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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Elon Musk is best known for Space X, Tesla, smoking weed on Joe Rogan’s podcast, and sending outlandish tweets.  But there’s another secretive project that this real life Tony Stark is involved in that could be even more transformative than everything else he’s doing combined: Neuralink.  This neuroscience venture wants to give paralyzed people the ability to control devices with their minds but it’s their long-term goal that’s truly exciting: creating a brain to computer interface similar to the fictitious Neuralace from Ian M. Bain’s Culturenovels that will let people access the Internet with their minds.  Armed with this new-found ability to reference an unlimited amount of information at a moment’s notice humanity will be able to rise to incredible new heights.

As exciting as this possibility seems it was long considered to be a science fiction dream. The longest of long shots.  After all, if we don’t fully understand how our mind’s work, where consciousness comes from, why we dream, etc. then how can we really expect to figure out how to merge them with computers? Doing so would be a daunting task that would involve unnecessarily drilling holes into our skulls and implanting chips that may get rejected by our existing wetware.  How many of us would really be comfortable becoming early adopters for a technology like that?

Well, as it turns out the answer is a lot of us.  Thousands of people are already clamoring for the opportunity to become enhanced cybernetic organisms.  Especially since the idea is coming to us from the messiah Elon Musk.  And now they’ll have a better understanding of exactly what this new technology may look like as we get our first public look at Neuralink’s line of thinking with several advances setting the stage for what is to come.

According to The Verge, “The first big advance is flexible ‘threads,’ which are less likely to damage the brain than the materials currently used in brain-machine interfaces. These threads also create the possibility of transferring a higher volume of data, according to a white paper credited to ‘Elon Musk & Neuralink.’ The abstract notes that the system could include ‘as many as 3,072 electrodes per array distributed across 96 threads.’  The threads are 4 to 6 μm in width, which makes them considerably thinner than a human hair. In addition to developing the threads, Neuralink’s other big advance is a machine that automatically embeds them.”

Obviously, there is still a long way to go before “threading” becomes the hottest new trend. For starters, learning to use the implant is said to be the equivalent of learning to play the piano.  No easy task.  But that won’t stop Musk from continuing to push the envelope, from continuing to dare us to dream bigger.  And now that the groundwork has been laid and the initial technology developed there’s no going back.  In fact, we may even be on the verge of conducting the first human tests as early as 2020 with successful mouse testing already taking place.  Suffice it to say, at this point the cat is out of the bag.

If human testing is successful Neuralink could wind up giving us an unprecedented fourth brain region. The first is the Basal Ganglia, the reptilian or primal brain that less evolved species operate from.  The second is the limbic system which imbues us and certain other mammals with emotions.  And the third is what separates us from everyone else, our neocortex which provides us with the ability to have rational thoughts.  But soon we may have a fourth threaded layer, voluntarily implanted into us by Neuralink, enabling us to take evolution into our own hands and keep pace with the latest advances in AI.

Perhaps now you see why I said that Neuralink could be more impactful than everything else that Musk is working on which is really saying something when you consider that he is also working on revolutionizing energy, transportation, and space travel!

Image result for neuralinkIs Neuralink the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Just because all life on Earth is carbon based that doesn’t mean that all life has to be that way.  Perhaps we will find sulfur based life forms or life forms made from substances that we can’t even imagine as we explore more and more of the Universe.  And as strange as that may sound it is certainly within the realm of possibility.  With the proof of concept coming to us from a new Artificial Intelligence related discovery that demonstrates just how creative life can get.  Even artificial life.

As Futurism puts it:

“It turns out that you don’t need a computer to create an artificial intelligence. In fact, you don’t even need electricity.

In an extraordinary bit of left-field research, scientists from the University of Wisconsin–Madison have found a way to create artificially intelligent glass that can recognize images without any need for sensors, circuits, or even a power source — and it could one day save your phone’s battery life.”

That’s right.  We’re talking about glass based AI that is entirely unlike any other type of AI that we had previously imagined.  A discovery that takes thinking outside the box to a whole new level.  Here’s how it works:

“In a proof-of-concept study published on Monday in the journal Photonics Research, the researchers describe how they made a sheet of  “smart” glass that could identify handwritten digits.

