.”

 

For now, the 158 centimeter (62.2 inch) tall black-haired robot code-named HRP-4C — whose predecessor had weighed 58 kilograms (128 pounds) — will mainly serve to draw and entertain crowds.

 

Developers said the robot may be used in amusement parks or to perform simulations of human movement, as an exercise instructor, for instance.

 

HRP-4C was designed to look like an average Japanese woman, although its silver-and-black body recalls a space suit. It will appear in a Tokyo fashion show — without any clothes — in a special section just for the robot next week.

 

The robotic framework for the HRP-4C, without the face and other coverings, will go on sale for about 20 million yen ($200,000) each, and its programming technology will be made public so other people can come up with fun moves for the robot, the scientists said.

 

Japan boasts one of the leading robotics industries in the world, and the government is pushing to develop the industry as a road to growth. Automaker Honda Motor Co. has developed Asimo, which can walk and talk, although it doesn’t pretend to look human.

 

Other robots, like the ones from Hiroshi Kobayashi at the Tokyo University of Science and Hiroshi Ishiguro at Osaka University, have more human-like faces and have been tested as receptionists.

 

But demands are growing for socially useful robots, such as ones that can care for the elderly and sick, said Yoshihiro Kaga, a government official in the trade and industry ministry.

 

“We want this market to grow as an industry,” he said.

 

The robot shown Monday has 30 motors in its body that allows it to walk and move its arms as well as eight motors on its face to create expressions like anger and surprise.

 

In a demonstration for reporters, the robot waddled out, blinking, a bit like an animation figure come to life, and said, “Hello, everyone,” in a tiny feminine voice while its mouth moved.

 

The demonstration didn’t all go smoothly. The robot often looked surprised, opening its mouth and eyes in a stunned expression, when the demonstrator asked it to smile or look angry.

 

Its walk was also not quite ready for the Paris Collection, partly because its knees are permanently bent. It has sensors in its feet but lacks the sensitive balance of a real human.

 

The big challenge in creating HRP-4C was making the parts small enough so it looks female, especially its thinner legs, said Shuuji Kajita, who leads the institute’s humanoid research group.

 

“But this is just the first step,” he said

WSJ: Time To Return To The Gold Standard

In Uncategorized on March 12, 2009 at 6:35 pm

 

Capitalism Needs a Sound-Money Foundation

Let’s give the Fed some competition. Abolish legal tender laws and see whose money people trust.

 

By JUDY SHELTON

Let’s go back to the gold standard.

 

If the very idea seems at odds with what is currently happening in our country — with Congress preparing to pass a massive economic stimulus bill that will push the fiscal deficit to triple the size of last year’s record budget gap — it’s because a gold standard stands in the way of runaway government spending.

 

 

Under a gold standard, if people think the paper money printed by government is losing value, they have the right to switch to gold. Fiat money — i.e., currency with no intrinsic worth that government has decreed legal tender — loses its value when government creates more than can be absorbed by the productive real economy. Too much fiat money results in inflation — which pools in certain sectors at first, such as housing or financial assets, but ultimately raises prices in general.

 

Inflation is the enemy of capitalism, chiseling away at the foundation of free markets and the laws of supply and demand. It distorts price signals, making retailers look like profiteers and deceiving workers into thinking their wages have gone up. It pushes families into higher income tax brackets without increasing their real consumption opportunities.

 

wsj-gold1In short, inflation undermines capitalism by destroying the rationale for dedicating a portion of today’s earnings to savings. Accumulated savings provide the capital that finances projects that generate higher future returns; it’s how an economy grows, how a society reaches higher levels of prosperity. But inflation makes suckers out of savers.

 

If capitalism is to be preserved, it can’t be through the con game of diluting the value of money. People see through such tactics; they recognize the signs of impending inflation. When we see Congress getting ready to pay for 40% of 2009 federal budget expenditures with money created from thin air, there’s no getting around it. Our money will lose its capacity to serve as an honest measure, a meaningful unit of account. Our paper currency cannot provide a reliable store of value.

