Archive for the ‘Insanity’ Category

In 1981 William Gibson wrote his seminal short story, “Johnny Mnemonic” which was later included in his book “Burning Chrome” and adapted to the big screen in 1995 featuring none other than Keanu Reeves of The Matrix in an unsurprisingly similar role. Gibson has since been crowned the father of CyberPunk; a postmodern genre of science fiction characterized by “high tech and low life” social extremes. One of the things that made Gibson’s work so amazing was his ability to think into the seemingly not so distant and possible future of technology and geopolitical fallout with a somewhat idealistic and slightly dark perspective.

Gibson had no idea we would soon delve into a World Wide Web of digital and virtual life interconnecting each of us through information technology advances and simple, sublime but powerful tools and massively revolutionary ideas like Facebook, Twitter and the iPhone. In his story Johnny Mnemonic, the main character, stores secret information on a hard drive implanted in his brain in order to smuggle the data from one place to another as a courier because the information itself was too sensitive to be transmitted over the “Net”; Gibson’s forward thinking, virtual reality equivalent of what we now see as the Internet and an inspiration for the aforementioned, Wachowski brothers, The Matrix.

The idea that, in the real world, you could interface a human brain with a computer has often been the outer reach of science fiction writers and Gibson’s work was once the pinnacle of that idea. The evolution of that idea inspired the Wachowski brothers to create what Gibson himself said “[The matrix] is arguably the ultimate cyberpunk artifact”, as they expanded upon Gibson’s idea of not only interfacing technology with the brain but extending it to the mind by culminating their epic trilogy with the main character Neo achieving mind-over-computer abilities in his “real world”.

Even a decade ago it all seemed so very science fiction and fantasy. A decade from now, it may be more common than we ever thought possible.

Over the past few years, some advances in technology have been made that are no less than amazing as universities all over the world have tackled the “Brain Computer Interface” challenges. The results have been rapid, revolutionary, thought provoking and even in some cases a bit scary.

Scientists at the Honda Research Institute announced in 2009 that they had created a helmet to control their robot, Asimo, using EEG (electroencephalogram) technology. Though this technology wasn’t ready for commercial application at the time and had it’s problems, finding solutions to those problems was only a matter of time.

In 2011 a company called NeuroSky began selling a device to the general public$100 that uses EEG technology allowing users to control software and hardware with nothing but their mind. NeuroSky’s vision is one that is truly revolutionary thinking as they say, “We will see a day in the near future where heart attacks will be mitigated, seizures avoided, machines operated, movies edited, games controlled, REM prolonged, bullseyes scored, and lessons learned using only the power of biosensors”. So far, they’ve already started putting their ideas to work in some increasingly creative ways and one example is Necomimi, their personally controlled cat ears.

So maybe thought controlled robotic cat ears aren’t exactly the next revolutionary step in telepathic computer operation. Neurosky however, isn’t the only company making leaps and bounds in human computer interfaces using the mind. In April of 2012, professor Jose Millan of the Federal Polytechnic School in Lausanne, Switzerland demonstrated the ability to enable a paraplegic man to control a robot 60 kilometers away using EEG technology. His goals are to develop wheel chair controls, electric skin sensors for amputees with cybernetic limbs, and spinal chord implants that would allow paraplegics to walk again; possibly starting clinical trials within the next year.

With technology like this developing not only in research but in the commercial world, one has to recognize the similarity between it’s evolution and the evolution of the MP3 music format and the entrance they made to the commercial market prior to the resulting and indefinably revolutionary iPod by Apple. Technology is exploding at an astounding rate. In less than a decade, the wave of new advances in communication with smart phones and now tablets as well as social networking has changed the very landscape of not only our lives but of our politics. Through the expansion of the Internet into the Twitterverse and beyond, we see a wealth of new ideas exploding into culture best described as the memeverse where meme’s are “units of cultural information”. No one can deny the seemingly accurate and ubiquitous “There’s an app for that” which propelled Apple’s iPhone to unprecedented popularity and success, making Apple one of the largest companies in the world.

While we allow our inner child to bask in the amazement and fantasy of mind controlled robots and computers you control by thinking, actually being reality rather than fiction, there is a slightly darker side to this story that our giddy enthusiasm might tend, as a society, to overlook. We live in troubled times, both economically and politically. While our society attempts to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of technology, so does our government and many of those in government up until a few years ago didn’t understand the difference between email and text messaging let alone Twitter, Facebook or human brain computer interfaces. We can’t exactly call our elected officials Internet savvy; or can we?

