Brain / Machine Integration Continues

Nice . .. we are getting closer and closer to neural implants to augment the operation of the brain.  These first ones are oriented towards memory.  I wonder when we’ll be able to get additional memory added via this technology.  Anyone for a memory upgrade … for their brain?

The Memory Hacker. USC’s Center for Neural Engineering researchers have developed a chip that can communicate with brain cells, a first step toward an implantable machine that could restore memories in people with brain damage or help them make new ones.

… [ Accelerating Intelligence News]

Numenta Research Release

A few years back I attended a conference at Stanford and watched a presentation by some of the folks at Numenta.  It was very impressive, and discussed the architecture of the hierarchical temporal memory (HTM) system.  There were several other presenters that discussed the learning of how the brain stores patterns, and does pattern matching.

What I really like is the thinking that dovetails with other articles and books that I have read, and how the brain – from childhood – constructs a model of the universe, and we the interact with the world using that model as a base reference for predictions and “next moves.”

Numenta has now released their Numenta Research Release.  It is now at the stages for researchers to begin to look at and experiment.  Of course it’s not just download and run … in Jeff’s own words:

We have found that it takes some developers months to get familiar with the
concepts, and maybe a year to get commercially useful results. It also is
possible that your first attempts at using HTM will be valuable for learning,
but not valuable for commercial applications. The learning curve is similar to
the learning curve for writing computer software. It takes anywhere from several
months to a year to become proficient in writing computer software; HTMs have
similar complexity.

The best part that I like about these theories and examples of possible brain models, is that we can learn a lot about ourselves from these.  How we work.  If the brain creates a model, and that is then used to interact with the world, then that model begins to define the limits of our interactions.  The funny part, is that most people fail to distinguish that it is simply a model … not the “truth”, and not fixed.  And so quite often their own model of the universe constrains their behaviors and actions, limiting what they can do.  I took a number of courses from Landmark Education
that focus on this specific area … learning to distinguish that model, and to then learn to evolve and update that model.  It is amazing experience each time I distinguish something new about how flawed my model of the universe is.

Even with the understandable doubts expressed by the author of this article … I am impressed with Jeff and his work, and believe that he is on the right track.

Quest for the Thinking Machine. Jeff Hawkins created the Palm Pilot and the Treo. Now he says he’s got the ultimate invention: software that mimics the human brain. By Evan Ratliff from Wired magazine. [Wired News: Top Stories]

Mass media and virtual worlds . ..

I have been a long believer that the mass media – television and radio – are still poised to be the dominant powers of the Internet … if they can let go of their fear of the Internet.  Their current position reminds me of the stories of the railroads way back when … ignoring and afraid of the airlines.  If the railroads had recognized that they were in the transportation business … they could have had it all!

It seems that still to this day, TV and Radio are all around us, constantly pushing their content at us, and – sadly or not – the masses still flock to it.  Millions of people across the country are scheduling their lives around their “favorite” TV show that they can’t get enough of.  Even the news draws millions of people to learn more about all of the events that occurred around the nation, and in their local area, they they *must* know about.

With this huge audience, this medium is still, IMHO, the most untapped mechanism to get people to the Internet.  It is the *only* way that you can impact so many people – at nearly the same instant – with some message or meme.  TV was the original way that people or companies were “slashdotted” … when something runs on TV there might be hundreds of thousands of immediate responses.

This article demonstrates a powerful TV brand utilizing it’s communications vehicle to move people to a new medium on the Internet … and to go beyond the “reality” TV of today, and into virtual worlds.  MTV is now creating a television program, that is then being used to drive people into their online virtual world.  This, to me, is a prime example of good marketing … using the power and reach that you have through TV to then create awareness and drive the people to your web properties.  Nice!

MTV launches ‘Virtual Hills’ based on platform. Blog: MTV Networks on Monday announced the launch of Virtual Hills, a new custom virtual world created using the platform,… [CNET]

Understanding the coming future …

This is an awesome blog post about many of the key terms, areas of research, and conversations that are going on around the world related to the coming future.  Anyone interested in the future ought to read through this list of key terms, and the associated links, and come up to speed on what the great minds around the planet are thinking of.

This list of terms and links will take you on a great journey through some amazing theories and discussions … this is the type of thinking that I live for.  For those who don’t want to read it all … we’re in for a wild ride!

Must-know terms for the 21st Century intellectual: Redux. George P. Dvorsky has created a list of the most fundamental and crucial terms that re-define the human condition and should be known by any expert generalist.

