The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'transhumanism'
WIRED has an interesting article on research into extending the human sensory range by formatting the output of other sensors into formats the human nervous system can understand, and letting the flexibility of the human brain (or "neuroplasticity", as it's called) do the rest of the work:
It turns out that the tricky bit isn't the sensing. The world is full of gadgets that detect things humans cannot. The hard part is processing the input. Neuroscientists don't know enough about how the brain interprets data. The science of plugging things directly into the brain -- artificial retinas or cochlear implants -- remains primitive.
So here's the solution: Figure out how to change the sensory data you want -- the electromagnetic fields, the ultrasound, the infrared -- into something that the human brain is already wired to accept, like touch or sight. The brain, it turns out, is dramatically more flexible than anyone previously thought, as if we had unused sensory ports just waiting for the right plug-ins. Now it's time to build them.And a few examples:
For six weird weeks in the fall of 2004, Udo Wächter had an unerring sense of direction. Every morning after he got out of the shower, Wächter, a sysadmin at the University of Osnabrück in Germany, put on a wide beige belt lined with 13 vibrating pads - the same weight-and-gear modules that make a cell phone judder. On the outside of the belt were a power supply and a sensor that detected Earth's magnetic field. Whichever buzzer was pointing north would go off. Constantly.
"It was slightly strange at first," Wächter says, "though on the bike, it was great." He started to become more aware of the peregrinations he had to make while trying to reach a destination. "I finally understood just how much roads actually wind," he says. He learned to deal with the stares he got in the library, his belt humming like a distant chain saw. Deep into the experiment, Wächter says, "I suddenly realized that my perception had shifted. I had some kind of internal map of the city in my head. I could always find my way home. Eventually, I felt I couldn't get lost, even in a completely new place."
The downside to this is that withdrawal's a bitch; having gotten used to the sensory augmentation, one literally becomes disabled when it's taken away:
When the original feelSpace experiment ended, Wächter, the sysadmin who started dreaming in north, says he felt lost; like the people wearing the weird goggles in those Austrian experiments, his brain had remapped in expectation of the new input. "Sometimes I would even get a phantom buzzing." He bought himself a GPS unit, which today he glances at obsessively. One woman was so dizzy and disoriented for her first two post-feelSpace days that her colleagues wanted to send her home from work. "My living space shrank quickly," says König. "The world appeared smaller and more chaotic."Another sensory augmentation technology described there involves using the tongue (a high-resolution array of sensors) to sense pixels in the form of voltages. This is sufficiently effective to allow blind (or blindfolded) people to "see" through an external input device wired to a mouthpiece:
With Arnoldussen behind me carrying the laptop, I walked around the Wicab offices. I managed to avoid most walls and desks, scanning my head from side to side slowly to give myself a wider field of view, like radar. Thinking back on it, I don't remember the feeling of the electrodes on my tongue at all during my walkabout. What I remember are pictures: high-contrast images of cubicle walls and office doors, as though I'd seen them with my eyes.
(via Mind Hacks)
Foreign Policy (that's the Carnegie Endownment magazine, not the
Illuminati Council on Foreign Relations one) has a set of articles on eight of the World's Most Dangerous Ideas, such as War on Evil, Transhumanism (by Francis "End of History" Fukuyama), Spreading Democracy (by Marxist academic Eric Hobsbawm), Religious Intolerance, and Anti-Americanism. (via FmH)
Steve Jackson Games (the Texan role-playing publisher best known for bringing out the Illuminati card game and having been raided by the Secret Service) are bringing out a new role-playing game exploring the effects of technology and social trends on culture and what it means to be human. Scenario books included in the Transhuman Space game will cover issues such as the emergence of a totalitarian intellectual-property dystopia, memetic engineering and colonisation of the solar system, as well as standbys such as what claim to personhood things like AIs have. There's more information here. (via worldchanging)
What happened to the Extropians, those space-bound, cryogenics-obsessed children of Ayn Rand and the WELL, after the WIRED Long Boom came crashing down? Well, they've swallowed their anti-statist convictions and mutated into Strangelovian neo-conservative think-tanks, which have the ear of the President and were behind things such as the aborted terrorism futures market. Or so Andrew "blogs are killing Google" Orlowski says anyway.