Tag Archives: technology

brain scans can see your mind’s eye

Scientists in Japan now have a brain scan that can recreate an image in someone’s minds eye fairly accurately. This could have positive applications, for example to help the disabled. The security and big brother implications seem a bit ominous though.

As the accuracy of the technology continues to improve, the potential applications are mind-boggling. The visualization technology would allow you to draw pictures or make art simply by imagining something; your dreams could be visualized by a computer; the hallucinations of psychiatric patients could be visualized aiding in their care; and brain-machine interfaces may one day allow communication with imagery or thoughts, Kamitani tells CNBC Make It.

While the idea of computers reading your brain may sound positively Jetson-esque, the Japanese researchers aren’t alone in their futuristic work to connect the brain with computing power.

For example, former GoogleX-er Mary Lou Jepsen is working to build a hat that will make telepathy possible within the decade, and entrepreneur Bryan Johnson is working to build computer chips to implant in the brain to improve neurological functions.

police officers accidentally film themselves planting evidence

According to the Intercept,

Last month, the city public defender’s office discovered body camera footage showing a local cop placing a bag of heroin in a pile of a trash in an alley. The cop, unaware he was being filmed, walked out of the alley, “turned on” his camera, and went back to “find” the drugs. The cop then arrested a man for the heroin, placed him in jail. The man, who couldn’t afford to post the $50,000 bail, languished there for seven months. He was finally released two weeks ago, after the public defender’s office sent the video to the state attorney.

So, I think I support the body cameras, I don’t really see why honest police officers wouldn’t support them too. Maybe they shouldn’t even have an “off” button.

solar phone chargers

I love the idea of charging my phone and other small devices with solar power. So, here is a Wirecutter article on doing that. One thing I learned is that you generally want to pair your solar panel with a battery so you can charge the battery during the day, then charge your phone all night. Otherwise you would have to leave your phone sitting near the charger for several hours during the day, which is probably exactly when you want to be using your phone for other things.

iris scans

Border counties in Texas are using mandatory iris scans to build a database of illegal immigrants. I imagine it will spread to big city police departments, and then to everywhere else. I imagine at some point it will become a form of identification people can use as an alternative to carrying a wallet and passport. I don’t know that the technology is concerning in and of itself – it’s essentially just a modern and accurate form of identification. What’s concerning is what some immoral governments, amoral corporations, and criminal elements might be able to do with large databases of this type of information.

what’s new with satellites

What’s new with satellites is there are a lot more being launched lately and they are a lot smaller, according to Bloomberg.


At 9:28 a.m. on Feb. 15, these animals watched anxiously as an Indian rocket lifted off, roaring through the hot, sticky air. Its payload consisted of 104 satellites, dwarfing the previous world record of 37 set by Russia in 2014. The largest of them weighed 1,500 pounds and was designed to map India’s infrastructure and monitor urban and rural development. Nestled alongside were around a dozen smaller satellites from universities, startups, and research groups. What made the launch a record were the 88 shoebox-size “Dove” satellites built by Planet Labs Inc., a startup in San Francisco.

For the past few years, Planet has been sending batches of its Doves into orbit, each carrying a high-powered telescope and camera programmed to photograph a different swath of Earth. The 88 launched from Sriharikota would join 61 others to become the largest fleet ever put in orbit. Images beamed back by the 61 have been used far and wide: Hedge funds scour Walmart parking lots to measure traffic flows during back-to-school seasons. Farmers assess crop health and estimate optimal harvest times. Activists track Amazonian deforestation and Syrian refugee camps. Spies monitor military buildups and trafficking operations. With all 149 satellites in place, Planet will be able to photograph every inch of Earth’s surface every day—something even the U.S. government can’t do.

This satellite constellation is one of many signs that the relationship between humans and space is changing in ways unseen since Russia and the U.S. began sending rockets into orbit six decades ago. Thanks to modern software, artificial intelligence, advances in electronics and materials, and a generation of aggressive, unconventional entrepreneurs, we are awash in space startups. These companies envision an era in which rockets take off daily, filling the skies with satellites that sense Earth’s every action—in effect building a computational shell around our planet. The people constructing this bustling new economic highway promise it will improve life down below, but the future they describe is packed with wonder and controversy in equal measure—and although few have noticed, it’s coming to pass right now.

