In an era when cars drive themselves and algorithms predict traffic , the robot as a guardian figure is rising: 'Bots are being used in Japan to measure radiation levels from the crippled nuclear reactors, and the video games Rating Board is using automated systems to decide what rating a game gets.
The ongoing saga in Japan's crippled boiling water reactors in Fukushima still grabs headlines around the world, despite the fact that hard data on what kind of radioactive contamination is happening inside the plant is hard to come by. That's changing because Packbot remote-controlled robots from iRobot are now being sent inside  the reactor buildings to measure the environment. According to TEPCO, which runs the facility, the robots opened and closed "double doors" and "conducted surveys" in several locations.
The robots detected radiation levels in excess of 49 millisieverts per hour in Unit 1 and 57 millisieverts per hour in Unit 3. This instantly reveals how useful the robots are--these are the first readings from inside the critical areas since the earthquake and tsunami hit, and they're well in excess of safe levels for humans (with the EPA's upper limit for U.S.-based radiation workers at 50 millisieverts per year, an hour inside the Fukushima plants would surpass this dose, and 20 hours would put people at risk of immediate radiation-induced nausea and vomiting).
TEPCO has noted the data doesn't modify its plans for shutting the plant completely by the end of the year, and notes that people will eventually have to enter these dangerous areas to complete the work. It would seem that avatar-driven remote-controlled android tech just can't come quickly enough to help.;
Video game content
Parents who trust their kids' video-game purchases based on the Entertainment Software Rating Board's little advisory stickers probably aren't aware that to get the rating, each game has to go through a painstaking review process where a ESRB employee watches video footage of the game and makes notes on the adult level of the content encountered by a player.
That situation is about to change  due to the sheer economics and scale of the industry--so many games are being released that assessing them all by hand is getting slow and expensive. So from now on, an algorithm will decide if a game is given a "Everyone," "Teens," or "Mature" rating. It's not a super-clever algorithm that actually plays the games through and assesses how much blood, gore, and sex is portrayed graphically, or if game characters swear too much. Instead, it merely trawls through an extensive questionnaire that the game publisher now has to fill in. This detailed list penetrates down to issues like whether feces are depicted "whimsically" or realistically, how much racial- or sex-based vulgarity goes on in the game dialog, and how much gambling and drug use is shown. Publishers have to fill it in, with legal penalties for non-disclosure or inaccurate answers, and then a machine decides on the game's adult rating.
An ESRB employee will actually hand-assess the game, as before, once it's been machine-checked to ensure that a fair rating is awarded, so the move is more about getting games through the review process and onto the shelves faster than before. This is particularly important for the fast-growing class of online games, which are adding to the ratings burden the ESRB faces every year.
The concern, of course, is that games publishers will be able to game the new system. There's definitely an incentive to do so. Just look at the movie industry: as pressure groups lobby  for stricter film ratings, the film industry tries to get its films awarded lower ratings because it will result in sales to a wider audience.
[Image via Flickr user pawpaw67 ]