Facebook-backed researchers have managed to translate brain signals into spoken words, bringing the social network’s vision of linking brains and machines closer to reality.

A study published this week by University of California-San Francisco scientists showed progress toward a new type of brain-computer interface. The project involved brain implants, but could be a step toward accomplishing the goal with a non-invasive method such as augmented reality glasses with sensors.

“A decade from now, the ability to type directly from our brains may be accepted as a given,” Facebook said Tuesday in an online post updating a project announced two years ago.

“Not long ago, it sounded like science fiction. Now, it feels within plausible reach.”

SOURCE

the meaning of life

August 8, 2019

One cannot ignore half of life for the purposes of science, and then claim that the results of science give a full and adequate picture of the meaning of life. All discussions of ‘life’ which begin with a description of man’s place on a speck of matter in space, in an endless evolutionary scale, are bound to be half-measures, because they leave out most of the experiences which are important to us as human beings.

Colin Wilson
Religion and the Rebel

an ever-changing society

August 6, 2019

Conceive a world-society developed materially far beyond the wildest dreams of America. Unlimited power, derived partly from the artificial disintegration of atoms, partly from the actual annihilation of matter through the union of electrons and protons to form radiation, completely abolished the whole grotesque burden of drudgery which hitherto had seemed the inescapable price of civilization, nay of life itself. The vast economic routine of the world-community was carried on by the mere touching of appropriate buttons. Transport, mining, manufacture, and even agriculture were performed in this manner. And indeed in most cases the systematic co-ordination of these activities was itself the work of self-regulating machinery. Thus, not only was there no longer need for any human beings to spend their lives in unskilled monotonous labour, but further, much that earlier races would have regarded as highly skilled though stereotyped work, was now carried on by machinery. Only the pioneering of industry, the endless exhilarating research, invention, design and reorganization, which is incurred by an ever-changing society, still engaged the minds of men and women. And though this work was of course immense, it could not occupy the whole attention of a great world-community. Thus very much of the energy of the race was free to occupy itself with other no less difficult and exacting matters, or to seek recreation in its many admirable sports and arts. Materially every individual was a multi-millionaire, in that he had at his beck and call a great diversity of powerful mechanisms; but also he was a penniless friar, for he had no vestige of economic control over any other human being. He could fly through the upper air to the ends of the earth in an hour, or hang idle among the clouds all day long. His flying machine was no cumbersome aeroplane, but either a wingless aerial boat, or a mere suit of overalls in which he could disport himself with the freedom of a bird. Not only in the air, but in the sea also, he was free. He could stroll about the ocean bed, or gambol with the deep-sea fishes. And for habitation he could make his home, as he willed, either in a shack in the wilderness or in one of the great pylons which dwarfed the architecture even of the American age. He could possess this huge palace in loneliness and fill it with his possessions, to be automatically cared for without human service; or he could join with others and create a hive of social life. All these amenities he took for granted as the savage takes for granted the air which he breathes. And because they were as universally available as air, no one craved them in excess, and no one grudged another the use of them.

Olaf Stapledon
Last and First Men

literary categories

July 12, 2019

 

Ian McEwan on literary categories:

I think that the novel — and I think we should usually talk about ‘the novel’ rather than ‘the literary novel’ or ‘the science fiction novel’ — but the novel is a very good means of examining colossal social change, but also of [examining] the moral dilemmas that new technologies are going to make us confront. I think there could be a resurgence, a revitalization, of the form, in which — quite possibly — concepts and categories of ‘literary’ novels up against ‘science fiction’ novels will completely vanish, because we’ll need the technical grasp of technologies that the best science fiction yields to us, and we’ll need the traditional examinations of moral dilemmas that the literary novel has always prided itself upon. So I look forward to these categories just dissolving.

Ian McEwan
WIRED 4th April 2019

Don’t look now, but intelligent robots are about to decide if you live or die.

Somehow, while we weren’t paying attention, we slipped into a universe where the robots from Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics” stories are about to surround us by the millions. The self-driving cars being sold by Tesla and other manufacturers aren’t quite there yet, but we are quickly entering a world where AIs will be making moment by moment choices about your survival. Consider this scenario: Your car is driving you down a two-lane highway with concrete dividers on either side when an I-beam falls off the truck ahead of you. In the other lane is a motorcycle. Should your car swerve, missing the I-beam but hitting the motorcyclist? Or try to brake, knowing it can’t stop in time and possibly killing you? A human driver would act on reflex,  but a computer has plenty of time to consider the options and decide who should survive.

