Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A View Within

Brain mapping, according to Intel, is the first step to mind reading, a concept both exciting and chilling at the same time, depending on who's using the tech.

"Intel's scientists are creating detailed maps of the activity in the brain for individual words which can then be matched against the brain activity of someone using the computer, allowing the machine to determine the word they are thinking.

Preliminary tests of the system have shown that the computer can work out words by looking at similar brain patterns and looking for key differences that suggest what the word might be."

The research on mind reading is still in it's infancy with bulky systems and limited mind mapping pattern recognition methodologies keyed to words but the ability to build compact, mind reading machines is coming whether you like it or not.

Combine mind reading with face recognition and one has the potential start point to 1984 if's tech works as advertised.

In Terminator I, the cyborg was bad, in T2, the cyborg was good. The difference? Programming. - Robert E.

It's the Berry Way to Go

It was a great year for blueberries, a fruit yours truly adores. At the height of the season, my family buys little containers of same (3 for $5.00) which last for about a nano second in the Robert E household. The same fetish also applies to strawberries, blackberries and raspberries, gems that grow in abundance in CT during the summer but of course, this little post is not about adoration but rather about health as these lovelies, along with walnuts, may play an important role in keeping the brain supple.

"Scientists today reported the first evidence that eating blueberries, strawberries, and acai berries may help the aging brain stay healthy in a crucial but previously unrecognized way. Their study, presented at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), concluded that berries, and possibly walnuts, activate the brain's natural "housekeeper" mechanism, which cleans up and recycles toxic proteins linked to age-related memory loss and other mental decline.

In the new research, Poulose and Joseph focused on another reason why nerve function declines with aging. It involves a reduction in the brain's natural house-cleaning process. Cells called microglia are the housekeepers. In a process called autophagy, they remove and recycle biochemical debris that otherwise would interfere with brain function.

"But in aging, microglia fail to do their work, and debris builds up," Poulose explained. "In addition, the microglia become over-activated and actually begin to damage healthy cells in the brain. Our research suggests that the polyphenolics in berries have a rescuing effect. They seem to restore the normal housekeeping function. These findings are the first to show these effects of berries."

Ah tech, you gotta love it. :)

The White Man's Guide to a Parallel Earth

"You may ask yourself, "What is that beautiful house?"
You may ask yourself, "Where does that highway go to?"
You may ask yourself, "Am I right, am I wrong?"
You may say to yourself, "My God! What have I done?" 
- Once in a Lifetime/Talking Heads

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Ok, I'm a techie. I've worked with systems for over 35 years so I know a little. Because of this, I read, with a bit of bemusement,  this little gem from the NY Times titled Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime, something I have known about for some quite time.

Digital devices, particularly smart phones, are time killers to the max. They are fun and addictive as I have come to find out with my Droid, a time killer supreme (iPhone, Blackberry, HTC, the list goes on and on and on.) as it is the first computer you take with you EVERYWHERE, begging to be attended to without regard for you or your grey matter but...

without recharging your brain, the creative act doesn't happen. Without sleep or breaks from digital noise or constant concentration to said smart phone (or any other system), the brain cannot create. It's similar to the lack of sleep, without it, we die. The same inability to get away from the vagaries of the world (via day dreaming etc.) also applies to work. Without respite, nothing of worth gets done.

"Almost certainly, downtime lets the brain go over experiences it’s had, solidify them and turn them into permanent long-term memories,” said Loren Frank, assistant professor in the department of physiology at the university, where he specializes in learning and memory. He said he believed that when the brain was constantly stimulated, “you prevent this learning process.”

At the University of Michigan, a study found that people learned significantly better after a walk in nature than after a walk in a dense urban environment, suggesting that processing a barrage of information leaves people fatigued.

Even though people feel entertained, even relaxed, when they multitask while exercising, or pass a moment at the bus stop by catching a quick video clip, they might be taxing their brains, scientists say.

“People think they’re refreshing themselves, but they’re fatiguing themselves,” said Marc Berman, a University of Michigan neuroscientist.

After reading this, one readily sees how never ending interaction with systems turns people into really boring entities unable to think in innovative ways. (Texting or iPod equipped with earbuds come to mind here.) How do I know this? From direct experience as tech is very seductive, a seeming escape from reality but not really.

From that perspective, I cycle, without anything electronic on the bike, just gears, tires, wheels and bike frame, rolling sculpture technical to the max but nary a gadget in place telling me my speed, heart rate or power output per pedal stroke, esoteric data I don't need while being in the world but not of it.

Sounds like Zen doesn't it?

Body of Lies

Oil,  the unstated god of power in the Middle East, plays a true Oz in Body of Lies, a must see film able to depict, in part, the dubious role the US plays in a region of the world we know next to nothing about, a place forever cursed as long as the oil god remains in place, able to support the unelected governing elite who rule in unjust fashion using religion, violence and propaganda as the preferred weapons of choice. As in Enemy of the State, the specter of tech abounds with surveillance and the Net as prime driverss while, at the same time, an arrogant lack of awareness and respect for local customs corrupt human intel in all too familiar ways.

In a very indirect way, Transformers II, Revenge of the Fallen, (A marginal film at best, the first was far better) shows how AI, combined with nanotech, give rise to machines of frightening capability, especially in the areas of surveillance and communications, applications requiring little power to make magic happen. (smart phones anyone?) To this end, the kind of tech seen in this flick is coming sooner than thought possible due to the ubiquity of the net and the unified software set it provides to the world. (The smart marbles sequence, IMHO, is the highlight of the film)

You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -- that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something. - Richard Feyman