‘I believe that it will become perfectly normal for people to have sex with robots’

'I believe that it will become perfectly normal for people to have sex with robots'8

“When I started out,” says David Levy, international chess champion and expert in artificial intelligence, “I didn’t know anything about artificial vaginas. It is quite extraordinary how much interest there is in that subject.”

Levy’s book, Love and Sex with Robots, is perhaps the fullest exploration of the future of humans and robots, especially their interaction in the bedroom. It explores the details of internet-linked devices that transmit real physical contact.

And Levy is no fantasist. He is the only person to win the Loebner prize – an annual competition to determine which chat software is the most realistic – twice.

It was while researching his 2003 book, Robots Unlimited, that he first became interested in the subject. Specifically, he read a quote from a 1984 book by Sherry Turkel, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. An interviewee, ‘Anthony’, told Turkel that he had tried having girlfriends but preferred his relationship with his computer.

“That quotation hit me like a brick wall,” says Levy. “I thought – if a smart guy could think like that in 1984, I wonder how much the concept of human-computer emotional relationships has developed since then.”

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A great deal is the answer. Adrian David Cheok, Professor of Pervasive Computing at London’s City University, has been refining a device called a Kissinger: a set of pressure-sensitive artificial lips that can transmit a kiss from a real mouth to a similar device owned by a partner who might be thousands of miles away.

The Kissinger system has been in development for about eight years, with the latest model designed to plug into a smartphone. By kissing the screen, the movements of a person’s lips can be mirrored in the other machine and that kiss will be given to whoever has his or her mouth against a corresponding machine.

Several companies have shown an interest in the device and Cheok expects to see it hit the market in mid-2015.

Adrian Cheok at City University has been covering mixed reality, human-computer interfaces and wearable computers throughout his career. Photo courtesy Sophie Gost, City University London

Eventually, Cheok believes, “almost every physical thing, every being, every body, will be connected to the internet in some way.’’

The future, he says, will involve the subconscious part of the brain. We already have intimate data on the internet, but we still don’t feel that we can really know somebody online. There’s something missing between the experience of making a Skype call and meeting someone. And this is where transmitting the other senses is so ­important.”

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Levy, 69, and Cheok, 42, have teamed up to work on a new “chat agent” – software that can understand and respond to natural human language and speech. The project, named I-Friend, will be based on artificial intelligence software that won Levy and his team the Loebner prize for a second time in 2009.

“It will be one of the most realistic artificial chat agents when the project is finished,” says Cheok.

Levy is keen to stress the versatility of the software they’re developing. The I-Friend, he says, can be configured for any embodiment and persona that the market requires.“It could, for example, be an upmarket toy such as a furry animal or a creature from another planet; or a web avatar that repeatedly turns the conversation to discuss a company and its products; or a mobile app such as a virtual girlfriend or boyfriend.”

Cheok adds: “In the first instance, it could probably replace all the phone sex for which people for some reason pay very high rates.” Ultimately, however, the aim would be for it to be “used in robots for artificial love and sex chat”.

And this is where the artificial vaginas come in.

“I believe it is going to be perfectly normal that people will be friends with robots, and that people will have sex with robots,” says Cheok. “All media will touch humanity.”

There is already a market for realistic-looking life-sized dolls made from a durable high elastometer silicone material. Female dolls either have fixed or removable vaginas and cost anything from $5,000-$8,000. But they don’t do anything. They are unresponsive.

In time, Levy predicts, it will be quite normal for people to buy robots as companions and lovers. “I believe that loving sex robots will be a great boon to society,” he says. “There are millions of people out there who, for one reason or another, cannot establish good relationships.”

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And when does he think this might come about? “I think we’re talking about the middle of the century, if you are referring to a robot that many people would find appealing as a companion, lover, or possible spouse.”

Spouse?

“Yes.”

High-quality silicone and moveable joints bring life-sized simulation dolls that much closer to looking and feeling like human beings… and soon they might be able to hold a conversation as well. David McNew/Getty

Levy, a former Chess Master who represented Scotland, developed his interest in computing while studying at St Andrews university and later as a computer science postgraduate at the University of Glasgow, where he taught his students to program. During this time, he began looking into the programming of chess, which ultimately led to an interest in human-computer conversation.

He and Cheok’s “I-Friends” will have a sophisticated module which will endow the software with emotions, personality and moods. They aim to tailor the software to any required persona, for example a girlfriend or boyfriend who will be able to take part in continual and varied sexually-charged conversations.