David Walton
Interview with John Scalzi, 13th June 2019

Swedish illustrator Simon Stålenhag depicts an uncomfortable collision of present and future where people much like us seem to confront a brave new technological reality. These really are jaw-dropping digital science fiction artworks
P

Buy them HERE

our heritage

July 4, 2019

Cripes! Life seems so hectic, don’t it? So much to do; so little time to do it. Rushing round trying to save the environment while vacuuming, flossing, cooking meals, writing, and feeling particularly pissed off that a nodding bell-end like Jeremy Hunt (Jessa the Hunt), in his attempt to become prime minister, thinks the answer is to bring back fox hunting!

Using a pack of dogs to rip a fox apart is, according to the Hunt, “part of our heritage.”

It’d appear that molecular biologist Christopher Johnson and his colleagues in the States have created a biological enzyme that can chew efficiently through throwaway plastics like those that make water bottles and soap containers. The team is optimistic they can engineer a world where humans keep using this overabundant material – without winding up literally or figuratively overwhelmed by it. In that world microorganisms will digest polymers into their chemical components so they can turn a profit as new and better products.

Ummm!!?

Anyone remember the TV series Doomwatch? The first episode, The Plastic Eaters was written by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis. It told of an enzyme that went out of control and gobbled up plastic, including all the plastic parts of an aircraft in flight – oh, dear! what a tragedy –

Pedler and Davis used the same idea in a novel, Mutant 59: The Plastic Eater. Perhaps a copy should be sent to Mr Johnson and colleagues as a warning?

I note the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, condemns all the fiscal proposals/suggestions/promises made by the two candidates hoping to become our future prime Minister. He condemns, too, the economic proposals of the Labour party. Mr Hammond, affectionately nicknamed ‘Spreadsheet Phil’, gives the impression of a monomaniacal sociopath wandering through a wild orgy of the flesh, thinking only about marginal rates of return, regardless of cost to our society as a whole –

ejaculating pure energy

June 29, 2019

Now, in this split second of time, in the infinite depths of space, Black Holes are tearing stars apart, neutron stars are spinning hundreds of times a second, other stars are ejaculating pure energy and helping to form new solar systems, and I’m here, at the back end of beyond, on a spit ball little world engaging in an act that will supply me a few moments of solitary pleasure – bizarre isn’t it? But OMG I do love it…!

ability to do mischief

June 16, 2019

Why give a robot an order to obey orders — why aren’t the original orders enough? Why command a robot not to do harm — wouldn’t it be easier never to command it to do harm in the first place?  Does the universe contain a mysterious force pulling entities toward malevolence, so that a positronic brain must be programmed to withstand it? Do intelligent beings inevitably develop an attitude problem? (…) Now that computers really have become smarter and more powerful, the anxiety has waned. Today’s ubiquitous, networked computers have an unprecedented ability to do mischief should they ever go to the bad. But the only mayhem comes from unpredictable chaos or from human malice in the form of viruses. We no longer worry about electronic serial killers or subversive silicon cabals because we are beginning to appreciate that malevolence — like vision, motor coordination, and common sense — does not come free with computation but has to be programmed in. (…) Aggression, like every other part of human behaviour we take for granted, is a challenging engineering problem!”

Steven Pinker
How the Mind Works

Alien Abduction

June 13, 2019

I woke up in the middle of the night and everything looked odd, and strangely lit. At the end of my bed was a four-foot high grey alien. Its spindly, thin body supported a huge head with two enormous, slanted, liquid black eyes. It compelled me, telepathically, to follow and led me into a spaceship, along curved corridors to an examination room full of tables, on which other people lay. I was forced to lie down while they painfully examined me, extracted ova (or sperm) and implanted something in my nose. I could see jars containing half-human, half-alien foetuses and a nursery full of silent, sickly children. When I eventually found myself back in bed, several hours had gone by.

Susan Blackmore
Alien Abduction
New Scientist, 19 November 1994