MonthDecember 2013

Computer Chips That Work Like a Brain Are Coming — Just Not Yet

I wrote for Wired about computer chips designed specifically for building neural networks:

Qualcomm is now preparing a line of computer chips that mimic the brain. Eventually, the chips could be used to power Siri or Google Now-style digital assistants, control robotic limbs, or pilot self-driving cars and autonomous drones, says Qualcomm director of product management Samir Kumar.

But don’t get too excited yet. The New York Times reported this week that Qualcomm plans to release a version of the chips in the coming year, and though that’s true, we won’t see any real hardware anytime soon. “We are going to be looking for a very small selection of partners to whom we’d make our hardware architecture available,” Kumar explains. “But it will just be an emulation of the architecture, not the chips themselves.”

Qualcomm calls the chips, which were first announced back in October, Zeroth, after the Isaac Asimov’s zeroth law of robotics: “A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.”

The Zeroth chips are based on a new architecture that radically departs from the architectures that have dominated computing for the past few decades. Instead, it mimics the structure of the human brain, which consists of billions of cells called neurons that work in tandem. Kumar explains that although the human brain does its processing much more slowly than digital computers, it’s able to complete certain types of calculations much more quickly and efficiently than a standard computer, because it can do many calculations at once.

Even the world’s largest supercomputers are able to use “only” one million processing cores at a time.

Full Story: Wired: Computer Chips That Work Like a Brain Are Coming — Just Not Yet

See also:

Palm Pilot Inventor Wants to Open Source the Human Brain

Yorkshire Pigs Control Computer Gear With Brain Waves

New Bonus Tracks Added to Psychetect: Extremism

I’ve uploaded three new bonus tracks to the last Psychetect album Extremism:

“Recalculate”: A new recording using some of the same instruments and effects I used for “Solar Rattle.”

“Perverse Intimacy with the Sun”: A sequel to “Thirst for Annihilation” from Return to the Wasteland.

“Sleeping Demon”: A short remix of “Aqua Demonic Operating System.”

If you’ve already purchased the album you should be able to download the new tracks from Bandcamp. Let me know if you can’t.

Interview with Creator of Channel 4’s Utopia

Channel 4 Utopia

Channel 4’s Utopia was one of my favorite pieces of media of 2013. The series follows a group of average people who know each other through a web forum dedicated to a comic book called Utopia. As the events of the comic unfold in real life, the characters swept up in an Invisibles conspiracy adventure. Unlike most series about comic fans, this a dark, edgy thriller, not a campy sitcom.

Den of Geek interviewed series creator and writer Dennis Kelly a couple months ago:

There’s a question at the heart of Utopia that I can’t answer, which is, with a burgeoning population, what do we do? I have lots of answers for lots of the world’s problems, and no-one ever asks me so they’re still going on [sighs. Everyone laughs]. For this one, I don’t have an answer because my slightly lefty liberal sensibilities just cannot offer anything. There’s talk about birth-rates going down, but our birth-rate went from 2.7 to 2.4 in the last fourteen years and we still produced another billion people. Even if the birth-rate does lower to 2.2 or 2.3 we’ll still be producing another billion in twenty years and it’s just a fucking nightmare. Phosphates are not going to last, we’re not going to be able to feed this amount of people. I don’t have an answer to that. I don’t think that Utopia’s going to come up with an answer for that, and I think if the world looks to Utopia for an answer to that, we’re really in trouble, but to me that makes it interesting, because it’s difficult and I don’t understand it.

Full Story: Den of Geek: Dennis Kelly Interview

You can stream the whole series from the Channel 5 site if you’re in the UK. If you’re outside the UK you’ll have to get a little more… creative… if you want to watch the show. Oh, and HBO has the rights to do a remake of the series, with David Fincher and Rian Johnson possibly attached.

Lucid Dreamers May Help Us Understand Consciousness

Dorian Rolston on lucid dreaming research:

Lucid dreaming is unusual and unstable, she insists, perhaps only “an exception, an accident.” She grants that regular dreaming may serve some critical biological function—nightly information processing, say, or bodily temperature control. But lucid dreaming “is not meant to be.”

In a more ruminative moment, Voss confessed that lucid dreams might offer a privileged view into the evolution of consciousness in the brain: progressing from the primitive activity of “a cold-blooded animal” during non-REM sleep, to the sparks of real cognition of “a rabbit or cat” during regular dreaming, to the peak of self-awareness, reasoning, and memory during lucid dreaming, in which the dreamer at last possesses “a human brain, a higher-order conscious brain.”