I-Friends is a range of conversational software companions based on Artificial Intelligence. Its working name is “Do-Much-More”. Levy and Cheok currently are trying to commercialise this chatbot [a program designed to simulate intelligent conversation] by adding significantly to its conversational capabilities.

It will serve as a software core that can be configured for anything the market requires. It could, for example, discuss a company and its products; or a mobile app such as a virtual girlfriend or boyfriend; or a server based application with which cell phone users can interact via SMS messaging.The same core software can be used as the basis for any desired character, simply by changing the data that defines the persona.

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“The very first chatbot was the famous ELIZA program written at MIT in the 1960s, named after Eliza Dolittle in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion,’’ says Levy. “ELIZA did very little but caused a stir at the time and is well documented in the Artificial Intelligence literature. Our first chatbot program had the name Do-A-Lot because it did more than ELIZA. Our second generation chatbot does even more, and was therefore given the working name Do-Much-More.’’

Levy says consumers eventually will be able to experience “appropriately designed artificial genitalia’’ that feel and behave like the real thing.

“There will be body warmth, synthesised speech, moving limbs. The first sex robots will be primitive in quality but with time more sophisticated ones will be available.’’

Do-Much-More delivers a significant leap in performance relative to the original Do-A-Lot software. That leap has been achieved by ­retaining the original strengths of Do-A-Lot, enhancing its power by extending its system of “variables” (word types) and its morphology (for example by the inclusion of phrasal verbs), and increasing the sophistication of its response ­generation system through the use of two important lexical resources that have been developed within the Computational Linguistics community in the academic world: WordNet and ConceptNet.

WordNet is a semantic lexicon for the English language. It groups English words into sets of synonyms called synsets, provides short, general definitions, and records the various semantic relations between these synonym sets.

The purpose is twofold: to produce a combination of a dictionary and thesaurus that is more intuitively usable, and to support automatic text analysis and artificial intelligence applications. The database and software tools have been released under a formal license and can be downloaded and used freely.

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ConceptNet is knowledge-based, created as part of the Open Mind Common Sense project, which is an artificial intelligence scheme based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. The goal is to build what’s known as a large “common sense knowledge base’’ developed from the contributions of many thousands of people across the web.

“We employ WordNet to provide Do-Much-More with certain useful linguistic data about words, helping us to generate responses that generally appear to be natural in terms of word association,’’ says Levy. “And we employ ConceptNet to provide Do-Much-More with real-world commonsense information so that Do-Much-More sometimes appears not only to understand what the user is saying but also to know something about the subject.’’

Cheok likens this development to the early days of mobile telephones.

“There were these businessmen with these bricks and you thought it so geeky and who’d ever want to use that?’’ he says. “Initially, some technologies are a niche market. But once enough people use it you have a kind of bandwagon effect. Now, sure you can choose not to have a mobile phone, but because everyone else has got one, it’s become the new social norm. So I think a lot of these technologies will become like that – including robotics and mixed reality and all these things that people initially might find a ­little bit scary.’’

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Bus racist caused ‘bystander effect’: expert

Bus racist caused ‘bystander effect’: expert

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A Brisbane bullying specialist is not surprised passengers on a bus refrained from standing up to a racist bully.

But QUT psychologist Marilyn Campbell said the example of Windsor woman Kylie Reid could inspire others to act differently in the future.

Ms Reid challenged a man who racially abused a female passenger on her Tuesday afternoon commute home.

She received a tirade of invective from the man, but was more disappointed that only one fellow passenger vocally agreed with her that his behaviour was inappropriate.

“It is unusual for her to have the courage to do that, and it’s very disappointing that other people didn’t stand up as well,” Professor Campbell said.

She said the incident involved classic traits of the “bystander effect”, when people choose to not involve themselves in confrontation.

“They think that the person who is harassing or bullying the victim will turn on them, and they will be hurt,” she said.

“But also, people will get too embarrassed to do what is right.”

She said the more witnesses to an event, the easier it was to do nothing, creating a “diffusion of responsibility”.

“If there are a lot of people watching something bad happening, they don’t have to do anything about it, because it’s not just them [on the scene].”

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However, Professor Campbell said just as safety in numbers was the reason people didn’t do anything, a group response was the best way to show a bully their actions were wrong.

“The man who was abusing would then get the message that he was the outcast, that that kind of behaviour was not acceptable to most people on the bus.”

She said people should always consider any risk to their own safety, but would be more confident of standing up in low-risk situations if it was a cultural norm.

“If there is somebody who gets on the bus who is incapacitated, or a woman carrying a baby, it’s a cultural norm for us to stand up and offer our seat,” she said.