Overall, this seems good to me. A lot of the problems we have managing our economy are caused by lags between when things happen, when information is available, and when we are able to take action to respond. Real time information gets rid of the lag between when things happen and when we can know about them. This should help us understand what is going on with the natural environment better too, and maybe we can take some action based on that. Finally, I view any move toward less secrecy as a net positive in an era when governments, corporations, and even individuals are going to have ever more dangerous and ever more accessible technology at their disposal.

The biggest drawback might be that we will grow ever more dependent on this type of technology to the point we forget how to live without it, and then when it has inevitable glitches, that is going to cause new problems even as we are solving some older ones.

Structure Sensor

Structure Sensor is a gadget that can supposedly measure an entire room and make a 3D computer model of it in seconds.

Capture dense 3D models with the push of a button

When used as a 3D scanner, Structure Sensor allows you to capture dense geometry in real-time. This enables you to simulate real world physics and create high-fidelity 3D models with high-resolution textures in seconds. The possibilities are incredible.

Measure entire rooms all at once

The magic of 3D depth sensing begins with the ability to capture fast, accurate, dimensions of objects and environments.

And Structure Sensor doesn’t just capture one dimension; it captures everything in view, all at once. Large-scale reconstruction tasks are easy with Structure Sensor & Structure SDK.

It’s $379. I don’t deal with interior design personally, but I know that surveying on engineering projects can be incredibly expensive and time-consuming. If there are technologies that could make it quick, cheap and easy, that would be a game changer.

The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Civilization in the Aftermath of a Cataclysm

I’d like to share a passage from The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Civilization in the Aftermath of a Cataclysm by Lewis Dartnell. This is a clever book, because it is basically a book on the history of technology. That could be a dry and boring book that appeals only to a few history nerds, obviously, but what Mr. Dartnell has done is put a clever spin on that and write the book as though it were giving us instructions on how to “reboot” civilization after some disaster like a plague or catastrophic war. This is about two alternative designs for refrigeration.

If history is just one damn thing after another, then the history of technology is just one damn invention after another: a succession of gadgets each beating off inferior rivals. Or is it? Reality is rarely that simple, and we must remember that the history of technology is written by the victors: successful innovations give the illusion of a linear sequence of stepping stones, while the losers fade into obscurity and are forgotten. But what determines the success of an invention is not always necessarily superiority of function.

In our history both compressor and absorption designs for refrigeration were being developed around the same time, but it is the compressor variety that achieved commercial success and now dominates. This is largely due to encouragement by nascent electricity companies keen to ensure growth in demand for their product. Thus the widespread absence of absorber refrigerators today (except for gas-fueled designs for recreation vehicles, where the ability to run without an electrical supply is paramount), is not due to any intrinsic inferiority of the design itself , but far more due to contingencies of social or economic factors. The only products that become available are those the manufacturer believes can be sold at the highest profit margin, and much of that depends on the infrastructure that already happens to be in place. So the reason that the fridge in your kitchen hums – uses an electric compressor rather than a silent absorption design – has less to do with the technological superiority of that mechanism than with the quirks of the socioeconomic environment in the early 1900s, when the solution became “locked in.” A recovering post-apocalyptic society may well take a different trajectory in its development.

the future of payments

Here’s an article on the future of payments. Not only is cash becoming obsolete, but the idea of a physical credit card is quickly becoming obsolete, replaced right now by mobile apps, and eventually by RFID implants and facial recognition. Somehow money that is just invisible transactions in the air seems less real to me. But then, credit cards seemed less real than cash just recently, and before that paper money seemed less real than gold and silver. Eventually, we will get used to this too an it will seem real. Of course, any form money is only as real as we collectively beiieve it to be.

