Monday, December 17, 2012

Extra, extra: In Other News, online

Posted By on Mon, Dec 17, 2012 at 9:00 AM

This week, the threats robots pose to humanity.

Curses, Foiled Again
Three men stole items from a property in Moultonborough, N.H., after advertising them as giveaways on Craigslist even before they were stolen. Police believe the posts were meant to provide an alibi, so they could claim they were merely responding to the advertised offer of free items. “It is very bold, especially when you put that out on the internet, and others are viewing it at the same time, probably going to show up as well,” Detective Stephen Kessler said. After determining the property owner had no intention of giving the items away, police staked out the address and nabbed the suspects in the act. (Manchester’s WMUR-TV)

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Fire investigators said Bryan M. Herzog, 54, intentionally set fire to a home in Virginia Beach, Va., owned by his ex-girlfriend to punish her. She managed to jump out of a window to safety, but Herzog died in the blaze from smoke inhalation and burns. (Norfolk’s WTKR-TV)

What Could Go Wrong?
Following a Human Rights Watch report that killer robots could be deployed on battlefields within 20 years, the Department of Defense issued a directive stating that any future semi-autonomous weapons systems “must be designed such that, in the event of degraded or lost communication, the system does not autonomously select and engage individual targets or specific target groups that haven’t been previously selected by an authorized human operator.” The policy specifically exempts non-killing military robots, such as surveillance drones. (Britain’s Daily Mail)

U.S. military drones overseas are crashing with increasing frequency, including at civilian airports. Air Force investigators blamed the mishaps on pilot error, mechanical failure, software glitches and poor coordination with civilian air-traffic controllers. U.S. drone crews in Djibouti, where five Predator drones have crashed, singled out Djiboutians as a factor, complaining they speak poor English, are “short-tempered” and are uncomfortable having Predators in their airspace. (The Washington Post)

Britain’s Cambridge University is opening a center for leading academics to study the threats that robots pose to humanity. Other threats being studied are climate change, nuclear war and rogue biotechnology. The co-founder of Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) is Lord Rees, whose 2003 book “Our Final Century” warned that the human species would wipe itself out by 2100. (Britain’s Daily Mail)

Inflated Statistics
The surge in popularity of inflatable bounce houses in the United States corresponds to a rash of related accidents. A nationwide study published in the journal Pediatrics found fewer than 1,000 reported bounce-house injuries in 1995 but nearly 11,000 in 2010. That averages 30 children a day being treated in emergency rooms for broken bones, sprains, cuts and concussions resulting from children falling inside or out of the bounce houses, or colliding with each other. More than one-third of the injured children are 5 and younger. (Associated Press)

Medical Emergencies
After frequent attacks on doctors, Indian hospitals started hiring well-built nightclub bouncers, bodyguards and wrestlers to keep order in emergency rooms and labor rooms. Relatives and friends often become agitated and go on rampages after patients die or are suspected of having been mistreated. Thousands of attacks occur in Indian hospitals every year, according to Dr. Narendra Saini of the Indian Medical Association, who noted families feel especially cheated at expensive hospitals, explaining, “They expect their patient to live because that’s what they paid for.” (Associated Press)

Deal Junkies
Nearly three of every four shoppers accustomed to discounted prices at retail stores said they wouldn’t buy a given item without a discount of at least 50 percent. A survey by the consumer research firm America’s Research Group found that deep discounts eat away at already slim profits, but retailers have only themselves to blame, because discounting during a down economy has conditioned shoppers to expect it. Everyday pricing “takes some fun out of” shopping, Paco Underhill, who studies consumer behavior for Envirosell, explained. “Sales are just like heroin.” (Associated Press)

Not Here to Talk About the Past
Physician-turned-tea-partyer Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., easily won reelection to a second term as an avowed anti-abortion, family values candidate, despite testifying at his divorce trial that he had “sexual relationships with at least two patients, three coworkers and a drug representative” while he was married. He also admitted supporting his ex-wife’s decision to have two abortions before they wed and reportedly urged one of the patients he had sex with to get an abortion. DesJarlais has consistently supported anti-abortion legislation, scoring the National Right to Life’s coveted 100 percent rating. (Chattanooga Times Free Press)

Never Happened
Sheriff’s deputies who stopped Patrick Townsend, 30, for driving without a seatbelt in Polk County, Fla., found 32.4 grams of methamphetamine in his boxer shorts. They said Townsend confessed to trafficking in the drug, boasting that he usually deals in kilos, not grams. Detective Justin Starr recorded the confessions, but when he stepped away and left the digital recorder on a desk, Townsend grabbed it, hid it in his armpit, asked to use the bathroom and flushed the recorder down the toilet. When he returned and saw Starr looking for the recorder, he reportedly told him, “Tighten up on your job, homie.” (Lakeland’s The Ledger)

Onward, Omnivores
Official efforts to stop the spread of the voracious, invasive snakefish—aka “Frankenfish” and “rattlesnakes with fins”—having failed, the next tactic is eating them to extinction. “When man turns his attention to an animal, it is very difficult for the animal,” said David Stein, executive chef at Washington, D.C.’s Tony & Joe’s Seafood Place. Other restaurants in the Washington area, where the snakefish was introduced into U.S. waters, are trying to create a market for the 8-to-15-pound fish. Calling its slab-like flesh “really amazing,” Stein said his restaurant features snakehead appetizers and entrees on its menu. “Probably if it was called any other name than snakehead,” he admitted, “people would be more willing to give them a try.” (Reuters)

After Edward Archbold, 32, swallowed dozens of live cockroaches and worms to win a pet python in an eating contest at a pet shop in Deerfield Beach, Fla., he dropped dead. The Broward County medical examiner ruled Archbold choked to death after his airway became obstructed with “arthropod body parts.” (Associated Press)

Train Spotting
While Julian Schmidt, 14, was praying with two friends in Junction City, Ore., at a memorial site where a train ran over one of Schmidt’s relatives, an Amtrak train hit and killed Schmidt just feet from the site. (Eugene’s KVAL-TV)

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