Category: Cyborgs

Is AI More Common Than Biological Intelligence Across the Universe?

By Malcolm MacIver | August 31, 2010 6:04 pm

In a recent article, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) astronomer Seth Shostak makes an intriguing claim: SETI should start pointing its telescopes toward corners of the known universe that would be friendly not just to intelligent aliens but to artificial alien intelligence. The basis of his suggestion is that any form of life intelligent enough to generate the kinds of radio signals that SETI is looking for would be “quickly” superseded by an artificial intelligence of their creation. Here, going on our own rate of progress toward AI, Shostak suggests that this radio-to-AI delay is a small handful of centuries.

These artificial intelligences, not likely to have had the “nostalgia module” installed, may quickly flee the home planet like a teenager trying to pretend it isn’t related to its parents. If nothing else, they will likely need to do this to find further resources such as materials and energy. Where would they want to go? Shostak speculates they may go to places where large amounts of energy can be obtained, such as near large stars or black holes.

Alien's harvesting the energy of a star for a worm hole
Stephen Hawking imagines aliens covering stars with mirrors
to generate enough power for worm holes

Stephen Hawking has suggested one reason to go to high-energy regions would be to make worm holes through space-time to travel vast distances quickly. These areas are not hospitable to life as we know it, and so are not currently the target of SETI’s telescopes searching for signals of such life.

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First Dinosaurs, Now Aliens Invade San Diego!

By Kevin Grazier | August 19, 2010 3:16 pm

First, in Jurassic Park 2:  The Lost World, it was a T-Rex rampaging through downtown San Diego munching on house pets. Now aliensaliens_inside_small have stealthily invaded the San Diego Air & Space Museum. This particular invasion, however, was invited–the Air & Space Museum is hosting the Science of Aliens traveling exhibit: a fun mix of science and science fiction.

The exhibit is broken down into four areas:


The alien fiction section was small, and had a collection of movie props, videos, and sections devoted to Roswell and the Alien Autopsy video.  Interestingly the content in the Roswell section was donated by the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, NM, so I felt it was slightly skewed in favor of the object that crashed at Roswell being of an extraterrestrial nature, while the content provided for the Alien Autopsy video practically screamed “THIS WAS A HOAX!”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Aliens, Astronomy, Cyborgs, Movies, Robots, TV, Utter Nerd

Do You Speak Brain? Try Studying These Neurons-on-a-Chip

By Jeremy Jacquot | August 13, 2010 1:18 pm

spacing is importantThe neurons of a patient suffering from Alzheimer’s.

You may not be consciously aware of it, but at any given time your brain is playing host to billions of simultaneous conversations (and no, I’m not talking about those voices). I speak, of course, of the conversations between your neurons—the incessant neural jabbering that makes it possible for you to move your limbs, learn, remember, and feel pain. Every time we experience a new sensation or form a memory, millions of electrical and chemical signals are propagated across dense networks of axons and jump from one synapse to the next, building new neuronal connections or strengthening existing ones. And they are constantly changing—forming and reforming associations with other neurons in response to how the brain perceives and processes new bits of information.

Despite being central to our understanding of how the brain functions, these neural chats remain largely a mystery to scientists. What exactly are the individual neurons “saying” to each other? And how do these electrical and chemical “messages” become translated into actions, memories, or a range of other complex behaviors? To help decipher these discussions, a team of researchers from the University of Calgary led by bioengineer Naweed Syed have built a silicon microchip embedded with large networks of brain cells. The idea is to get the brain cells to “talk” to the millimeter-square chip—and then have the chip talk to the scientists through a computer interface.

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We Can Rebuild You: 8 Ways Science Can Fix Your (or Your Cat's) Broken Body

By Kyle Munkittrick | July 30, 2010 9:55 am

Star Wars, A.I., The Six Million Dollar Man, Star Trek and a host of other science-fiction films all share a particular futurist’s dream: a broken body is repaired with artificial replacements. Reality is finally catching up with our imaginations. Stem cells, mind-controlled arms, osso-integrated prostheses, exoskeletons, and xenotransplants are here. It’s important to note that most of these innovations are right on the cutting edge, either experimental, prohibitively expensive, or both. Individually they each may seem like small or too esoteric to matter, but as a whole, it looks like we’re on our way to a very cyborg future.

1) Rex


Rex Bionics has created what will be a commercially available set of robotic exoskeleton legs. The only currently existing set, custom built for Hayden Allen, allow him to walk up and down stairs and take awesome, super-mecha pictures like the one above. In an interview, he talks about basic quality of life issues (blood circulation, knowing when you have to go to the bathroom) that come from being ambulatory. Take that, paralysis!

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Biotech, Cyborgs, Robots

Why Keep Your Body? Help Yourself to Big Muscles, Cyborg Limbs, and a Big Booty

By Malcolm MacIver | July 27, 2010 11:25 am

Colonel Quaritch with his best friend
Colonel Quaritch and his exoskeleton from Avatar

Science fiction is sometimes a playground to explore what it would be like to have a different body. Most recently, in Avatar and Iron Man 2 we saw people joined to exoskeletons, which are being developed in real life for the military and for rehabilitation. The biomechanics of these exoskeletons are a close mimic of our own but with much more power or size. In Avatar, we also witnessed people experience the novelty of inhabiting a three-meter-tall blue body with movable ears and a neural interface that conveniently doubles as a tail.

