Melted my Mind during a Mind Meld!

For all dedicated and part time “Trekkies” both young and old it was a sad day this year to learn of the passing of Dr Spock, Leonard Simon Nimoy. Probably the most type cast actor in the history of television.
“Spocky” was capable of conducting a Vulcan mind meld. The Vulcan mind meld was a telepathic link between two individuals, allowing for the exchange of thoughts, thus in essence allowing the participants to become one mind.
Even the fictional character Dr McCoy quoted back in the day “Vulcan mind melds; utter foolishness. Anybody with an ounce of sense wouldn’t share his brain with someone else; would you? I certainly wouldn’t.”
The first real step was taken in 2013 when researchers Rajesh Rao and Andrea Stocco, completed the first human-to-human mind meld, with one researcher sending a brain signal via the Internet to control the hand motion of a colleague sitting across the Seattle campus of the University of Washington
“The Internet was a way to connect computers, and now it can be a way to connect brains. We want to take the knowledge of a brain and transmit it directly from brain to brain.”
Andrea Stocco – University of Washington Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences

This is not a standalone step but rather a progression in the decade’s long research into brain computer interface.
Implications from technological change on the battlefield have always driven innovation and invention.

During the American Civil War, field commanders did not realise the impact the new rifled musket and mini ball would have on tactics.

They persisted in using outdated tactics and the result was over 600,000 deaths and more than 80,000 amputations during its four deadly years.

The longer range had soldiers running into the face of at least three volleys rather than one and rarely coming to grips with the enemy.

The spinning bullet striking any arm or leg would split the bone and invariably require amputation.

Any visit to antique, second hand and curio shops throughout America reveals a multitude of artefacts and inventions used by civil war amputees in the years after the war.
It is not surprising then given the number of amputee veterans resulting from IED’s (improvised explosive devices) during the last decade of America’s military efforts that major funding has come from the U.S. Army Research Office and the Pentagon’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA.

The primary interest is brain-computer interfaces, in which electrical signals generated from one brain, are translated by a computer into commands that can move a mechanical prosthesis helping paralysed patients regain some power of movement.
But brain to brain experimentation has some bioethicists raising concerns about the more controversial uses.

They have a particular concern with experimentation into brain-networking. This method involves the linking brains together to create a collective network of thought.
For example in recent experiments, Miguel Nicolelis and his colleagues at Duke University wired the brains of four rats and had the same signal delivered into their brains and when a computer monitor showed their thoughts were synchronised they were offered a reward.

They were able to manipulate the brain patterns of the rats so they shared a collective thought pattern.

The resulting manipulation enabled the minds of the rats to act as an information-processing chain.

In other words they were able to train one rat to produce a brain activity and pass this onto the second rat that in turn passed it onto the third.
Don’t buy any shares in a rat trap company I’m thinking.
They have also demonstrated this with monkeys which don’t bode well for my mates at the pub.
“This is the first demonstration of a shared brain-machine interface (BMI), a paradigm that has been translated successfully over the past decades from studies in animals all the way to clinical applications,” Miguel A. Nicolelis – Director of the Centre for Neuro-engineering at Duke University

Will some futuristic marriage celebrant have a marriage mind meld ritual chip planted in the couples brains as part of the wedding service conducted on a holographic beach complete with virtual guests?

Forever after when your darling asks you “what are you thinking?” You will be truly screwed.
No more nothing, saying nothing will no longer do.

Related Articles:
Scientists achieve first human-to-human ‘mind meld’
Real-Life Mind Meld? Scientists Link Animal Brains
Scientists ‘mind-meld’ a rat and monkey
Researcher controls colleague’s motions in 1st human brain-to-brain interface
Direct Brain-to-Brain Communication in Humans


Big Brothered at your Favourite Bar

My Canadian cousin told me that barmaids in Canada and the US sometimes had to pay to work in a bar. They were paid no retainer or salary and depended on big tips from rich patrons and had not only to pay the owner an upfront fee but a ongoing percentage for the privilege of working in the bar. No way I thought! The only tip you get as a barman in Australia is the favourite in the fourth race at Randwick. And it would be bound to lose.

In Australia its first come first served and the devil takes the hindmost. If the Boss catches you casually chatting to a patron you are quickly told you are not working hard enough. It’s the opposite for a US barmaid; she has to talk to her patrons to get the tip. It’s a client relationship. She is a substitute mother, lover, lifestyle coach and therapist that just happens to serve you alcohol. The bar staff develop a cooperative harmony that would be the envy of any project manager.

If your barmaid is with another client when you come in, another barmaid after a passing whispered consultation informs you that Cheryl is currently with another client and will be with you shortly. She then serves you your preferred poison and returns to rotating around her own clients. When you leave, a proportional part of your tip is given to the other barmaid. I wondered how that would work in the last 5 minutes of happy hour with a Friday night crowd in a typical Aussie pub.

