March 29, 2012, 6:18 PM — The first thing you'll want to know about this story is that, as far as I can tell, it's not fake.
The second thing is that the guy at the heart of the story doesn't appear to be a crank, an overstimulated animal-rights activist or a misanthrope intent on fomenting rebellion among the great apes of Iowa in hopes of turning the deep Midwest into Planet of the Apes.
No, Ken Schweller is just a guy who built a robot out of lab tables, electric wheelchair parts and a rubber ape head, and who plans to turn control of the creepy mobile platform over to residents of the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines.
The Trust is a research center dedicated to studying the origins of language, culture, tools and other evidence of human civilization by tricking bonobos (once called"pygmy chimps") and orangutans into mimicking behaviors that may have helped lead our ancient human ancestors from the spiritual and intellectual emptiness of life as wild animals into an even greater emptiness as the species responsible for Fox News and Nickelodeon.
Ken Schweller, on the other hand, is a professor of computer science and psychology at Buena Vista University ("Iowa's accessibly scaled, eye-opening university) and creator of not one but two iterative versions of Robo Bonobo (I and II). He also created a number of wacky-sounding computer-science projects that look far more likely to grab the attention and imagination of budding computer scientists than "hello world" programming projects, or lectures outlining the impact of the syntax of PASCAL on the cultural norms of the Northern Midwest.
Another Schweller favorite is theclass room on Second Life that would give Schweller's Artificial Intelligence students a more visual and tactile impression of the personality they were trying to create in the process of building Turing Machine, for example. It's so much easier to build a fake human in an online environment in which all your classmates are avatars and it's hard to even tell which one is on autopilot for a classmate who went AFK for beers with his buds hours ago.
Depending on how party the weekend is, the Turing Machine could be the most intelligent thing in the class.
(Schweller and the class won $75,000 from the Sun MicroSystems Java programming contest for the version they wrote outside of Second Life.)
Ken Schweller, Great Ape Trust