“Everybody’s got to think ‘if I were on the bus, what would I do?’”.

Professor Campbell said by simply affirming to themselves that they would act, a person puts themselves in a more likely position to challenge a verbal bully.

“Especially if somebody else did it, you would be able to say ‘I agree’,” she said.

Ms Reid said she was grateful for the support she’d received since talking about the bus incident.

“The response that it’s been getting has been overwhelmingly positive, and it’s really helped confirm my belief that I stood up for something … that was the right thing to do.”

She was grateful for the support she had received since talking about the incident.

Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk praised Ms Reid for her actions.

“Full marks to her, she’s taken a stand in relation to another passenger who was loud and abusive,” he told Fairfax Radio 4BC.

"Racists beat me in an old building where I was living homeless."

Shark attack survivor Mike Coots back in the water

Shark attack survivor Mike Coots back in the water

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The way Mike Coots remembers it, the shark had latched onto his leg and was shaking him back and forth, “like a dog would with some meat”.

There was no pain. Just a lot of pressure. And even more blood, forming a red slick in the salty water around him.

Coots hit the tiger shark in the head repeatedly until it released him from its grip.

It wasn’t until the then-18-year-old was paddling his board towards shore at his home in Hawaii that Coots realised his right lower leg was simply gone.

“My right leg started spasming and shaking, and I looked over my shoulder,” he recalls.

“I remember instinctively thinking ‘Oh no, the shark is grabbing me again, why else would my leg be shaking?’ I looked over my shoulder and the leg was just gone, severed off. I think it was spasming from such a traumatic amputation, so fast. It was like out of the

movies, like blood squirting out the middle and just a perfect, perfect severed bite.”

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He managed to catch a wave to shore, with his worried friends by his side.

“I tried to stand up. Without a foot, you know, you can’t stand up. I fell back in the sand,” he said.

“My friend took my boogie board leash and made a tourniquet to help slow the bleeding down.”

Coots, now 34, might seem like an unlikely candidate to go on and become an activist campaigning to save sharks.

But that’s exactly what he has done, in between continuing to surf – with a prosthetic leg – and snapping pictures for publications such as The Wall Street Journal and the Discovery Channel in his job as a professional photographer.

The Kauai native’s Instagram page is filled with images of him surfing Hawaii’s breaks, swimming with sharks, and even one humorous image of a plastic shark beside a toy diver, which has its right leg missing.

In his role as an ambassador for Pew Environment Group, Coots campaigns for a change in legislation to ban the practice of shark finning, in which fishermen remove a shark’s fin before discarding the animal, alive, in the ocean.

Without their fins, the sharks are unable to move effectively and either suffocate or are eaten by other predators.

Coots also said he was opposed to Western Australia’s controversial shark cull, announced by Premier Colin Barnett’s government late last year after seven fatal shark attacks in three years in WA waters.

Coots realises people may think it’s odd for a shark-attack survivor to go on to campaign to save the animals.

“It goes along with being in the water. It’s also an opportunity to create something positive,” he said.

“It’s just sharks, that’s their place in the ocean. I think maybe I’d have more resentment if it was just something dumb that I did or something dumb that somebody else did, but that’s just what sharks do.”

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Under Western Australia’s controversial shark cull plan, professional fishermen would be paid to catch, shoot or bait large sharks onto large hooks within designated kill zones one kilometre off the coast.

Coots said he had been monitoring the debate in Australia and, while fatal shark attacks were tragic, he believed the shark cull was not the right solution.

“I 100 per cent disagree with that [the shark cull],” he said.

“I think it’s a total a knee-jerk reaction. I really think instead of setting up those hooks and going out and shooting the sharks, they should be tagging the sharks.

“The species are very old and we know very little about them. I just don’t think it sends the right message to the world that if there’s any perceived threat, even if it’s such a minute threat, that we shouldn’t just go and kill things that we don’t like in nature. It’s not co-existence. Coexistence is not shooting a bullet in the head of a fish that’s pre-dated the dinosaurs.”

In his role with Pew Environment Group, he said he shared his story with politicians in the US to change legislation.

Just two months after he was attacked by the tiger shark in 1997, Coots said he was back in the water, at the same beach.

“It was basically the same exact spot. And it wasn’t because I’m like, ‘Oh I’ve got to get back on the horse’. It was more the waves were good at that spot, so I ended up my first surf was right there at the same beach,” he said.

“For me, because the ocean was such a part of my life, that was the most difficult time of the attack, being out of the water while the staples and stitches were healing.