If an Australian drinker is stupid enough to give you a tip, you have to put it in a jar and split it with all the other staff at the end of the night.

As you walk up to the doorway of the digital big brother bar of the future before you even get inside a camera at the door with a facial detection feature will link with an app like “Scene Tap” on your phone and tell you the current male to female ratio, average age and activity level. Either warning you of a total waste of your hormones, or one day capable of warning you that two previous one night stands are in there or that horrible hairy barstard full of himself who spent the whole night following and hitting on you last week. You may well walk away before you even get in the place.

Your favourite barman or barmaid checks a positioning system that monitors traffic patterns by Wi-Fi pinging your phone and knows you are coming before you get there and has your preferred beer and barnuts ready with your repeat customer discount already applied.  If you are a new patron it will present pictures and profiles of the bar staff for you to select from. Like a viewing room in a brothel without the sex.

Meanwhile the bar owner using various sensor setups will rotate and top up with low pressure nitrogen all those opened bottles of house wine to prevent them from oxidising, keeping them perpetually fresh and cool. The latest installed Cirrus Ice Ball Press will do away with the need for those primitive ice cubes. His beer lines will be monitored by Alcohol Analytic sensors that will track stats about beer consumption, tracking popular brands and busting bar staff drinking and those sly give aways. Alongside this will be Barmaxx scales placed under liquor bottles with RFID (Radio-frequency identification) stickers so the 20 brands of vodka will keep track of themselves.

With Touch Tunes installed on your phone you will Wi-Fi request the music of your choice on the bars jukebox, check what’s played and coming up. You will even be able to pay extra money to get your request moved up the queue ahead of the rap crap wanted on the next table.

Is nothing sacred? It’s the thin edge of the wedge. What’s next? Robotic bar tenders rolling up on context sensitive ball bearings, reaching into a database of bad jokes. “Hello Mr Smith, how’s the wife and dog, one and the same?” Will we need bartenders and barmaids at all or will we use “Pour my beer” systems while wearing radio-frequency identification (RFID) bracelets tied to our direct debit bar tab.
God help us when we reach our limit and it calls a cop. A self-restraining bar stool that automatically wraps steel straps across your thighs and holds you in place until some robocop arrives and prints you a fine for public drunkenness.

It beggars believe. I might have to move to Wilcannia. Surely it won’t get installed there in my lifetime. An Australian pub without being able to watch a well poured beer by a sympathetic barman or an all knowing barmaid would be a life not worthy living.

Related Articles:
Inside the Bar of the Very Near Future, Where You’re the Bartender

Interface Oversight

After my last post on the lack of a computer interface surpassing the one screen, one keyboard and one mouse model, I got a hard time from my students walking into my classroom on the following Monday. “We thought you would have known about this” they said. I love adult education. You facilitate learning rather than the old chalk and talk one person walking encyclopedia, and you will walk out of a class knowing something as a teacher you didn’t know when you walked in.

So what did I forget to mention in my last post? A very clever student said “Oculus Rift” Now I did qualify in my post that I was talking about a general computing interface and not a gaming interface and the Oculus Rift is a specific 3D gaming interface. But let’s not split hairs. I was probably misleading with the statement “Virtual Reality” which has always been associated with gaming.  I am thankful for being corrected and watching the video clip on the official Oculus Rift website I thought the lead designer a very impressive young man with what looks to be a very good product with lots of potential.

My next omission pointed out from other side of the class room is the imminent release of the PS4 gaming system. The specs are serious. You wouldn’t go wrong having a PC with the same. In fact it would be hard to get a PC same price same specs. Be careful however because some of the visual trailers on the web for the new PS4 are fake.

My thanks to those students for updating me. One thing a teacher always likes to foster with their students is to encourage them to change a long held opinion on receiving new information. Failing to do so can lead to bigotry and false values.

Whatever Happened to the Interface?

In the last ten years everything in computing has gone nuts. I can hire an 8 core processor for $20 an hour if I want to do some serious neural network data mining. I can get a graphics card and screen combination that can reveal a black head on Paris Hiltons nose from 40 paces. If you look at this table a 12MB Hard Drive in 1955 cost $74,800.00 while in 2013 a Seagate 3TB Hard Drive is $140. When I ask students why is this so they can’t tell me. The closest I get is “Well the technology got better”. Well duh!! That’s bleeding obvious. How did the technology get better? Answer me in the comments section and you will get five marks. But what happened to the interface? Why are we still stuck with the one screen, one keyboard and one mouse user interface?   