 

So we must first establish a sound foundation for capitalism by permitting people to use a form of money they trust. Gold and silver have traditionally served as currencies — and for good reason. A study by two economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Arthur Rolnick and Warren Weber, concluded that gold and silver standards consistently outperform fiat standards. Analyzing data over many decades for a large sample of countries, they found that “every country in our sample experienced a higher rate of inflation in the period during which it was operating under a fiat standard than in the period during which it was operating under a commodity standard.”

 

Given that the driving force of free-market capitalism is competition, it stands to reason that the best way to improve money is through currency competition. Individuals should be able to choose whether they wish to carry out their personal economic transactions using the paper currency offered by the government, or to conduct their affairs using voluntary private contracts linked to payment in gold or silver.

 

Legal tender laws currently favor government-issued money, putting private contracts in gold or silver at a distinct disadvantage. Contracts denominated in Federal Reserve notes are enforced by the courts, whereas contracts denominated in gold are not. Gold purchases are subject to taxes, both sales and capital gains. And while the Constitution specifies that only commodity standards are lawful — “No state shall coin money, emit bills of credit, or make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts” (Art. I, Sec. 10) — it is fiat money that enjoys legal tender status and its protections.

 

Now is the time to challenge the exclusive monopoly of Federal Reserve notes as currency. Buyers and sellers, by mutual consent, should have access to an alternate means for settling accounts; they should be able to do business using a monetary unit of account defined in terms of gold. The existence of parallel currencies operating side-by-side on an equal legal footing would make it clear whether people had more confidence in fiat money or money redeemable in gold.

 

If the gold-based system is preferred, it means that people fully understand that the purpose of money is to facilitate commerce, not to camouflage fiscal mismanagement.

 

Private gold currencies have served as the medium of exchange throughout history — long before kings and governments took over the franchise. The initial justification for government involvement in money was to certify the weight and fineness of private gold coins. That rulers found it all too tempting to debase the money and defraud its users testifies more to the corruptive aspects of sovereign authority than to the viability of gold-based money.

 

Which is why government officials should not now have the last word in determining the monetary measure, especially when they have abused the privilege.

 

The same values that will help America regain its economic footing and get back on the path to productive growth — honesty, reliability, accountability — should be reflected in our money. Economists who promote the government-knows-best approach of Keynesian economics fail to comprehend the damaging consequences of spurring economic activity through a money illusion. Fiscal “stimulus” at the expense of monetary stability may accommodate the principles of the childless British economist who famously quipped, “In the long run, we’re all dead.” But it shortchanges future generations by saddling them with undeserved debt obligations.

 

There is also the argument that gold-linked money deprives the government of needed “flexibility” and could lead to falling prices. But contrary to fears of harmful deflation, the big problem is not that nominal prices might go down as production declines, but rather that dollar prices artificially pumped up by government deficit spending merely paper over the real economic situation.

 

When the output of goods grows faster than the stock of money, benign deflation can occur — it happened from 1880 to 1900 while the U.S. was on a gold standard. But the total price-level decline was 10% stretched over 20 years.

 

Meanwhile, the gross domestic product more than doubled.

At a moment when the world is questioning the virtues of democratic capitalism, our nation should provide global leadership by focusing on the need for monetary integrity. One of the most serious threats to global economic recovery — aside from inadequate savings — is protectionism. An important benefit of developing a parallel currency linked to gold is that other countries could likewise permit their own citizens to utilize it. To the extent they did so, a common currency area would be created not subject to the insidious protectionism of sliding exchange rates.

 

The fiasco of the G-20 meeting in Washington last November — it was supposed to usher in “the next Bretton Woods” — suggests that any move toward a new international monetary system based on gold will more likely take place through the grass-roots efforts of Americans. It may already be happening at the state level. Last month, Indiana state Sen. Greg Walker introduced a bill — “The Indiana Honest Money Act” — which would, if enacted, allow citizens the option of paying in or receiving back gold, silver or the equivalent electronic receipt as an alternative to Federal Reserve notes for all transactions conducted with the state of Indiana.

 

It may turn out to be a bellwether. Certainly, it’s a sign of a growing feeling in the heartland that we need to go back to sound money. We need money that works for the legitimate producers and consumers of the world — the savers and borrowers, the entrepreneurs. Not money that works for the chiselers.

 

Ms. Shelton, an economist, is author of “Money Meltdown: Restoring Order to the Global Currency System” (Free Press, 1994).

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