Tag Archives: technology

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The future forty-seven years ago.

This clip of science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke discussing future potentialities for civilization is outstanding. Granted, his forecast of developments in the urban environment isn’t totally correct. The architectural examples don’t exactly match up. The version of the urban center presented represents a visual aesthetic of the future-past more familiar with The Jetsons than most metropolises of today. However, Clarke’s foresight in discussing  interconnectivity through what we now refer to as telecommunication is  on point. He’s talking about telepresence, a term coined some sixteen years later, more than a decade prior to the the home computer being introduced to the commerical market.

Watch the rest of the BBC Special [part 1 and part 2] to hear about the bioengineering of animals to create super-chimpanzees, the end of biological evolution making way for inorganic/mechanical evolution, the application of suspended-animation for travelling into the future, and “the invention to end all inventions” called “the replicator”. According to this chronological list of predictions beginning in 2001, the universal replicator can be expected to be completed sometime in 2040, the same year as the popular utilization in the medical field of “the braincap”, a device which allows doctors to experience their patients symptoms.

Read Childhood’s End if you haven’t already.

Thanks Hill.

Solowheel presents a version of the shitty future now.

Alright, mobile urbanites. Here’s a great example of how you take a bad idea and make it worse.

Watch out for those cliffs…

(Thank to Joey O’Mahoney for the tip via coolhunting. Check out his blog for all things New Orleans D.I.Y. skateboarding.)

Supercomputer defeats the champions of Jeopardy.

Get used to it.

Articles: Narco Subs / Digital Afterlife / Mt. Everest

[Image: A seized semi-submersible used for transporting cocaine from Columbia to Mexico. Luca Zanetti / DER SPIEGEL]

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The Colombian Coke Sub: Former Drug Smuggler Tells His Story

A post over this past summer about narco subs briefly addressed the manufacturing of semi and fully submersible water vessels constructed to transport huge amounts of cocaine and a few very uncomfortable crew members in an extremely dangerous situation. The Colombian Coke Sub story has a first-hand account of the kinds of living conditions inside of the boats and describes the constant anxiety which define the missions.

The cost of carrying these operations in relation to the profit earned when a transaction is successful is insane. Lucrative doesn’t even begin to adequately define the nature of this business. It’s also kind of amazing to think of these D.I.Y., hand-crafted subs sitting together somewhere on the ocean floor, a small colony of odd achievements in naval engineering designed specifically for the purpose of  transporting one particular substance.

“It costs about half a million dollars to build a submersible, but the market value of the cargo can be more than 100 times that. The drug smugglers often sink their boats once the delivery has been made. Dozens of the one-way vessels are believed to be lying on the sea floor off the Mexican coast.”

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Cyberspace When You’re Dead

“…what we do online still feels somehow novel and ephemeral, although it really shouldn’t anymore.”

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This is a wonderful, thought-provoking article about digital afterlife. The discussion is primarily centered around the complexities of storing information and the preservation, or elimination, of virtual identities and their output.

There a lot interesting ideas to take in in this article and a number of super interesting thinkers referenced in this article who are dealing with issues of death and identity in the digital age. I just ordered  David Eagleman’s Sum: Forty Tales From The Afterlives after  the author of the article described one of his post-death scenarios (which has now turned into a quite real enterprise) that included,  “an automated service that allowed its users to send messages after they die.”

I also have become excited about Gordon Bell, a computer engineer (another person worth reading further into) involved in the the MyLifeBits project, an experiment which, according to the projects website, attempts to:

“…record all of Bell’s communications with other people and machines, as well as the images he sees, the sounds he hears and the Web sites he visits–storing everything in a personal digital archive that is both searchable and secure.”

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And as for as the most poignant part of the article, the author cites Margaret Wertheim:

Wertheim pointed out that cyberspace had become a new kind of place, where alternate (or at least carefully curated or burnished) identities could be forged, new forms of collectivity and connection explored, all outside the familiar boundaries of the physical world, like the body and geography. It’s not such a long journey to follow those assertions to the “view that man is defined not by the atoms of his body but by an information code,” as Wertheim wrote. “This is the belief that our essence lies not in our matter but in a pattern of data.” She called this idea the “cybersoul,” a “posited immortal self, this thing that can supposedly live on in the digital domain after our bodies die.”