They include Accelerating Change, Anthropic Principle, Artificial General Intelligence,… [ Accelerating Intelligence News]

Closer to the Singularity

My friend Dave Cline sent me another link today about Mechanical Turk. It’s a story from the MIT Technology Review about Pennies for Web Jobs. To me this is the type of article that backs some of of my theories on the coming Singularity.

From the article, I really liked this quote:

Not only did participants supply the necessary answers, but they did so
“outstandingly fast,” according to Cabrera, allowing Amazon to use the
photographs in its search results. “This is the tip of the iceberg, but you can
see how it enables ‘massively parallel’ human computing,” he said.

When I last met Vernor Vinge I spoke with him about my theories on how
to measure the presence of the Singularity. I proposed that we
might look to create a metric based on how many people are performing
machine driven work. Mechanical Turk is a very good example of
this … and yes it is simple … but there are people and systems
putting “work” into a large database, and there are people who are
executing on queues of tasks for money. To me, this really isn’t
that different from the little mouse pressing a bar for a piece of food.

A more complex example are the drivers for UPS and Fedex. Their
entire day is coordinated by massively complex computer systems that
manage the thousands of drivers all over the world. From the
beginning to end of the day they are simply following the directions of
computer systems that are managing a process far too complex for humans
to direct anymore. In fact, the computer systems are managing the
flow of packages and simply using humans as one of the components in that management system.

Vernor talks about a hard takeoff, and a soft takeoff of the Singularity. I will argue that we are already accelerating on our way in a soft takeoff.

Google? Privacy? Yeah … sure …

Since the beginning of Google, I have always been reluctant to allow
cookies from their site. I’ve also been reluctant to heavily use
many of their other services. Part of this has been my
understanding of their overall architecture, and knowing that they
could choose to store a whole lot of information about me. Is
this just paranoia? No … it is because of my understanding of
the inevitable. I fully understand and accept that I’m just
delaying the inevitable … and so it’s just my little game with the
giant Google.

So what am I talking about? It’s the fact that computers are
getting to be so pervasive, and their ability to gather information
about us, and create profiles, exceeds our own abilities to distinguish
our own behaviors. We all have certain predictable behaviors,
many of which we are aware of. We also all have behaviors that we
are not aware of … that
become predictable to others who gather enough information about
us. Computer systems are able to gather large amounts of
information, and mine that information for patterns that we are not
even aware of.

I often use the simple example of grocery stores and their “discount”
or “members” cards. Yeah … just sign up, allow the grocery
store to gather information about everything that you have ever bought,
and they’ll give you a little discount. C’mon … what could it
hurt? Honestly, I’m not sure how it could hurt … but I have
thought through the amazing amount of behavioral data that they could
gather from you. The potential for them to then prey upon your
undistinguished behaviors and reactions grows quickly. They know
what day you buy what. They know what aisle and shelf it was on
when you bought it. They know the color of the packaging when you
bought it. They know the messages printed on the packaging when
you bought. They know the weather, the time of day, and the phase
of the moon. Your grocery store knows much more about your buying
patterns that you would ever think of.

And Google? Uh huh … they know your on-line behaviors. Big time. According to this article FAQ: When Google is not your friend
they have been recording everything that they can. Of course they
have been … storage is cheap, and only getting cheaper. They
know every search you have done, and when you did it, and what Google
Ads that you might have clicked on from the results. So
what? Yeah … I’m not immediately sure of the impact on my life,
however it is interesting to think about what Google can start to know
about you, and who you are, by all of this data. When are you
on-line. When do you search for what. What kinds of Google
Ads attract your attention. Where do you search from. To me
… this is pretty amazing. When you begin to think about mining
this huge volume of data it seems to me that some interesting patterns
have to emerge. Google can begin to know a lot about you, your
interests and undistinguished behaviors. Google … knows who you
really are. Google … knows your true identity.

Oh yeah … you use Gmail? Google Groups? Google
News? Google Alerts? Google Maps? Holy cow … they
have a whole lot on you! 🙂

What is so funny to me is when people are all up in arms about the
“government” and what “they” can find out about you. The article
above really touches on an ironic twist. The government can find
out all about you … as soon as they get it from Google. You
see, you have been giving your privacy away to Google and don’t
complain a bit. How could a company with a motto: Do no evil!
do anything wrong with all of this information they are gathering about
you? Well, I guess that we’ll see. It’s all inevitable … if it
isn’t Google … it’ll end up being yet another company. The
pervasiveness of the Internet, computers, cameras, sensors, and all
things technological is merely the solidifying of the next
substrate. The technologic substrate is forming all around us. The singularity is coming … and Google is just an example of the evidence.