“It’s kind of weird. I grew up as a boogie boarder so I didn’t actually start stand-up surfing until after the attack. I really don’t know what it’s like to have two good feet on the board.”

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Childlike, then a look of pure evil: My time with Martin Bryant

Childlike, then a look of pure evil: My time with Martin Bryant

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Former police officer Phil Pyke was handed the grim task of guarding Australia’s worst mass murderer Martin Bryant in the hospital after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996. He had met Bryant before and been shocked by his callous attitude to the death of his father.

But it was watching over the killer in the hours after the tragedy that he gained a unique insight into Bryant’s evil nature. These are his never-heard-before thoughts from that time:

The cover of the spiral-bound notebook is plain with my handwritten notes scrawled across nearly 22 pages. For nearly two decades, these pages contained my observations on the largest incident I ever participated as a Tasmanian police officer – the Port Arthur massacre.

The notebook also details my interaction with the Port Arthur gunman, Martin Bryant, several years before when his father committed suicide and the days after the massacre when I guarded him in the burns unit of the Royal Hobart Hospital.

In mid-August 1993, I was undertaking my Tasmania police recruit course at the Rokeby Police Academy. Given the course was larger than the average with 25 members, we often were called upon to assist Search and Rescue on searches for missing people.

Over the year, my course searched for missing German backpacker, Nancy Grundwalt, on the State’s east coast and a missing 10-year-old south of Hobart.

In mid-August we assisted at a property on the Arthur Hwy at Copping where a 60-year-old man, Maurice Bryant, had gone missing. It was there in strange circumstances, I first met Martin Bryant.

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The previous day, members of the local fire brigade had assisted in the search of the property. However, as a shotgun was missing from the property and Maurice may have used it in self-harm, we were sent in.

Initially we searched up the hill in light scrub towards the back boundary. With no sign of the missing man, the search swung back down towards the weatherboard house and outbuildings.

Approaching the house, I first noticed a man with long blond hair watching us intently from the fence-line. I found his attention towards us rather unusual, particularly towards the female recruits on which he strongly focused his attention.

“That’s the son of Maurice,” the sergeant replied when I asked who the man was. “I think his name is Martin and he lives here.”

With the land-search now completed, we remained near the house. The vehicle of the missing man was parked in a shed and I could see large sums of money inside. A note saying “Get The Police” was hanging on the door of the house.

Martin hung around our group, seemingly unconcerned about the whereabouts of his father. He kept moving towards several female members attempting to ask them out on a date. His manner caused the girls to quickly move away, feeling uncomfortable at the unwarranted attention.

Police divers located Maurice’s body in a small deep dam beside the highway.

Dunalley officer, Constable Garry Whittle, took Martin down to formally identify his father – a requirement under the Coroner’s Act. He stood there for several moments looking down at his father before nodding to Constable Whittle.

I couldn’t hear what Bryant said but was amazed to see him walk away almost laughing. Initially from his behaviour and speech, I believed Martin was handicapped in some way but noted he was completely disconnected from the death of his father.

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We viewed Maurice’s body as part of having part of the Coroner’s Act explained to us. For the younger members of the course, this was their first deceased person and they struggled with knowing how to react. I remember the weight belt across Maurice’s body.

Martin wandered over to the local water carrier who arrived to fill the household tanks. He engaged the water carrier with jokes, laughing loudly while ignoring the activity down near the dam.

One of the police divers later described the conditions in the dam to me.

“The dam sloped away quickly and dropped down to around three-five metres,” he said as they packed their gear away.

“We dived down and found several sheep carcasses before locating Maurice at the bottom with a weight belt strapped across his body like a bandolier.”

Some years later I realised, having grown up on a farm, sheep don’t drink from water-courses in a Tasmanian winter or spring and rarely fall in. To this day, I firmly believe the sheep had been thrown into the dam.

We returned to the outbuilding for lunch with Martin coming back over to attempt to again invite some of the female officers out. He was ignored but remained watching until we left on the Academy bus.

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After the massacre, guarding Bryant in hospital was a hard job, especially after experiencing the events down at the Port Arthur six days before. In my mind I couldn’t change what had occurred and there was still much work to be done.

I commenced at 0600, with two members from the Prosecution Section and another from the Radio Room. Bryant was asleep in the end ward with the burn section locked off with all external doors secured.

Hospital security, assisted by police, staffed the locked entry doors. Untrained for this type of situation, they were very nervous.

The prison officers sat at the entrance to Bryant’s room – a large room with normally four beds now only housed this alleged killer. As Bryant had been formally charged and detained, he was in the custody of the Justice Department not Tasmania Police.