To accomplish that feat, they started by placing different sizes and shapes of air bubbles at specific spots within the glass. Then they added bits of strategically placed light-absorbing materials, including graphene.

When the team then wrote down a number, the light reflecting off the digit would enter one side of the glass. The bubbles and impurities would scatter the light waves in certain ways depending on the number until they reached one of 10 designated spots — each corresponding to a different digit — on the opposite side of the glass.

The glass could essentially tell the researcher what number it saw — at the speed of light and without the need for any traditional computing power source.”

One potential use case for this amazing new technology: biometric security.  In this scenario the glass would be programmed to only recognize one person’s face.  Considering that it wouldn’t need electricity or a Wi-Fi connection to work it could then keep your valuables safe for the duration of your life.

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Is glass based AI the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Friday at the Philadelphia Art Museum’s Rocky Statue.  Saturday at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.  Sunday at Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the All-Star Futures Game.  Wherever I went last weekend there were people standing in my way, obscuring the shots I was trying to take of landscapes, city skylines, and everything in between.  Sometimes this is a minor inconvenience.  Just wait a few moments until they pass by and then take the photo you want. Other times, such as the case with the Rocky statue, the line is so long and time-consuming that it becomes prohibitive to do what you want to do.

Thankfully, there’s a solution on the way, a new app known as Bye Bye Camera, that eliminates this pesky problem by digitally removing people from your photos after the fact.  No more waiting on lines.  No more getting photobombed.  Just point and click and move on with your life as quickly as possible in pursuit of an even more perfect photo somewhere else.

According to TechCrunch, “Bye Bye Camera works using some of the AI tools that are already out there for the taking in the world of research. It uses YOLO (You Only Look Once), a very efficient object classifier that can quickly denote the outline of a person, and then a separate tool that performs what Adobe has called “context-aware fill.” Between the two of them a person is reliably — if a bit crudely — deleted from any picture you take and credibly filled in by background.”

This is a real game changer for travelers, tourists, and wannabe Instagram influencers.  Anyone with a camera and a desire to make lasting memories.  Which is pretty much all of us.  Bye Bye Camera? More like Bye Bye Hassle.

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Is Bye Bye Camera the Greatest Idea Ever?

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We are only a few years away from having fully functional Babel Fish, the fabled technology From The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy that would allow for near instantaneous real-time translation between speakers of different languages.  In fact, Google’s Pixel Buds are already available in 40 languages and a whole host of other AI powered translation services are in use and on the rise.  But Babel Fish technology will do a whole lot more than just allow tourists to have an easier time traveling aboard.  In fact, it completely transform the human experience, impacting society in ways not seen since the advent of the Internet.  Starting with completely altering the way we communicate with one another.

As Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly writes on Medium, “the first thing it will do is to enable people around the world who have very desirable skills, except the skill of English, to participate in the global economy. This Babel fish would permit a talented programmer in Jakarta who spoke no English to work for a Google. It would allow a talented programmer in Utah to work for a Chinese company, in Chinese. Nor does the translation have to happen online. Two employees in the same room could each be wearing the Babel fish. Of course it is immensely effective combined with virtual telepresence. When a colleague is teleporting in from a remote place to appear virtually, it is relatively easy to translate what they are saying in real time because all that information is being captured anyway. For even greater verisimilitude, their mouth movement can be reconfigured to match what they are saying in translation so it really feels they are speaking your language. It might be even be use to overcome heavy accents in the same language. Going further, the same technology could simply translate your voice into one that was a different gender, or more musical, or improved in some way. It would be your ‘best’ voice. Some relationships might prefer to meet this way all the time because the ease of communication was greater than in real life.”

Some of Kelly’s points are ones that I had never considered before.  Straight up speaker translation in real-time.  Yes.  That makes sense.  But actually getting to the point where we could also correct regional accents or alter the voice of our significant other to find one that is more pleasing to our senses?  Well, that’s a whole new ballgame.  One that could have far-reaching social implications.

Just imagine the possibilities from suddenly being able to tolerate an annoying sport announcer’s voice to now finding people saddled with high-pitch squeals more attractive.  Divorce rates would plummet, tourism would skyrocket.  All while the global economy undergoes a profound shift as millions of suddenly qualified workers flood the marketplace.

