5 Intriguing Things: Friday, 2/28

The brain-net, troll theory, art and surveillance, standing at the bottom of the ocean, and the drug argot.
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1. I'm not sure I like Michio Kaku's vision of the 'brain-net.'

"Already, people who are totally paralyzed, who are living souls trapped inside a vegetable of a body, are now being given the gift of movement. Chips connected to their brains allow them to manipulate mechanical arms, surf the web, write e-mails, play video games, control household appliances. Anything that we can do via a computer, they can do as well. Eventually, this technology will become widely available. We will be able to walk into a room and immediately control all the chips hidden in that room. We will be like magicians, able to control everything around us mentally. We might also be able to control robots with superhuman bodies (like in the movies Surrogates and Avatar) so that we can live on other planets, explore the heavens, work in dangerous environments, or have powerful exoskeletons like in Iron Man...

"Our thoughts are our most private part of who we are. We don’t want our thoughts to be read by strangers from a distance. However, reading a person’s thoughts over a distance is extremely difficult, since radio and electrical waves dampen extremely fast outside the brain. Even in controlled laboratory situation, sensors must be placed directly on the scalp. Signals quickly become lost in the gibberish of the environment once you leave the scalp. So mind-reading by strangers is unlikely. But there are real problems. To protect our privacy, we must also learn self-control. Eventually, the internet might be replaced by a brain-net,' in which emotions, memories, and sensations are routinely sent to our Facebook friends. We will have to learn a new set of social skills so that these brain-net messages don’t come back to haunt us. So if we let our thoughts go viral, we must be sure that they don’t have unintended consequences."

 

2. An entire issue of an academic journal devoted to troll theory.

"We only talk about trolls inside a polemic. To aver that someone is trolling is to allege that their participation conceals the aims of their disruption; by implication, they are to be excluded or dismissed. The Internet’s folk wisdom for trolls says: ‘Do not feed them!’ This remedy rests on a belief that acknowledgement and interaction are the barest matters of subsistence in an attention economy. To call out a troll is thus to recognise who ought or ought not speak or be listened to. Since to describe an interlocutor as a troll is to invite a third party to put them beyond the pale, the charge is often contested. We can understand this as, at once, an artefact of agonistic politics and as an attempt to avoid it. It is reassertion of the ‘table manners’ of liberal civility; like any such insistence it can be a way of forestalling political demands made outside the current limits of acceptability in political contention. It can also be used to redefine these demands as so much unintelligible noise."

 

3. Artists respond to a prompt on big data and surveillance

"Although Guy Debord’s spectacle society has certainly not gone any­where, the advent of ‘operationalized’ images is upon us. The 21st-century landscape of images and seeing-machines directly intervenes in the surrounding world. Seeing-machines do things-in-the-world not through the subtle ideologies of visual mythmaking and fetishism, but through quantification, tracking, targeting and prediction.

How do we begin to think about the implications on societies at large of this world of machine-seeing and invisible images? Conventional visual theory is useless to an understanding of machine-seeing and its unseen image-landscapes. As for art, I don’t quite know, but I have a feeling that those of us who are interested in visual literacy will need to spend some time learning and thinking about how machines see images through unhuman eyes, and train ourselves to see like them. To do this, we will probably have to leave our human eyes behind. A paradox ensues: for those of us still trying to see with our meat-eyes, art works inhabiting the world of machine-seeing might not look like anything at all."

 

4. The history of "hard" diving suits, like the JIM above, is bananas.

"The starting point for the design of the JIM suit was an ADS created by inventor Joseph Peress in the 1930s. Peress’s suit, Tritonia, was cast from magnesium alloy and employed spherical, fluid-filled joints. Diver Jim Jarret tested Tritonia for Peress, taking the suit to 477 feet during its first test dive. Five years later, Jarret famously used Tritonia to dive the wreck of RMS Lusitania. Peress retired the suit in 1937 after the British  Navy declined to purchase it. 

"Three decades later, Humphrey and Barrow tracked down Joseph Peress and managed to locate Tritonia in an old junk shop in Glasgow, Scotland. Peress helped refurbish the old suit and UMEL used it to secure  funding in the form of a research grant from the British government."

 

5. The language of drugs

"Brain ticklers - amphetamine
Breakdowns - $40 crack rock sold for $20
Breakfast of champions - crack
Break night - staying up all night until day break
Brewery - place where drugs are made
Brick - 1 kilogram of marijuana; crack
Brick gum - heroin
Bridge up or bring up - ready a vein for injection
Britton - peyote
Broccoli - marijuana"

 

Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip:

arise, in the literal senses of getting up & mounting, has given place except in poetic or archaic use to rise. In ordinary speech & writing it means merely to come into existence or notice or to originate from, & that usually (but cf. new prophets arise from time to time) of such abstract subjects as question, difficulties, doubt, occasion, thoughts, result, effects

 

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Tritonia in an Old Junk Shop in Glasgow

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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