Full Story: Matter: The Dream Catcher

See also:

How Can You Control Your Dreams?

Video Gamers Are Better Lucid Dreamers?

Mindful Cyborgs: Defrag Wrap-Up

Here’s the wrap-up from Defrag, with our new co-host Alex Williams. Lorenda Brandon is our guest. Here’s an excerpt where we talk about whether people can or want to customize their own technology processes:

KF: There’s like a whole school of tech that thinks the opposite is the best way to go. There are opinionated infrastructure is better . . .

CD: I love the name.

KF: Because people don’t want to come up with their own process. They don’t want to decide how to do something. They just want to be able to go to something and do a thing and not have to . . .

LB: I think there’s room for both. To be honest, we in this industry can get a little insular. We sort of have a level of acceptance about technology and about infrastructure that 90% of the population doesn’t have. They don’t have the understanding of how do I design my own process.

CD: I want to interject. I have a neighbor who’s diabetic. She’s 65, African American. Very, very heavy I mean, probably 400, 500 pounds and she needed help a month or so ago and I went over and her internet, her router or something had got jacked up and I just reset it and I was talking to her for a minute and she was telling she didn’t get to Spotify for like 2 hours and her Netflix thing was down and she was describing all these things that she needed the router for and it dawned on me that my 500 pound diabetic neighbor who’s 65 manages more cloud services effectively than most of the organizations I meet.

AW: She’s networked.

CD: Someone said to chief integration officer – We don’t have WAN. They’re everywhere and I think that’s a skill, right? I just said to you earlier, Klint, you’re in IT system, right?

KF: IT department, yeah.

CD: You’re an IT department of Klint. So, the whole IT department there and how do you deal with that but we should put my neighbor in charge of Healthcare.gov.

LB: We should.

AW: She would probably improve it.

Download and Full Transcript: Mindful Cyborgs: Episode 17 – Spirit Animals and Defrag Wrap-up Part 1 and Part 2

Jehova’s Witness finds freedom to think in totalitarian China

Former Jehova’s Witness Amber Scorah on how being a missionary in China changed her life:

When I got to China, things were really different, by necessity. Pro-selytizing is illegal. Religious meetings are banned. The preaching work and congregation meetings have to be conducted underground. This means that the handful of Witnesses in Shanghai can meet only covertly, which makes seeing each other more than once a week next to impossible. Preaching in the usual structured, door-to-door fashion is also, obviously, out of the question. For me, a Witness accustomed to a life of uniform routine, this seemed like an unprecedented adventure.

A couple of weeks after I arrived in Shanghai, I received a cryptic text message from a man who called himself James (some of us used fake names; we knew the Chinese government monitored electronic correspondence). He proposed meeting in a noisy local restaurant in the French Concession. I called his number when I got to the restaurant and he waved so I would know him. We chatted a few minutes, then he immediately got down to business. With a practiced manner, he explained the instructions from the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses as to how to conduct my missionary work. I was to find a job, perhaps teaching English, as a cover. Then I was to start cultivating relationships with worldly people, both Chinese and Westerners. These friendships were to be made with the sole purpose of religious conversion.

This sounded crazy to me. Every day of my life I’d been taught to stay away from these people, and I had. I was the person who made excuses not to lunch with coworkers. Who never kissed the boy who loved me in high school. I was the one who didn’t join after-school sports or attend birthday parties or my prom, all for fear of contamination. But I had my instructions; there was no other choice.

Full Story: The Believer: Leaving the Witness

(via Metafilter)

Creepypasta: Campfire Ghost Stories for the Internet Age

Will Willes on the world of creepypasta, a genre of storytelling quickly becoming the folklore of the internet:

Again, none of these games or shows is real, but stories about them exist in truly bewildering numbers. I had unwittingly stumbled into the world of ‘creepypasta’, a widely distributed and leaderless effort to make and share scary stories; in effect, a folk literature of the web. ‘[S]ometimes,’ wrote the American author H P Lovecraft in his essay ‘Supernatural Horror in Literature’ (1927), ‘a curious streak of fancy invades an obscure corner of the very hardest head, so that no amount of rationalisation, reform, or Freudian analysis can quite annul the thrill of the chimney-corner whisper or the lonely wood.’ These days, instead of the campfire, we are gathered around the flickering light of our computer monitors, and such is the internet’s hunger for creepy stories that the stock of ‘authentic’ urban legends was exhausted long ago; now they must be manufactured, in bulk. The uncanny has been crowdsourced.