Early uploading research

I love being alive as we approach the next singularity.  There is
so much technology research occurring, and expanding in all
directions.  Uploading is coming to a neighborhood near you. 
For those of you not familiar with concepts of uploading,
this is where computers are used to run simulations of a brain …
simulating all of the neural activity, and possibly then providing
interfacing with the real world.  In the future, this might even
be a simulation of your brain.  If it is a simulation of your brain, how much of your identity does it share with you?

So to do this, you have to scan the brain, create a neural map, then
simulate the entire neural network within a computer.  How likely
will we see something like this in our lifetime?  Well … it’s
already begun:

Blue Brain Power: Modeling the brain with a supercomputer.
Future Watch: The Blue Brain Project starts by mapping neurons in rats
to simulate brain activity in the neocortical column, and it might
eventually map the entire brain.
[Computerworld Linux News]

The word ‘Identity’

I liked reading Phil’s post about the word ‘Identity’.  This is
one of the core issues surrounding the subject … the definitions and
understanding of the words.  Without a common language and lexicon
it becomes very difficult to nail down specifics on anything!

Years ago while looking into Identity I came across an article that
discussed the origins of the word … and it was a real breakthrough
for me.  From, Identity is:

[French identité, from Old French identite, from Late Latin identits, from Latin idem, the
(influenced by Late Latin essentits, being,, and identidem, repeatedly), from id, it. See i-
in Indo-European Roots.]

“Being the same as” … so the two core thoughts in this are that it is
something that is derived from observing, and it is relative or
comparative.  There is an observer who assigns you identity by
comparing you – or some aspect of you – to something else that is
known.  I believe this is the cornerstone of identity.

On the Word ‘Identity’.

On the way back from a meeting in Salt Lake this afternoon, I was
pondering the word ‘identity’ and the way it is used in the physical
world and the way we use it in the world of IT. Something I heard on
NPR set off this navel gazing–I can’t remember what. Coincidentally,
when I got to my office, I found this post from Tim Greyson on the living language of identity. And so, a post…

If I ask my wife, kids, or neighbors “what is identity?” they
answer in various ways that I think reduce, at their most basic level,
to this: “identity the sum total of who I am…my uniqueness.” It
includes not only attributes like height, eye color, and so on, but
also their personality, hopes, and dreams–everything that makes them
them. One way of sussing this out is to ask: do identity twins have
different identities? We would say yes, even when we can’t tell them

[Phil Windley’s Technometria]

Sam and his swimming progress

There are certain skills that I believe can really alter your life
experience.  Swimming is one of them.  I remember learning
how to swim as a child at the Hidden Valley Swimming Pool near our
home.  There were a couple of eventful lessons, but then there was
no looking back.  I love to swim, and it has enabled me to
participate in numerous activities around water.

Over this last summer I have made it a point ot take my son Sam, now
just over three years old, to the local swimming pool one or two times
a week.  Its been fun to be a part of his progress from being
uneasy in the pool, to being ok floating by himself wearing his life
jacket.  Months ago he progressed to kicking and paddling with his
hands, and a month or so ago he started to jump into the pool … not
caring about going under water anymore.

Two nights ago, he amazed me as he demonstrated absolutely no fear
about doing belly-flops in the pool … and intentionally putting his
face into the water while holding his breath.  It was too funny to
watch.  Somehow he got the idea, and then for the next 15 minutes
he would stand … walk forward .. and the dive forward onto his belly
and go underwater.  He repeated this over and over.  And then
it got better.  He suddenly ran towards me and said “I want a

The pool that we go to has all sorts of equipment that is free to use,
and we went and got a mask for him.  As he put it on, he seemed to
question the fit, but then quickly walked forward and dove on his
belly.  He got up smiling and spent the next 30 minutes repeating
this over and over again.  He told me several times that he could
hold his breath.  It was a blast to see.

I again have to admit that having a child, and watching them develop,
has to be one of the most amazing experiences.  I get one set of
feelings watching him learn and accomplish things.  I get another
set of feelings imagining that I too went through this process. 
Its wild what we forget about our own development and learning. 
Its fun thinking about how Sam will enjoy going to Hawaii the next time!

The Meaning of Life

Every now and then I find a really well written document on the Internet that explains a perspective very well.  This site contains a very well written perspective about life, the mind, and The Meaning of Life.  I really like this first page
which offers a wide range of options depending on what you are after in
this explanation.  If you are able to truly be open to
possibility, then it offers The Meaning of Life – Part II which more thoroughly explores the subject in a very deep way.

I’m very impressed with this … and would recommend it as reading to anyone exploring the subject, and inquiring about life.