 

Abandoned on Everst

[Image: One of many dead bodies littering the heights of Mt. Everest]

 

I originally saw the pictures from this article at GBNC and assumed that the images were somehow fake or staged. However, my intial suspicions were apparently unwarrented according to this post on A Sea of Lead, A Sky of Slate, a blog which seems to be quickly getting off the ground and heading in a pretty interesting direction.

Writing about the understood, yet never overstated dangers of climbing to the peak of Everest:

For every ten climbers who have ever reached the summit, the mountain has claimed one of them. In the 56 years since the first men in history reached the top, 216 people have died, and the grim reality of the horrific conditions of the Final Push is that 150 bodies have never been, and likely can never be, recovered. They are all still there, and located, almost without exception, in the Death Zone.

 

Unfortunately, there is an absence of references, citations, or links in the Everest post. The stunning, gruesome photographs are without credit. This is a little disappointing, especially for such interesting stories. It would be nice to have some idea of where the information being presented is derived from, not just in this particular post but throughout the entire blog. I think making this small effort would make the writing that much more engaging, rather than having it remain rather mysterious and uncorroborated.

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Happy New Year! Google has a self-driving car!

A few days late but I mean it.  I’m all about this year ruling way harder than the last one.

Get freaked out…

Bathyscaphe Trieste in the Mariana Trench, AUVs, and the Mapping of the Ocean Floor

[Image: A late 1950s artwork, depicting Trieste operating on the deep ocean floor. U.S. NHHC Photograph.]

 

According to a Popular Mechanics article from October 2009, more humans have made it to the outer limits, beyond our atmosphere into “space”, than have plunged into the mysterious depths of our earth’s oceans, into the “deep sea”. In order to clarify how an underwater area comes to be considered “deep sea”, its been commonly defined as “as the area below which photosynthesis can function“, which is generally around 600 feet below the surface.

Epic manned missions have taken place into the deep sea, most notably the Trieste’s six-mile submersion in 1960 into the deepest known part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench. The two-man crew aboard remain the only human beings  to  ever reach such depths.

[Image: The route of the Challenger traveled between 1872-1876]

 

To briefly describe the extreme geography explored, the Mariana  trench is “the lowest elevation of the surface of the earth’s crust”. This anomaly of the underwater landscape is located in the Western Pacific Ocean and was first discovered during the Challenger Expedition in the 1870’s, a three-and-a-half year voyage across the globe’s waters.

The area surveyed by the Trieste over a hundred years later is appropriatley titled the Challenger Deep, named after the  expedition which originally discovered it. The area is “more than a mile deeper than Mount Everest is high”
and the pressure about 1,100 times greater than that of the surface. Two other missions have since journeyed into the Challenger Deep. However, both trips were completed by unmanned robotic vessels.

Presently, the realm of underwater data collection and the death-defying dives involved have been assigned to specially designed underwater vehicles meant for maneuvering in the extremely high-pressure, low-light conditions miles beneath the water’s surface.

[Image: Underwater shot of BP oil spill via submersible robot.]

 

Submersible robots were popularly seen most recently in relation to the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the robots being controlled from land by remote operators using the mechanical arms equipped with various tools to secure containment caps on the underwater leaks.  These were also the same robots which provided the horrific and sureal live feed of oil gushing uncontrollably underwater. [An aside: Edward Burtynsky’s Aerial Views of the Oil Spill are totally insane.]

Removed from the world of disaster response and human-operated underwater robots, some of the most exciting developments happening in underwater exploration are due in part to the developments of the AUV, or Autonomous Underwater Vehicle. These robots are separated from other underwater robots by their ability to maneuver without manual control and be powered internally by battery or, in a much more high-tech, eco-friendly fashion, by collecting thermal energy from the ocean.

From ImpactLab.net:

When it [the AUV] moves from cooler water to warmer areas, internal
tubes of wax are heated up and expand, pushing out the gas in
surrounding tanks and increasing its pressure. The compressed gas
stores potential energy, like a squeezed spring, that can be used to
power the vehicle.

