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Mark Ward | 14:13 UK time, Thursday, 15 July 2010

WebcamOn Tech Brief today: Getting tricky with videos of pretty girls and Esperanto for robots.

• One of the attractions of ChatRoulette is its honesty. Under the harsh scrutiny of a webcam there is nowhere to hide. What you see is what you get. Until now. Researchers have found that if they pick the right video (no prizes for guessing that it was of an attractive woman) they can fool ChatRouletters into thinking they are talking to a real person:

"In a test, they were able to trick users into thinking they were actually chatting with a prerecorded video of a cute woman. They did this by making the video choppy, as if it came from a low-bandwidth network and using text-based chat, instead of audio chat. Only one of the 15 users who chatted with the video asked the researchers to prove that it was of a real, live person. Otherwise, the researchers were regularly able to get people to chat for an hour using this technique."

• Tech Brief is unstinting in its efforts to warn when robots are poised to enslave humanity. That day could have come closer thanks to researchers Christoph Bartneck, Loe Feijs and Omar Mubin from the University of Eindhoven. The trio are developing a common tongue, called Roila, that robots will be able to use to communicate with each other, no matter which factory they rolled out of:

"Roila combines elements of the most successful natural and artificial languages. The words are composed of phonemes that are shared among most human languages, and a word-creation algorithm ensures the words sound as different from each other as possible."

The trio do not want to cut humans out of the loop entirely as the language is designed to aid human-robot interaction:

"The project's leaders say the proliferation of helper robots will require a more efficient means of communication. The easiest thing would be to talk to robots, but current speech recognition technology is not advanced enough for the robots to understand us very well."

The researchers have generated the word for love but may have inadvertently sealed our doom with other parts of the vocabulary:

"[F]or those wondering whether a robot language would allow our helpers to revolt, it's worth pointing out that Roila vocabulary includes bellicose terms like attack (kisate), army (kalutu), destruction (tofomu) and gun (fekopu)."

• One of the Chinese government's initiatives to police what people do online has hit the buffers - namely the Green Dam Youth escort software:

"Green Dam has a sordid history given its short lifespan. Last May, the Chinese government quietly ordered PC manufacturers to bundle the software with all computers sold in the country. The goal was to prevent children from seeing porn via a database of blocked sites that could be updated remotely. The software was also capable of performing semantic and image-based evaluation of incoming content."

But, continues Ars Technica, no more funding for the project has been forthcoming raising expectations that the project is about to be canned.

• Continuing the theme of official surveillance, the government is to review the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. This put in place rules for the use of covert surveillance by official bodies, mainly law enforcement agencies. However, reports The Register, others found more innovative uses for it:

"Ripa powers to monitor citizens' activities could be used not just by police and state security services but also by local authorities to monitor compliance with various laws. Civil liberties campaigners criticised the use of Ripa to monitor residents' compliance with dog fouling or refuse recycling laws."

If you want to suggest links or stories for Tech Brief, you can send them to @bbctechbrief on Twitter, tag them bbctechbrief on Delicious or e-mail them to

Links in full

Robert McMillan | IT World | Researchers find privacy flaws in Chatroulette

Rebecca Boyle | PopSci | ROILA, a New Spoken Language Designed for Robots

Jacqui Cheng | Ars Technica | Lack of funding may burst China's Green Dam

Out Law | The Register | Government begins RIPA review

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