Looking around the corner, my first view was of a huddled figure under brown sheets, his head a mass of burnt hair.

In the darkness, I couldn’t tell if he was asleep or awake and watching us. The room smelt of burnt skin, which I could thankfully only faintly detect due to having a limited sense of smell.

Our briefing said Bryant previously had made threats towards the nursing staff, making shooting motions with his hands. The lights of the room came on as the relief shift for the prison staff arrived, pulling back the sheets to check his handcuffs.

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His severely burnt body was covered with the netted bandage commonly used for burn victims. Looking at Bryant lying in the bed, I wondered how I could protect him if anyone forced their way into the ward to harm him. We had received un-validated reports on people flying from the mainland to try and kill him. Suspects had allegedly made a reconnaissance of the area – two making application for security positions at the hospital.

I made up my mind to protect the prison officers and nursing staff but not Bryant. If anyone came through the door with firearms, they could have him. Perhaps this decision wouldn’t have been sound judgment but with 26 hours sleep over five days, I was sleep deprived like many others.

Bryant had no liberty including bathroom access, defecating on a sheet that was quickly removed and replaced with another. This was the best of care given his notoriety. However, I saw his behaviour change from being completely childlike to that of an evil killer many times over the day – with one incident in particular involving me.

As I chatted with one of the prison officers who lived in my hometown, I was aware Bryant was watching me intently. Looking towards him, Bryant slowly closed his eyes as if he was falling asleep. When I looked away, he fixed me with a stare I described as pure evil. This was the killer – the person I knew was capable of having carried out those murders. It was at that point there was no doubt in my mind he had committed this crime.

After going through the past few days and remembering the Mikac girls [young victims Alannah and Madeline], I pulled my stool towards him. As he opened his eyes and again fixed me with that evil stare, I tapped my fingers on the outside of my holster, saying, “if you get out of those handcuffs Martin, this is for you as I fight back unlike your other victims,” After this engagement, he no longer held any eye contact with me.

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I heard Bryant described his love of action movies, especially those with Steven Seagal – which linked in with my observations inside his house on the morning of 29 April.

When asked about certain people, I heard Bryant say “I hated the Martins. I did it because they were the worst people in my life.” As I know now, the owners of Seascape were killed first in the chain of events of April 28.

Bandage changing was hard as the badly injured Bryant was in pain. After one session of nursing staff changing the bandages, Bryant said in his childlike voice, “thank you for looking after me and treating me so kindly.” The nurse fled the room in tears, personally struggling to show compassion to this spree killer.

His voice was often regressed to quiet and childlike too. When he wanted something, it was always “please could I have something to eat.” “Please I need to go to the toilet.”

Bryant was always childlike with the ability to instantly switch into the killer with a look of pure evil. Knowing him before, having worked at the scene, observed inside his house and now at the hospital, it is my belief Bryant saw himself as an action hero of some nature

Having been heavily involved on many levels over this incident, I know Bryant undertook this act of violence alone and the trigger was his perceived hatred for the specific people in his life.

For me personally, I witnessed after effects of the Port Arthur massacre just over a year later when a mentally ill father slashed the throats of his four daughters (aged 10-18) because he didn’t want them to grow up in an evil world. I was the second police officer at the scene and this event, along with Port Arthur and its victims, remains constantly with me even today.

For me, there remains no logic in the madness and evil which took place at Port Arthur nearly 20 years ago.

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* Phil Pyke served as a member of Tasmania Police 1993-2008. The aftermath of the tragic events of April 28, 1996 saw him later transferred to the Tasmania Police Media Office. These events were the commencement of his career in strategic communications, which has taken him around Australia and the world with the ADF as a Reserve public affairs officer. He now works as the Business Development Manager in the Tasmanian agriculture sector.

Tattoo regret: The dark side of removal

Tattoo regret: The dark side of removal

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Tattooed Australians who regret their ink are being a put at risk of permanent skin damage because laser tattoo removalists aren’t required to have medical training.

Tattoo removal is a booming industry – there’s no shortage of potential customers.

Being able to undo what was once considered irreversible without extreme measures is good news. The tool of choice these days is a laser, which can and has caused burns and permanent scars on tattoo removal patients, according to reports.

Some removers use medical-sounding assurances such as “certified laser practitioner” or “accredited clinician”, which generally means they took a course offered by the laser maker, often a prerequisite for obtaining liability insurance. But that doesn’t mean they’re any good at removing tattoos.

In September last year, the then honorary secretary of the Australasian College of Dermatologists, Dr Cathy Reid, raised concerns about the use of lasers by people who lacked medical training and called for a national regulation regime. So far, that hasn’t happened.

