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They persisted in using outdated tactics and the result was over 600,000 deaths and more than 80,000 amputations during its four deadly years.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


A Robot Funeral?

I admit somewhat reluctantly that I have had emotional involvements with things, inanimate objects that is, particularly motors. As if “start you barstard” could actually work but you try it on anyway. Men can become really attached to a gurney. What every man needs is a Gurney. It gives us the three things any man needs for a semi spiritual experience. Instant Results, men love instant results. With a gurney you have got dirty concrete then its clean. None of this what are you thinking stuff. No emotions involved, no discussion just instant realisable results.

Secondly it involves repetitive, mindless motion. In the words of Mark Gungor a marriage expert, men’s minds are made up of tiny little boxes. Each box can contain only one thing. Everything has a box, everything should be put in its right box. Except our nothing box. We have one box with nothing in it. It’s our favourite box. When our women ask us “What are we thinking?” and we say: “Nothing” we are not kidding. Our women don’t have a nothing box and don’t understand why we men love and need our nothing box. The best way to get into our nothing box is to do something with mindless repetitive motion.

Thirdly and most importantly it has a motor. Any man will tell you that there is nothing better than the sound of a Briggs and Stratton in the morning.

Apparently we are becoming emotionally attached to robots too. In an interview with 23 explosive ordinance personnel who regularly used robots, Julie Carpenter, a Ph.D. in education at the University of Washington concluded that they were emotionally attached to their robots. They attributed them with feelings, pet names and genders to the point that they may in future be reluctant to put them in harm’s way.
“They would say they were angry when a robot became disabled because it is an important tool, but then they would add ‘poor little guy,’ or they’d say they had a funeral for it. These robots are critical tools they maintain, rely on, and use daily. They are also tools that happen to move around and act as a stand-in for a team member, keeping Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel at a safer distance from harm.  You don’t want someone to hesitate using one of these robots if they have feelings toward the robot that goes beyond a tool. If you feel emotionally attached to something, it will affect your decision-making.” – Julie Carpenter

I must admit I have never known a man to give a motor a funeral let alone a 21 gun salute as suggested during comments on Reddit. We did keep lots of old motors out the back of the machinery shed on the farm. My father had that age old excuse that they “might come in handy one day”. If he did throw something away it seemed uncanny that a short time later a need for the discarded part appeared like magic. Consequently he never threw any part away. He could of course be accused of border line hoarding. In fact my mother did often accuse him of border line hoarding. I knew of course that it was secret men’s business. I never questioned it and now have a garage full of parts that might one day come in handy.

Related Articles:
Empathy for military robots could affect outcomes on the battlefield

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

I Got Done by an Insect Drone

I watched a chilling documentary long ago about British troops in Ireland. It followed a young soldier starting his tour of duty with an army company. He was stationed in a fortified barracks on the cross roads of four streets. Each platoon of soldiers were responsible for a street. The soldiers had to familiarise themselves with every resident in the street they patrolled. They had to be able to recognise them on sight as well as their regular visitors. Every morning surveillance footage from hidden cameras everywhere were monitored for any suspicious nightly movements, cross referenced to determine all movement to and from that street and to other streets. Young clean skins were considered the greatest danger. Uncle Sean a known IRA sympathizer might have a young 18 year old first cousin with no previous form that he could recruit to the cause. He would use him as a driver to avoid police harassment and as a messenger under the army’s radar, a clean skin. The way the army attempted to discourage these young men was to have all new soldiers study the young men’s mug shots so that the first time that soldier went out to patrol their street they could verbal that young man as they went past. “We know you, young Hamish and we know all about your uncle Sean and one day we will have you in the Maze Prison for the rest of your life.” They made these nasty little threats to attempt to pre-empt any aid the young man might give his uncle. “I can’t Uncle Sean they already know me, a soldier I’ve never seen before threatened me just the other day on the street.” As you watched these soldiers patrol the street you saw their movement training centred around using passing civilians as human shields from potential snipers across the street. Something not lost on the residents and guaranteed to feed the hatred. The British army’s techniques in Ireland were then considered state of the art in surveillance and counter terrorism.

One very big problem emerges however when one society does this to another which the British learned the hard way. The IRA decided to give the British a taste of their own medicine. You do this to us on our streets then we will sow some fear on yours, so the bombs started to go off on the streets of London. So where do you think the hidden cameras and monitoring techniques were then deployed? You got it, on the streets of their own cities. They began to spy on their own people for their own safety. Sound familiar! So petty crim Freddy gets spotted doing an “off the back of the truck” sale in the car park at the back of the pub. Nigel gets picked up doing a “dodgy deal done dirt cheap” down some dark alley. Not that we condone petty crime but if you have ever had to live on the low end of life you will know that looking the other way is a well established survival technique if you are poor, disadvantaged and unemployed. Take it away and you get a compliant, colourless and fearful society. Just ask any German who lived through the forties.

