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.

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."

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