Removal techniques have come a long way since the days of skin grafting, skin removal or the use of infra-red and other non-medical lasers. Best practice these days dictates that unwanted tattoos be gradually broken apart through the use of Q-switched lasers set to specific wavelengths depending on skin type and the colour and location of the tattoo.

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The lasers are used in short bursts that break up the ink; the immune system then goes to work and gets rid of the dispersed particles over the course of many months and treatments (up to 15 treatments, six to eight weeks apart, for multicoloured tattoos).

Hilary Quinn, proprietor of Melbourne Tattoo Removal in the suburb of Caulfield, has been in the business for five years and says she’s seen more than a few burns and scars on patients who came to see her after suffering at the hands of an unskilled remover.

“I took a laser safety course, but that’s only about using lasers safely, not tattoo removal,” Ms Quinn said. “That’s a skill you acquire over time, and you need to approach it like an apprentice and build up your technique under the guidance of an experienced remover.

“The industry has really boomed, especially in the past six months or so, and unskilled practitioners far outweigh skilled ones. I know of many would-be tattoo removers who got a cheap laser machine, started off with little or no training, damaged a few people, and then got out of the business.”

Dr Philip Bekhor, director of the Laser Unit at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital, backs up Quinn’s assessment.

“In Victoria your local butcher could sideline in laser tattoo removal, and many removers scar up a lot of patients before they develop any real skill. In reality the process is extremely slow, not every colour responds well, and it can be painful. It’s an invasive procedure with the capacity for injury,” Dr Bekhor said.

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Both Dr Bekhor and Ms Quinn say widespread use of cheaper knock-off versions of the Q-switched laser or, worse, the use of IPL lasers, are a principal cause of injury and unsuccessful tattoo removal. It’s no coincidence that proper Q-switched machines cost about $150,000, while IPL lasers go for between $10,000 and $15,000.

The lower costs of getting into the business in recent years, along with the longstanding lack of regulation in many jurisdictions, are key reasons for the big increase in the number of tattoo removers, both say.

The problem, Dr Bekhor argues, is that “IPL lasers function in milliseconds instead of nanoseconds, and the wavelength is too broad. They’re marketed as an all-purpose machine, including tattoo removal, but shouldn’t be used for that purpose. They often cause distorting of the tattoo and horrific burns and scars.”

Ms Quinn makes the same point. “Every second beautician seems to be offering tattoo removal with an IPL laser these days. It shouldn’t be used for that. It shoots a block of light of about two by six centimetres rather than the five to eight millimetre pinpricks of Q-switched lasers. It’s like trying to crack an egg with a machinegun

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Paedophile ;Dennis Ferguson

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FORMER LOVERS: Dennis Ferguson and Alexandria Brookes. Source: The Courier-Mail

PEDOPHILE Dennis Ferguson has been reunited with his child-rape accomplice and former male lover – thanks to a Federal Government department.

Ferguson wrote to the Commonwealth requesting information to locate  Alexandria Brookes, three months after he was released from a New South Wales jail.

The Courier-Mail can reveal that Brookes – the man convicted alongside Ferguson in 1987 by Queensland courts following one of the country’s most disturbing child rape cases – was put in contact with Ferguson just eight weeks ago by Centrelink.

Documents show that Centrelink contacted Brookes on July 10, on behalf of Ferguson, passing on a request for contact and providing him with Ferguson’s personal details.

Centrelink claimed it was doing so under a service it provided to clients, which helped them to locate friends and relatives with whom they may have lost contact.

The Centrelink letter reads: “Dear Mr Brookes . . . Mr Dennis Ferguson has contacted Centrelink and asked if we could contact you on his behalf,” the letter read. “If you wish to communicate with the above mentioned party you can reach him at . . .”

The letter was sent only three weeks after Brookes had been rearrested for a breach of his bail conditions which applied to another conviction in NSW in 2001.

At the time of their contact, Brookes was on release under an extended supervision order. He was arrested again on July 29 and is back behind bars awaiting a hearing in October, after an alleged breach of the order which prevented him from contacting certain people.

The pair, then both from Lilyfield in Sydney, were jailed in Queensland in 1987 after abducting three children from NSW, taking them to an Ascot motel in inner Brisbane where the children were raped and subjected to vile and indecent acts.

Ferguson’s presence has caused community uproar after the NSW Department of Housing granted him a five-year lease on a public housing unit in Ryde.