In 2012 on the heals of the NDAA, which many claim is a power grab by the Executive Branch to empower the President with the ability to indefinitely detain enemies of the state without trial or their constitutionally protected right of due process, Congress presented the American people, SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) which failed due to it’s obvious overreach and unpopularity followed by none other than the mother of all Orwellian cyber spy plans, CISPA (Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act). CISPA proposes the sharing of Internet traffic and other digital information between the government and technology and manufacturing companies under the auspice of enabling the government to investigate cyber threats and ensure against both internal and external cyber attacks. While CISPA is threatened with a Presidential veto over the failure of the bill to adequately protect civil liberties and safeguard constitutionally protected rights, it is clearly the first round in what will likely be a long and heated debate over our real world virtual reality.

Much of the debate over CISPA focuses on aspects of people’s use of the Internet through technologies like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Facebook and even iPhone Apps. The U.S. Government is now building a $2 Billion facility that covers a mind boggling 1 million square feet with four 25,000 sq. ft. server farms as part of the “Utah Data Center” for the National Security Agency as reported by Wired Magazine. Even Orwell wasn’t this Orwellian. The simple fact that the government is trying to build a facility designed to store more information than we have a mathematical name to describe should be disturbing to say the least.

Now consider that it is practically a foregone conclusion that the EEG technology enabling computers to read your mind and thus enabling us to subsequently manipulate computers and machines is going to advance at a rapid pace. It will get smaller, faster and cheaper. It will likely even be as common as your “smart phone”, after all, what’s smarter than a phone that you can talk to? A phone that knows what you are thinking.

If you’re web enabled phone knows what you are thinking however, so will the government if the NSA has anything to say about it. Because to them, that’s just information on the Internet. It begs the question of whether or not George Orwell made the same mistake in his opus “1984” that William Gibson made in regards to underestimating the evolution of fiction to reality. After all, in his distopian world controlled by an all-powerful oligarchy, even the infamous Ministry of Truth didn’t have the ability to read your mind but the NSA in the not so far foreseeable future very well could.

Who knows, maybe Tin Foil Hats might come into fashion after all.

I can remember, as a small child, going to Radio Shack with my father to buy, what was at the time, an amazing new innovation; a personal computer. It was a Tandy 1000. I spent hour after hour pouring through the instruction manual at the age of 11 learning how to create my very first program. After all, a boy needed to be able to track his baseball card and comic book collection. From playing with DOS to fighting with the paper feeder to playing my first online MUD as a teenager, that computer served our family well (aside from my escapades in virtuality). I spent a good deal of my misbegotten childhood in a dark room lit with monochrome green while the Internet gave birth to a new era of human existence and forever changed what we know as the Human Condition.

Ever since then, whether it was the Apple Newton, the Sony Cassiopia, the Gateway 100 series laptops or the ubiquitous eMachine and eventually the iPhone and iPad, I have had a distinct fascination with how technology not only changes our lives but changes the very nature of what we are by expanding the boundaries of human interaction and inter-connectivity.

In 1996, sitting in my brother’s apartment, we exchanged ideas about how this new thing called the Internet and the World Wide Web could change everything. We traded knowledge about graphic design, presentations and I was introduced to HTML through the HTML 1.1 Quick Start Guide, a fantastically small book by current standards that taught me everything I needed to know about making web pages in just a few short days. It was simple, it was powerful and it was absolutely amazing.

In a few short months we began developing websites for customers, looking for schools that could teach us more. To our dismay, most of those schools asked us to either come assist in teaching or we corrected their school’s website code for them. My mind became a sponge and the virtual reality of the protocol became my new frontier. Not only was a career born but a passion for developing new, innovative solutions had been found. A passion I hold to this day as a web developer, technologist, and IT administrator.

In the end, I have my father, my brother, Radio Shack and the Tandy 1000 of all things to thank for it.

As for this site, well, it’s a dedication to all things strange, odd and extraordinary I find that provide that same inkling of passion that once amazed me as a child when I first found something new and amazing, something that changed my world view. I thought it only appropriate that it be a WordPress site, since after all, I make my living partially with great thanks to the WordPress team and use their technology daily. So to them I tip my hat and to anything else that shows up here, let’s just say I found it intriguing enough to share.

I hope you enjoy.