No longer limited by language barriers mankind would now be free to move about the world in search of a new voice, one that best defines who they really are.  Freedom of Speech begetting Freedom of Expression.  All thanks to the Babel Fish.  So let the countdown to the dawn of a new “eara” begin for “sea” change is almost upon us.

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Is a Babel Fish style Universal Translator the Greatest Idea Ever?

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One of the biggest fears with AI is that it’ll evolve a mind of its own, capable of reasoning, figuring things out, and then ultimately deciding that it would be better off without us pesky humans around.  And while we are a long way away from that happening we do have some pretty interesting developments happening with AI.  Such as the latest breakthrough involving a Universe simulator that somehow knows things it shouldn’t.

Futurism explains:

“Since we can’t travel billions of years back in time — not yet, anyways — one of the best ways to understand how our universe evolved is to create computer simulations of the process using what we do know about it.

Most of those simulations fall into one of two categories: slow and more accurate, or fast and less accurate. But now, an international team of researchers has built an AI that can quickly generate highly-accurate, three-dimensional simulations of the universe — even when they tweak parameters the system wasn’t trained on.

‘It’s like teaching image recognition software with lots of pictures of cats and dogs, but then it’s able to recognize elephants,’ researcher Shirley Ho said in a press release. “Nobody knows how it does this, and it’s a great mystery to be solved.”

This is more than just a neat party trick though.  It’s actually a very useful ability, one that scientists can use to make inferences about how the Universe works.  For instance, you could run multiple simulations, tweaking the percent of dark matter present in the Universe in each of those simulations, and then look at the results as a means of investigating what a real multiverse might look like.  Creating models in this manner, aided by an artificial intelligence capable of knowing things it shouldn’t, could be exactly what we need in order to crack some of the deepest mysteries of the Universe, answering the eternal questions about where we came from and where we’re going.

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Is an all knowing AI the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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I’ve spent a pretty significant amount of time on Earth so far.  Thirty seven years.  About half of an average lifespan.  And yet I don’t feel like I’ve lived a significant amount of time.  Don’t feel satisfied at all with the time I’ve had.  When I find myself on my deathbed I’ll be lamenting that it all went by too fast, wishing that I had just a little bit more time to explore. So is there anything that we can do to rectify the situation that I find myself in?  Any way that we can make it so that I can live longer?  Can we reverse the aging process or download our consciousnesses when The Singularity hits in a few years?  Maybe.  Perhaps. But in the interim there may be something else that we can try that won’t involve playing God with our biology or merging with machines: hacking time.

As Wired explains, “Seekers of immortality are saddled with the body, the physical brain, the fact of entropy. Eventually, things fall apart; cells stop dividing, DNA mutates, organs fail. In a piece for The New Yorker, Tad Friend neatly divided the ‘Immortalists’ into two camps: the Meat Puppets, who ‘believe that we can retool our biology and remain in our bodies’; and the RoboCops, who ‘believe that we’ll eventually merge with mechanical bodies and/or with the cloud.’ Both groups face potentially insurmountable challenges. The Meat Puppets struggle against the laws of nature and forces of decay. The RoboCops, who speak of ‘uploading’ minds as if by zip file, are stuck with the complexities of consciousness. But there may be a third way forward, a workaround that sidesteps some of the problems of the first two and targets subjective experience. Call them the Time Hackers.  Like the RoboCops, the Time Hackers want to tap into your brain. But their goal isn’t to transfer the mind—’the ghost in the machine’—elsewhere. Instead, the Time Hackers want to modify consciousness, deceive the ghost inside your head, and make you feel as though you’re living forever.”

How would they do this? It’s simple.  Sort of.

You see, we all experience time distortions.  Gym class seems to fly by while math class seems to drag on forever.  Weekends are gone in an instant while boring workdays hit a lull at 2:30 and never end.  Same amount of time.  Different results.  Dreams are the same way. An action packed series of events that seems like a full length feature film unfurling in your mind all takes place in a manner of minutes since you last hit the snooze button.  It seems impossible, improbable even, but our night long dreams never last for the full time that we’re asleep.  Rather they all take place in a much shorter amount of time during a particular sleep cycle.  Why is that?  Why is it that we are able to perceive time differently depending on what we’re doing or what our minds are doing?  And can we use that fact to our advantage?