After being released in 1999, Brookes returned to NSW where, two years later, he reoffended, after luring a boy into a toilet where he assaulted him. After being released, he returned to Queensland in 2005, a year after Ferguson was finally released from prison. He was again arrested in NSW in February 2007 and convicted to 12 months imprisonment.

The NSW Government tried to keep Brookes behind bars, applying for a continuing detention order in 2008. The courts rejected the appeal.

 

 

 

 

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Just Doesn’t Register

by Derryn Hinch
Some developments in Victoria over the past 24 hours have given me added proof – as if I needed it – that this country must bring in a national register for sex offenders. Like they have in the United States.  Like they have in Britain. Like they are trying to bring in on a state level in West Australia. Over the past 24 hours I have received emails and phone calls from worried  parents in Narre Warren South.  They believe that one of Australia’s most notorious serial sex offenders against children is living in their town. His name is Dennis Ferguson. Some of the emails were very persuasive. One woman wrote seeking my help although she did say ‘I understand, after your recent troubles, if you choose to ignore me, but this area is a family area, with many children in harm’s way’. The email went on: In the past day, rumours have circulated that convicted paedophile, Dennis Ferguson, was relocated to a house on Ormond Rd, Narre Warren Sth which is where I live and work. This has today been confirmed by a member of Vic Police who wishes to remain nameless’. Then she said: ‘All I am asking is the public is made aware of this situation and the laws be changed to stop vile animals like living among us and on our tax dollar. Please Derryn, help our community in any way possible. The people of Narre Warren Sth are desperate’. Another confused Ferguson with another vile creature nicknamed Mr. Baldy. You can understand their fears. There’s a Pre to Year 12 school only about a kilometre away, a kindergarten and A Catholic primary school not far away. Another concerned resident sent me a text message saying, in part: ‘I’ve spoken to some of the parents from the P-12 school. There’s supposedly a rally planned for Amberly Park shopping Centre at 4p.m. Thursday. There’s a lot of rumour and hysteria amongst the community’. Understandably. But the rumours are not true. I spoke last night to Narre Warren Police and to Police Media. And I received a statement from VicPol that  Dennis Ferguson ‘ is not living in Victoria’. Full stop. A categorical denial.   This morning I received this statement from Victoria Police: ‘There has been speculation via facebook regarding alleged sightings of convicted paedophile, Dennis Ferguson. Victoria Police can confirm that this information is entirely incorrect. Dennis Ferguson is not living in Victoria. We would also like to stress that members of the community should not take matters into their own hands regarding any of the apparent sightings’.   It seems Narre Warren South and specifically  Ormond Road were mentioned several days ago on that, not always reliable, paedophile watchdog internet site called Mako. In fairness, the article did say the sighting was unconfirmed. Somebody without proof also started a Facebook page called ‘Get this guy out of the Narre Warren Sth area’. An official national register of sex offenders would scotch these rumours before they spread.  It works well in the United States. As I said on air when I got released from House Arrest the official Californian Government site says: ‘Welcome to the California Department of Justice’s Internet website, which lists designated registered sex offenders in California’. Many  American states now have government internet sites listing the photos, crimes and current addresses of sex offenders. Hundreds of them. That information is easily available to the public and there has not been a wave of vigilante violence since President Bill Clinton signed a Federal Megan’s Law in 1996  requiring states to disclose to the public information about sex offenders. In Britain they have a similar law called Sarah’s Law. Why don’t we have it here?  What’s even worse in Victoria is that we not only don’t have a public register, our courts go to great length to suppress the names, photos, addresses of the most serious, serial, sex offenders as part of a deal when they let them back into an unsuspecting community. Many of them, like Dennis Ferguson, refused any rehabilitation courses in jail and many, again like Ferguson have nil chance of  curbing their behaviour.

WHAT on earth were Brett Collins and Dennis Ferguson thinking? The strategy of releasing a photograph to the media of Ferguson giving the  thumbs-up to an unidentified photographer on Coogee Beach seems like madness and  will almost certainly reignite calls for the notorious child sex offender to be  hunted down and banished from the undisclosed Sydney suburb he has now made his  home.

Defiance or an attempt to ease community fears? ...  Dennis Ferguson, left,  and Brett Collins at Coogee Beach. The photograph was provided to the  <i>Herald</i> by Mr Collins.Defiance or an attempt to ease community fears? …  Dennis Ferguson, left,   and Brett Collins at Coogee Beach. The photograph was provided to the   Herald by Mr Collins.

And unleash a potentially bigger and more violent response than we saw  before.