 

Battery-powered AUVs, such as the one recently put into action by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, are also still developing.

The AUV completed a four-day science run with plenty of battery power remaining, using relatively low-power rechargeable batteries. Based on these promising initial results, the researchers hope that the little robot will eventually be able to travel from California to Hawaii using high-power disposable batteries.

 

And as far as the AUV’s mean of communication: Radio frequencies don’t work underwater and the robots communicate in a way similar to whales using an underwater acoustic positioning system.

[Image: A view of the inner workings of Festa’s Aqua Penguin]

 

Presently, I’m reminded to include a link to footage of Festo’s Aqua Penguin, among a handful of Festo’s other remarkable accomplishments. From their website:

The bionic Penguins are designed as autonomous underwater vehicles that independently orient themselves and navigate through the water basin. They are supported by a 3D sonar system which, as with dolphins, allows communication with their surroundings and with other robotic penguins – for example to avoid collisions.

 

Its fair to ask how this sort of engineering and robotics fits into our lives, technology replacing humans in the vast world of exploration. Maybe an even better question to ask at the moment would be exactly how will these sort of developments progress to become part of the cadre of everyday experience. Will we next invent robots that supersede humans in developing new technologies? Robots developing robots better than themselves…

The work being done by Festo probably deserves a post of it’s own, a space dedicated to analyzing the significance of inventions such as the AirPenguin. The surface is really just being skimmed here in terms of thinking about this technology.

[Image: The R.M.S. Titanic as seen in Google Earth.]

 

To veer back onto a discussion regarding robots of the underwater variety, my own interest in the topic originated from considering the mapping of the ocean. Aside from the aesthetic splendor of the images produced by such projects, the concept of navigating and revealing this lightly-chartered realm  of the earth through the use of technology seems important to understanding how we will continue to experience and engage with our natural environment.

The latest version of Google Earth is now equipped with an  Ocean feature, an application which allows the user a new freedom of movement:

…to dive beneath the surface, explore the ocean with top marine experts, learn about ocean observations, climate change, endangered species and discover new places including surf spots, shipwrecks and travel spots.

 

As a Guardian article from Feburary of last year states, the mapping of the seabed is bringing Google Earth “closer to its aim of creating a complete digital representation of the planet.” With the earth being around 70% water, the ability to explore and document the deep sea is crucial to this virtual pioneering of the globe.

One must wonder, does this change things? Will a simulated tour around the world change the way we come to think of ourselves, how we position our personal lives in the realm of the larger universe? If it were possible to collectively get to a point where our mental states were always in a sort of “Powers of Ten” version of awareness, constantly awed by the magnitude of the galaxy, would we even be able to function as we do now or would our minds collapse under the pressure?

Better yet, perhaps after Google Earth conquers the ocean, a technology can be created which, via webcam, a user is allowed to have a microcosmic experience along with their macro one, zooming in on a pore of their nose and moving ever smaller into molecular wonderment only to eventually return, gradually zooming farther out, to the standard start-up image of Google Earth: The globe seen as a round mass of land and water.

It can be said with certainty that the age of exploration is not yet dead, that their is plenty of this earth yet to be discovered. However, all of this landscape is underwater, hidden under tons upon tons of pressure, among total darkness and weird deep sea creatures. So we create a cartography of the inaccessible  abyss and send robots of our own making in place for us to build and fix things, to record and collect data, and to assist in simulating such a submerged experience, one more effort towards trying see places we are unable to go.

Telepresence robots

[Image: Sally Ryan for The New York Times]

.“The beauty of mobile telepresence is it challenges the notion of what it means to be somewhere.”

A recent New York Time’s article, “The Boss is Robotic, and Rolling Up Behind You”, discloses various forms and functions of what are being called “telepresence robots”, essentially travelling flat screen monitors with two-way video and audio.  Incorporating already-existing telepresence technology with newfound mobility, the robots are being used in corporate and medical settings, filling the place of the person unavailable in the flesh. There are larger implications for these devices to be used for the handicapped and the elderly, though it will probably be some time before we start seeing these things show up at Target and obtain official commodity-object status.