Well, as it turns out we may very well be able to.  Consider hallucinogenic drugs.  Similar to dreaming they help to alter our consciousness and our perceptions of time by disrupting our mind’s ability to detect where our physical bodies are in space.  As Einstein famously pointed out space and time are intrinsically connected.  It may therefore stand to reason that if we can physically alter how our bodies perceive space then we also can alter how our bodies perceive time.  Cause and effect. In theory, this may mean that there could be a way, perhaps with some kind of neural implant or virtual reality device, that we could alter our perception of time on demand.  While real life is essentially paused, you would be free to explore some other virtual world for hours on end just like you do when you’re dreaming.  Your own private Narnia.  The plot of Inception brought to life.  With these so called Time Hackers being the ones to pursue the development and implantation of such a device.

If this actually happens, if we actually get to the point where we have technology at our disposal that lets us manipulate time this opens up a whole slew of possibilities for in addition to feeling like we had more time we’d actually have more time with which to be productive.  Time that we could use to binge-watch shows, learn new things, or get more work done.

As Wired puts it:

“As neurotechnology improves and social mores shift, what sounds strange will become mundane, even as ethical dilemmas arise. (Would it be wrong for a student to spend 30 simulated hours to one real-world hour learning calculus? What about thirty simulated years?) Complications aside, wouldn’t you buy yourself more time if you could?”

Of course, this creates all sort of ethical dilemmas as well.  Would there be a socio-economic rift that develops when it’s only the rich people that get to use this technology?  Would regular society come to a screeching halt when everyone prefers to live in time distorted virtual reality instead? Would evil corporations force their workers to work overtime inside of these virtual worlds in order to maximize a worker’s full potential during the day?  Would prisoners be forced to live out multiple life sentences within just one normal lifespan?  In short, is too much of a good thing a bad thing? The answer is probably yes.

So, while we’d all probably prefer to have a little bit more time with which to work we have to be careful not to go overboard and completely neglect the organic human experience, losing ourselves in the process.  Because no matter how much more time we have there’s no substitute for pausing time the old fashioned way, by stopping to smell the roses and living more in the present moment. As Master Shifu put it in Kung Fu Panda: “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery.  But today is a gift, that’s why they call it the present.”

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Is hacking time the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Last week when Facebook unveiled plans for Libra, their new cryptocurrency, everyone focused on how this new digital coin would impact global financial markets and rightfully so.  It was, after all, a financial instrument that we were talking about.  But hidden in their white paper was mention of an idea that would go hand in hand with a digital currency: the formation of a definitive decentralized digital identity for users. Something that would enable people without government issued forms of identification to secure loans and otherwise control their own data as they move throughout the world wide web and the real world.  Which makes Libra a far more valuable idea than if it was just a pure currency.

MIT Technology Review explains:

“But what is a ‘decentralized and portable digital identity’? In theory, it provides a way to avoid having to trust a single, centralized authority to verify and take care of our identifying credentials. For internet users, it would mean that instead of relying on Facebook or Google’s own log-in tool to provide our credentials to other websites, we could own and control them ourselves. In theory, this could better protect that information from hackers and identity thieves, since it wouldn’t live on company servers.

The concept (sometimes called ‘self-sovereign identity’) is something of a holy grail in the world of internet technology, and developers have been pursuing it for years. Big companies including Microsoft and IBM have been working on decentralized identity applications for a while now, and so have a number of startups.

But it’s more than just an internet thing. For the roughly one billion people around the world without any kind of identifying credentials at all, such technology could make it possible to access financial services that they cannot today, starting with things like bank accounts and loans.

Helping some of those people must be part of what Facebook meant when it said in the Libra white paper that the new system is intended to ‘serve as an efficient medium of exchange for billions of people around the world’ and ‘improve access to financial services.’ In some cases the currency itself might be able to do that, but in others it’s likely that users will need some form of identification to access a particular service. That’s probably why Libra’s developers call an open, portable identity standard a ‘prerequisite to financial inclusion.’”

So clearly this is a very big deal, “somewhat of a holy grail in the world of internet technology.” If that’s truly the case then we may have Facebook to thank for finally figuring it out.  See, Facebook isn’t all bad.  It may wind up saving the world after all.

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Is Self-Sovereign Identity the Greatest Idea Ever?

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