Ericsson predictions for 2016

It’s about that time of year for predictions and trends. Ericsson has some for the next 5 years:

  • They say early adopters no longer matter for communication technologies, because new ones achieve mass market status so fast.
  • “Artificial Intelligence (AI) will enable interaction with objects without the need for a smartphone screen…Smartphone users believe AI will take over many common activities, such as searching the net, getting travel guidance and as personal assistants. These are areas already being addressed by current generation AI interfaces in smartphones. But the desire to use AI for more advanced purposes is apparent. 44 percent think an AI system would be good as a teacher and one third would like an AI interface to keep them company. Furthermore, a third would even rather trust the fidelity of an AI interface than a human for sensitive matters. 29 percent agree they would feel more comfortable discussing their medical condition with an AI system.”
  • Virtual reality will start to come into its own for tech support, sports, dating, and shopping.
  • ” sensors could be integrated into bricks and mortar in your house, literally connecting your home from the ground up. “
  • “Judging by consumer interest, the next generation of body-monitoring technology may not be worn, but may instead be found within the human body. These ‘internables’ will initially have a similar focus to the current external body monitoring devices. Half of all smartphone users believe internal sensors will give updates on their health and wellbeing in three years.”

The Pope vs. the Unabomber

Which of these quotes are from the pope’s encyclical, and which are from the Unabomber?Answers at the bottom.

I. The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in “advanced” countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected
human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world. The continued development of technology will worsen the situation. It will certainly subject human beings to greater indignities and inflict greater damage on the natural world, it will probably lead to greater social disruption and psychological suffering, and it may lead to increased physical suffering even in “advanced” countries.

II. There is also the fact that people no longer seem to believe in a happy future; they no longer have blind trust in a better tomorrow based on the present state of the world and our technical abilities. There is a growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history, a growing sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere. This is not to reject the possibilities which technology continues to offer us. But humanity has changed profoundly, and the accumulation of constant novelties exalts a superficiality which pulls us in one direction. It becomes difficult to pause and recover depth in life. If architecture reflects the spirit of an age, our megastructures and drab apartment blocks express the spirit of globalized technology, where a constant flood of new products coexists with a tedious monotony. Let us refuse to resign ourselves to this, and continue to wonder about the purpose and meaning of everything. Otherwise we would simply legitimate the present situation and need new forms of escapism to help us endure the emptiness.

III. You can’t get rid of the “bad” parts of technology and retain only the “good” parts. Take modern medicine, for example. Progress in medical science depends on progress in chemistry, physics, biology, computer science and other fields. Advanced medical treatments require expensive, high-tech equipment that can be made available only by a technologically progressive, economically rich society. Clearly you can’t have much progress in medicine without the whole technological system and everything that goes with it.

IV. Yet it must also be recognized that nuclear energy, biotechnology, information technology, knowledge of our DNA, and many other abilities which we have acquired, have given us tremendous power. More precisely, they have given those with the knowledge, and especially the economic resources to use them, an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity and the entire world. Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely, particularly when we consider how it is currently being used. We need but think of the nuclear bombs dropped in the middle of the twentieth century, or the array of technology which Nazism, Communism and other totalitarian regimes have employed to kill millions of people, to say nothing of the increasingly deadly arsenal of weapons available for modern warfare. In whose hands does all this power lie, or will it eventually end up? It is extremely risky for a small part of humanity to have it…There is a tendency to believe that every increase in power means “an increase of ‘progress’ itself”, an advance in “security, usefulness, welfare and vigour; …an assimilation of new values into the stream of culture”,[83] as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such. The fact is that “contemporary man has not been trained to use power well”,[84] because our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience. Each age tends to have only a meagre awareness of its own limitations. It is possible that we do not grasp the gravity of the challenges now before us. “The risk is growing day by day that man will not use his power as he should”; in effect, “power is never considered in terms of the responsibility of choice which is inherent in freedom” since its “only norms are taken from alleged necessity, from either utility or security”.[85] But human beings are not completely autonomous. Our freedom fades when it is handed over to the blind forces of the unconscious, of immediate needs, of self-interest, and of violence. In this sense, we stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it. We have certain superficial mechanisms, but we cannot claim to have a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint.

Answer: I. The Unabomber. II. The Pope. III. The Unabomber. IV. The Pope

Okay, maybe that was sort of obvious. To be fair to the Pope, I picked a couple of the least crazy paragraphs from the Unabomber. This was just meant as a fun, light-hearted exercise. And no, I am not suggesting the Pope is the real Unabomber.