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But could it also be a genuine, albeit high-risk, attempt by Collins – a  staunch defender of Ferguson from the outset – to make us think more deeply and  carefully about our reaction to Ferguson’s presence in the community? The picture is unquestionably disturbing, carefully framed as it is with  toddlers playing in the surf behind the two men. For those who can – or want –  to remember them, it is immediately reminiscent of the images of children on the  sinister video taken by the notorious pedophile Robert ”Dolly” Dunn which was  played in evidence to Justice James Wood’s royal commission into the NSW Police  Service more than a decade ago. Of course, Collins and Ferguson are not at the beach to offend. They are thumbing their noses at the lynch mob, a perception reinforced by  the timing of the photograph’s release to coincide with the apprehended violence  order application against Ferguson’s chief antagonist, the Ryde resident Sean  Killgallon. Those who know him say the stunt is pure Brett Collins, which recent  evidence bears out. Recall how Collins responded to residents’ demands that Ferguson be banished  by turning up on his doorstep for the television cameras while cradling a bunch  of flowers as a housewarming gift. The toddlers playing in the background of this beach picture will be  instantly identified by their parents. The residents of Coogee may be concerned about the suggestion it puts forward  that Ferguson has moved to their area. And many readers may also feel outrage at  the Herald’s decision to publish the photograph. There are shades of the Bill Henson affair in this. And, although this  photograph is certainly not art, there is no question that just as Henson’s  provocative images of children created fierce debate about censorship in art,  this episode will get the public thinking about the equally difficult issue of  rehabilitating pedophiles. It’s an issue that, so far, as a society we have  failed dismally to resolve.

Convicted paedophile Dennis Ferguson found dead inside an  apartment in Sydney

        Notorious paedophile found dead

Convicted paedophile Dennis Ferguson has been found dead inside his Sydney  apartment
Dennis Ferguson

Convicted paedophile Dennis  Ferguson found dead. Source: The Daily Telegraph

A LAST ditch effort to ban notorious paedophile  Dennis Ferguson from all public parks and pools will be launched by police  today.

CONVICTED paedophile Dennis Ferguson has been found dead inside his Sydney  apartment, police confirmed this morning.  

Police said the body of a 64-year-old man was found inside an apartment in  Surry Hills yesterday. A NSW Police spokesman said paramedics found his body about 1pm and called  police. The  Dennis Ferguson case “The 64-year-old man was found deceased inside the home,” the spokesman  said. “A post mortem examination will be conducted to discover the cause of death  but initial inquiries suggest no suspicious circumstances. “A report is being prepared for the coroner.”

Paedophile Dennis Ferguson

Paedophile Dennis Ferguson sold  biscuits for the RSPCA in Sydney.

Dennis  Ferguson views himself as the victim It is understood his body had been in the apartment for several days before  being discovered. In 1987 Ferguson was jailed for 14 years after he and male lover Alexandria  George Brookes abducted three children from NSW, taking them to an Ascot motel  in inner Brisbane where the children were raped and subjected to vile and  indecent acts. Ferguson claimed he was innocent, accusing one of the boys he molested of  committing the crimes but a jury found him guilty of all counts of abduction and  assault of the three children. He was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment by a  judge who noted there was no chance he would be rehabilitated.

Convicted pedophile Dennis Ferguson

Convicted pedophile Dennis  Ferguson released from the Wolston Correctional Centre in 2007 in Brisbane.  Picture: Philip Norrish

The Dennis Ferguson trial He was released in 2004, but authorities were forced to move him several  times from towns including Ipswich  and Toowoomba due to public anger at  his presence. He was eventually relocated to NSW. In November 2005, Ferguson was charged with sexually assaulting a  five-year-old girl at her home in the Queensland town of Dalby. In a rare legal  move, the judge granted Ferguson a trial without a jury, as he considered  Ferguson would not receive a fair trial by jury. Ferguson was released when the judge found that while the girl had been  molested while Ferguson and fellow convicted child sexual abuser Allan Guy had  been at her house, it could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt that Ferguson  had been responsible.

Convicted paedophile Dennis Ferguson

Convicted paedophile Dennis  Ferguson restrained by NSW officers. Picture: Alan Pryke Source: The Daily Telegraph

In 2009, there was outrage when Ferguson’s presence was revealed to  neighbours in the Sydney suburb of Ryde,  prompting a public outcry that  forced the NSW government to change laws in order to relocate him. Ferguson  said at the time  he posed no threat to children in the general community,  but would consider chemical castration if it was deemed safe and effective. He also said people who were sexually attracted to children, over time, lost  interest in them. Ferguson last made headlines in July 2012, when he was spotted at Circular  Quay selling biscuits to raise money for the RSPCA.