The keyboard is a joke. You do realise the QWERTY keyboard was the solution to a physical problem that hasn’t existed since the 60’s. A really fast typist on an old typewriter could go so fast they could cross the metal bars on each key and jam up the typewriter. Solution, separate the most commonly used keys into a totally illogical sequence called QWERTY. For the last million years, stayed and stodgy education systems still teach how to type on a keyboard designed to solve a  problem that no longer exists. There was a keyboard called the Dvorak keyboard perfectly suited to the new electronic typewriters and computers but you see if you can buy one in your local computer store let alone find an education institution that will teach you how to use it. We actually shouldn’t need keyboards anymore.

The mouse was another joke. It was introduced to solve a sales problem as far as I’m concerned. In the 80’s someone would walk into your computer store see the keyboard on a computer and say “There is no point me buying a computer because I can’t type”, then walk out, no sale.  With the introduction of the mouse you had a better chance of closing the sale. “You don’t have to know how to type Sir, to use the computer you can just use the mouse it’s really easy, trust me”. No it’s not. If you have taught as many introductory computer classes as I have you will know that learning to use a mouse for the first time is by no means easy. Someone will call for help and you will go over to find them holding the mouse at the edge of the desk. “I’ve run out of desk, what do I do?  Let’s not even go into the double click dilemma. Take it from me, before you start teaching your introductory class go to every computer and increase the double click rate. It will save you from a world of hurt. You won’t get torn apart by a crazed group of irate pensioners. Kids born after 1983 can’t understand why anyone would have a problem using a mouse.
Don’t get me wrong the mouse is the preferred weapon of choice for many applications. I wouldn’t want to be doing a Photoshop touch up by keystrokes. But the myth that the mouse is easy to use is just that, a myth. Back in the day when people were faster than processors and keyboard shortcuts were still available on you average menu bar I would gladly give you a race and put my money down. You use your “clicky clacky” crappy mouse and I will use my keyboard shortcuts and win every time.

Great idea Microsoft to release a touch screen operating system great for smart phones and tablets but useless to anybody with a traditional desktop or laptop non touch screen computing solution. The first thing I did when my “Buddhist godson” showed me Windows 8 on his laptop was to try to touch and drag on the screen, a senior moment I know!  With his cheeky quizzical smile he replied “It’s a laptop Uncle Pete it doesn’t have a touch screen”.  “Well what good is it on your laptop then?” My reply.
The fact that Microsoft has recalled Windows 8 for modification after user complaint indicates it’s still a solution looking for its problem it terms of a true, intuitive, ubiquitous and universal touch screen operating system. When my young mentor took me for a gamers run through Windows 8 on a tablet on the other hand, I liked it, I was impressed, it was neat and simple, and when in doubt the classical window was easy to get to. Then again Touch screens are fine unless you have big fingers and wear glasses. We deserve more given the advances in all other areas of personal computing except user interface design, seemingly frozen in a technological time warp.

Where is my virtual reality head set? Is it a gamer’s version of Google Glasses still to be invented? Where is my “Minority Report”, six degrees of freedom hand gesture interaction with a smart glass human machine interface? Where is my everywhere and every when, universal User Interface, my spatial operating environment?

The “Minority Report” was an art-house movie directed by Steven Spielberg and released in 2002. To reflect the technological world in 2054, Alex McDowell lead production designer commissioned John Underkoffler at the MIT media lab to lead a team to design the interfaces that would appear in the film. They took on the design work like it was a research and development project. The scenes with Tom Cruise using the interface are a Sci-Fi classic. The result still stands today as a believable and achievable future interface.  It’s like a defacto standard for what we should have had already. 

The new Xbox Kinect 720 approaches release to enhance our living room entertainment interface and has established a dedicated following. Yet the new version will recognise just the opening and closing of your hand and not the six degrees of freedom illustrated by Underkoffler.  Microsoft IllumiRoom seems a cheap eye candy alternative to the real thing. Controller design still seems to involve long term arthritis of the thumbs, nothing really new. Some arcade parlour virtual rooms like the Ultimate Battlefield 3 Simulator that shoot you back with paintballs has some novelty value for first person gamers but little application in everyday computing.

An exciting possibility emerged in 2010 showcased by Tan Le at TED of the Emotiv system.  A brain computer interface allowing the user to think commands into a computer. Tran Lee a refugee from Vietnam, escaping on a boat at four years old going on to become Australian of the year and CEO of the Emotiv Company is someone all Australians can be proud of.
I didn’t know that each person’s brain has unique cortical folding like a fingerprint. Emotiv solved this problem to bring to the market this amazing headset.

Perhaps it’s a combination solution that will bring us our virtual reality in reality. The Emotiv EEG headset combined with Underkoffler’s gloves and Google glasses. Whatever it is its way behind schedule.

Related Articles

John Underkoffler: Pointing to the future of UI

Ultimate Battlefield 3 Simulator

Tan Le: A headset that reads your brainwaves