What I’m really waiting for is for the telepresence robot party, a sort-of Chat Roulette  meets bumper cars scenario where a group of these devices manuever around a large-room, briefly talking and smashing into each other as they try to move away from the penises as quickly as possible.

Watching TV at the gym / Five Neuroscientists rafting in Utah

There are a lot of ideas to be extrapolated out of an examination of how technology places itself in lives. The New York Times has an ongoing series under the nomenclature “Your Brain On Computers”. As the title suggest, the articles are investigations into the cognitive effects of technology on it’s users, examining modes of behavior and thought processing in relation to devices (or the lack thereof) present in the participants everyday lives.

The two articles I found of interest both mention a recently conducted study by the University of Michigan concluding that people are better able to process and learn new information after a walk in the woods rather than one in a city. That is to say, too much physical/visual information hinders the abilities of the brain.

The first article references the infiltration of technology into the social sphere, using the gym as a symbol for a recreational complex rife with distractions. The author makes an interesting mention of creativity and how too much information can actually hinder our capacity to think clearly.  The second article follows an outdoor excursion of five practicing neuroscientists in the wilds of Utah, cut-off from their usually constant stream of technologically aided stimulus and their preferred tools for information delivery. A level of irony exists, to be sure, that even when these men are stripped of their mobile devices, they still manage to spend a good deal of time discussing them in their absence:

[Image: Jim Wilson/The New York Times]

.“Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime”

The technology makes the tiniest windows of time entertaining, and potentially productive. But scientists point to an unanticipated side effect: when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.

.“Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain”
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It was a primitive trip with a sophisticated goal: to understand how heavy use of digital devices and other technology changes how we think and behave, and how a retreat into nature might reverse those effects.
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The Twilight Zone – Season 1 – “The Lonely”

This particular episode contains some strong concepts: outer-space imprisonment, loneliness, and the capabilities of a robot to serve as a cohort.

Solitary confinement takes place on an asteroid, a version of criminal punishment in the future, imprisonment being outdated. Sterling utilizes the desert as an allegory for space and infinity, a theme he will continue to explore in future episodes. The man held captive is delivered a crate during one of the routine supply deliveries that take place every three months. It’s a gift from a compassionate deliveryman to help the man through his fifty-year sentence for murder. When asked what the contents of the crate are by one of the other members of the crew, he states, “I’m not quite sure, really. Maybe just an illusion, maybe its salvation. I don’t know.”

It’s a machine, though “physiologically and psychologically she is a human being with a set of emotions and a memory track.” Violently opposed at first to a machine aiding him through his time, the man becomes enamored with “Alicia” in discovering that she, though a robot, has feelings too. In questioning his situation after eleven months, the man wonders whether what is occurring is a relationship between man and woman or man and machine. The one certainty is  that she not only caters too but also develop his tastes. His loneliness is eliminated by the presence of “Alicia”.

With much time passed, the delivery crew returns with fated news—the man has received a pardon and is being shipped back to earth, though he is only able to carry fifteen pounds of baggage. The problem of most significance in this episode is presented in the separation of the man from “Alicia”. “She’s not a robot,” the man pleads, “She’s a woman. You don’t understand. If you leave her behind that’s murder.” Fully-succumbed to the emotional companionship of his cyborg companion, the man refused to give up his love.

Until the man who originally brought the robot, effecting desperate measures, shoots Alicia in the face.

Similar to a Stepford Wives scenario, a robotic imitation serves the role of a female in the image of the man who makes her possible. Of interest in this case is the man’s dismissal of reality, his lack of acknowledgment in regards to the robotic nature of his love. However, when reminded of her internal components (electronics, exposed through her blow-open face) he is able to abandon his feelings and return home.

A commentary on loneliness as much as the possibilities of a cybernetically guided future, “The Lonely” posses questions even today of our attachment to and enchantment by technologically-aided devices. Perhaps the commentary also inadvertently alludes to the effect of technology to create an impressive illusion of reality, a perfect Twilight Zone scenario.