The word ‘creepypasta’ derives from ‘copypasta’, a generic term for any short piece of writing, image or video clip that is widely copy-and-pasted across forums and message boards. In its sinister variant, it flourishes on sites such as 4chan.org and Reddit, and specialised venues such as creepypasta.com and the Creepypasta Wiki (creepypasta.wikia.com), which at the time of writing has nearly 15,000 entries (these sites are all to be avoided at work). Creepypasta resembles rumour: generally it is repeated without acknowledgement of the original creator, and is cumulatively modified by many hands, existing in many versions. Even its creators might claim they heard it from someone else or found it on another site, obscuring their authorship to aid the suspension of disbelief. In the internet’s labyrinth of dead links, unattributed reproduction and misattribution lends itself well to horror: creepypasta has an eerie air of having arisen from nowhere.

Full Story: Aeon Magazine: Creepypasta is how the internet learns our fears

(Thanks Adam!)

Examples:

Polybius

Slenderman

Not safe for work: The Creepypasta Wiki

Even less safe for work: Encylopedia Dramatica’s list of the best creepypasta

This isn’t ‘feminism’. It’s Islamophobia

Laurie Penny writes:

I am not writing here on behalf of Muslim women, who can and do speak for themselves, and not all in one voice. I am writing this as a white feminist infuriated by white men using dog-whistle Islamophobia to derail any discussion of structural sexism; as someone who has heard too many reactionaries tell me to shut up about rape culture and the pay gap and just be grateful I’m not in Saudi Arabia; as someone angered that so many Muslim feminists fighting for gender justice are forced to watch their truth, to paraphrase that fusty old racist Rudyard Kipling, “twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools”.

We are the fools, if we believe that accepting aggressive distinctions between nice, safe western sexism and scary, heathen Muslim sexism is going to serve the interests of women. The people making these arguments don’t care about women. They care about stoking controversy, attacking Muslims and shouting down feminists of all stripes.

For decades, western men have hijacked the language of women’s liberation to justify their Islamophobia. If we care about the future of feminism, we cannot let them set the agenda.

Full Story: The Guardian: This isn’t ‘feminism’. It’s Islamophobia

I dislike the term “Islamophobia,” but lacking a better term, I can’t help but agree — even though of I’ve been guilty of this in the past.

This form of hijacking is especially common in the atheist community, with the likes of Richard Dawkins and Pat Condell using it to dodge criticism of the community’s own treatment of women.

See also: American Muslims Have Mainstream Values and Honor killings and “crimes of passion”.

Oops, You Just Hired the Wrong Hitman

wrong-hit-man

Jeanne Marie Laskas on the sad world of murder for hire:

The hit man will sit listening to this stuff, agreeing to the terms, cash, guns, drugs, puppies, whatever. Sometimes people want proof before they’ll pay. For example, photos, which can be a pain. The hit man will have to stage the crime scene, fake blood, fake gunshot wound—a whole Hollywood production. The hard part is teaching the intended victim how to play dead.

When the cops swoop in for the takedown, Hunt will get busted along with the bad guy so as not to blow his cover, and when the coast is clear, he’ll reemerge on the streets, ready to resume his dirtbag work. Other federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies have undercover units, but hit-man work is an ATF specialty.

It is impossible to know how many of the 6,000 unsolved murders that occur in the U.S. each year are the result of real hits by real hit men.

Some cases bother Hunt more than others. A few years back, an FBI agent contacts him about a woman in the Southwest who is offering $5,000 to murder her former son-in-law. Hunt gets the number and calls: “I hear you need some help.” She’s a teacher. She wants to stop the man who she says is molesting her grandchild. Her former son-in-law. He’s going for custody. She has to stop him. Can the hit man make it look like an accident? A gas leak? A car wreck? You have to do something. The hit man agrees, as he always agrees: “This is my line of work.” The teacher sends a package in the mail. Pictures with yellow Post-it notes indicating who is who. “[Granddaughter] and her mom (protect).” The address. Maps. Explicit instructions, “rewrite info…burn this,” where the monster will be, when, date of birth, and two $50 bills for a down payment.

Law-enforcement officers pick her up the next day. The charge is federal murder for hire.

Full Story: GQ: Oops, You Just Hired the Wrong Hitman

Pussy Riot members to be freed from prison

Sometimes there’s good news:

Pussy Riot members Nadya Tolokonnikova, 24, and Maria Alekhina, 25, will be freed from prison three months before their scheduled release, according to Reuters. The two women and fellow band member Yekaterina Samutsevich were arrested for performing Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away from Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral on Feb. 21, 2012. Their crime: “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility.”

Full Story: USA Today: Pussy Riot members to be freed from prison

Update: They’re out now

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