The major military spending in the American air force under president Obama’s watch has been the drone program. Much controversy has been attached to this program of remote killing. From the border violations of friendly nations to the collateral damage of civilians, mistaken targets and targeting gone wrong all has been condoned as a necessary evil in the war on terror. The video game cries of victory following the muted black and white video explosions seen in clips on YouTube from soldiers who seem to have no guilt in self documenting the death they deal has been seen by us all. I don’t know about you but it sure as shit shocks me.
Well true to history, reports have emerged this week of the FBI deploying drones for domestic surveillance in the skies over their own people. Off course this is in a “very, very minimal way” FBI Director Robert Mueller stated in senate testimony last Wednesday.
It’s very seldom used and generally used in a particular incident when you need the capability,” Mr Mueller said. “It is very narrowly focused on particularised cases and particularised needs.” I feel OK now, that statement has me feeling all warm and fuzzy.
The Department of Homeland Security has been using drones for some time along the US Mexican border. It makes the movie Sleep Dealer a 2008 futuristic science fiction film directed by Alex Rivera hauntingly relevant of times to come. Apparently the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ‘‘have purchased drones and are exploring their use in law enforcement.’’ In march of this year on the Senate floor, legislative action allowing the President power to order a drone strike against a ‘‘non combatant’’ American inside the United States was blocked at the last minute.

Drone technology itself is developing rapidly. Reports of the development of stealth drones, miniature drones and airship drones are being released regularly. I have listed some of these in the Related Articles below for your interest. Private sector “Droning” is also becoming an issue from security companies to self-help home surveillance to just pure nuisance surveillance. Now any idiot with a $300 quadcopter with a GoPro camera attached controlled by an app on their IPad can become a suburban pain in the arse. Everything from “perving” on a bird (girl) basking buck naked in her back yard to hovering in the flight path of an approaching passenger jet is being reported. I read one account of some “nutter” in England who wanted to see how high his quadcopter could go only to have it snatched away by upper atmospheric winds to finally fall to earth somewhere in Switzerland. He had the Police turn up on his doorstep charging him for attempting to spy on another sovereign nation.

This all sounds a bit “thin edge of the wedge” to me. Creeping, incremental small print legislation late at night and behind closed door committee room voting and before we know it we will have insect drones hovering everywhere for our own good. A bit paranoid you think? Maybe, but I predict sales of sling shots will double.

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Me and My Robot

Way back my friend and I bought a Tandy robot arm. We assembled it like a Lego kit and linked it to a PC. What will we get it to do? We asked ourselves. Something simple, let’s see if we can get it to move a coffee cup from one spot to another. Four thousand lines of code later we are ready for a test run. It worked except it crushed the coffee cup. We fine-tuned, tested it again and it crushed the next coffee cup. Finally it crushed the last coffee cup in the joint. We were so frustrated sitting there with a table top covered in shards of ceramic shrapnel, what we needed was a good cup of coffee and a cigarette. Watching us was a newly sleepless father who observed: “If you blokes could get that thing to recognise a baby’s cry, change a nappy and put a bottle in its mouth you would make a fortune” Inspired we proceeded, but for some inexplicable random reason it would sometimes reverse. That Tandy robot arm would “out of the blue” wrap the nappy around the plastic baby’s head and jam the bottle up it’s fictious you know where. We never got passed the proof of concept phase.

Later in Wired magazine I was reading an article from a robotics expert who asserted we were going about it in the wrong way. Trying to design a robot in the image of a human was wrong. We evolved out of the trees too fast he claimed; our resulting skeletal design was flawed and inefficient. It condemned humanity to universal back pain and weak ankles.  We needed to base robotics on insects he said. Exoskeletons to protect the electronics, huge load bearing ratios that allow ants to carry ten times their own weight would be a better design model. His vision of the vacuum cleaner of the future was a main self-propelled unit you would program to follow a determined path around your lounge room. The second part would be hundreds of mechanical cockroach’y things you let loose in your lounge room. They would be light averse and hide under your furniture during the day. At night time they would come out and pick up dust n stuff. When you sent the main unit in on its rounds they would all scuttle out, drop their guts in front of it to pick up, and scuttle back and hide under your furniture. You would always have a spotless lounge room.

My problem would be creeping through the lounge room on my way to one of those late night urinations you need after five glasses of red wine and have one of those little metal mothers run over my foot in the dark. I would stomp thousands of dollars to mechanical death before I knew what I was doing. I’m sorry sir your warranty doesn’t cover you attacking your own vacuum cleaner.

What is more likely than human robots in our own image may well be the concept being shown in a great Canadian Sci-Fi drama called Continuum.  The main character Kiera is chipped into a smart suit. Instead of creating robots with artificial intelligence why not work with what we already have in our brainbox with radically amplified human intelligence (IA – Intelligence Amplification).

This technology has started with a bit of nootropic enhancement. The first step is to create direct neural links to information, a “telepathic Google.” Secondly a kind of built in “Google glasses” to develop brain-computer interfaces that augment the visual cortex. The third step involves the genuine augmentation of the pre-frontal cortex. To do this three major technological advances are required. An appropriate manufacturing technology which would involve nano-manufacturing techniques to design the millions of electrode brain-computer interface connections required. We need to discover exactly what each neuron does and locate the exact positions in each individual. Finally we are nowhere close to discovering the fine grained detail of brain function.

Would this cerebral overclocking lead to super intelligent insanity? How much augmentation is too much?  How would this IA’d human cope with a local community committee meeting? How would you talk down someone with super intelligent insanity?

As Ernest Hemingway said, “An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools.” Somewhere out there near 2060 you may well want to pay to be chipped along with your dog.

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