But why wait for the shapeshifting future? Corsets and girdles are the best known types of “foundation garments” or “shapewear,” but for me at least, they are more Jane Eyre than Madonna, despite the latter’s use of them in her performances over the past twenty years.

For those who actually use shapewear on a day-to-day basis, the most common types must be the padded bra and shoulder pads. But the past week highlighted two new ways of changing the shape of our body. The first was in a Wall Street Journal article by Rachel Dodes on padded panties that promise to give Beyoncé-level gluteus maximi to the large behind-inclined; the second is from Sylvester Stallone’s comment that “action movies changed radically when it became possible to Velcro your muscles on.”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cyborgs, Movies, Robots

Comic-Con: Iron Man and the Scientists Who Love Him (His Movie, Anyway)

By Eric Wolff | July 24, 2010 12:35 am

Sure scientists enjoy the first Iron Man movie. They’re human beings after all, and that was a pretty decent movie. But I would never have expected scientists to love it for…well, for its approach to science.

At the NewSpace panel I attended yesterday, Mark Street, from XCOR, said he and a group of colleagues went to see the first film together.

“Our favorite part was the testing,” he said at the panel. “You know the part where he tries out the rocket boots, and he turns them on at like 10% and gets thrown onto the roof of car? We cracked up because that’s exactly what happens.”

iron man boots

Obviously, Street was joking, but his point was that Iron Man was one of the few movies to offer a smatter of realism in how science gets done: Have an idea, test it, have it not work right, try again.

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Hairshirted Eye for the Irritable Guy: New Study Shows How the Feel of Things Affects Thought

By Malcolm MacIver | July 7, 2010 5:44 pm

Screen shot 2010-07-08 at [Jul 8] 02.28.16 PMAthanasius (b. 293) was an ascetic known not only for his piety but—like many ascetics– for his penchant for wearing hairshirts (these were also available as underwear for the truly hard core). Hairshirts are made from goats’ hair, and they are as itchy as they sound, although the true test of your fealty to God was to wear one that was flea infested. Thanks to a new study on the cognitive effects of the feel of everyday objects, we now have some science to help us understand what effect wearing a hairshirt had on the way Athanasius thought. Ackerman, Nocera, and Bargh have discovered that people are more likely to judge an ambiguous passage as difficult and harsh after they have completed a jigsaw-puzzle covered in rough sandpaper, compared to folks who read the same passage after completing the same puzzle that was smooth to the touch. They also explored a few other examples of bleed-through from the way things feel to the way we think. Participants evaluating resumes judged ones that were on heavier clipboards to be better than ones on light clipboards. Sitting on hard chairs versus soft cushioned chairs caused negotiations to be more rigid in character, with less flexibility in a negotiation task.

These are remarkable effects with many potential implications, and applications (next time you’re trying to sell something, make sure you’re seated in a hard chair, and your buyer is in soft chair, for example; and clothes designers have a whole new dimension to consider). What is their underlying basis? The researchers hypothesize that our experiences with touch early in our development provides a scaffold for the development of conceptual knowledge. In adult life, these same touch experiences activate the scaffold in the same way, and lead to unconscious influences on our attitudes and decision making. The experience of weight gets metaphorically associated with seriousness and importance. Idioms like “that’s heavy” reflect this association. Similarly, rough textures get associated with difficulty, and we say “having a rough day.”

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Cyborg Comedians Kick Ass (With Prosthetic Legs)

By Kyle Munkittrick | June 24, 2010 1:12 pm

One of my weirder hobbies is keeping track of things that prove we live in the future. So far I’ve got things like robot vacuum cleaners (Roomba), Star Trek communicators (iPhone), and lasers that correct vision (LAZIK). I can now add “cyborg comedians” to that roster. I don’t know what caused the synchronicity, but in the past couple days I’ve been coming across seemingly unrelated but very funny people talking about their significant disabilities and how they transcend them with mechanical aids.

The first video I saw was of Zach Anner’s addition for an Oprah competition. Zach, who has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair to get around, is gunning for his own show. Now that he’s introduced, I’ll just let the man with the “sexiest palsy” do the talking:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cyborgs, Politics

Can You Hear That? It's the Future

By Kyle Munkittrick | June 4, 2010 3:03 pm

Jonathan’s big smile and those of his happy parents are brought to you by the marvel of cochlear implants. That the above video is blowing up all over the tubes is a pretty good indicator that external, visible augmentation is moving steadily toward mainstream acceptance. Jonathan is joining the nearly 200,000 people world wide who’ve received a “bionic ear.” Buzzfeed has a bunch more videos of people hearing for the first time and I dare you to watch and not get a little weepy. At 8 months, the little guy should have no problem integrating into hearing society. Like anything that we aren’t born doing–be it walking, talking, or hearing with a bionic ear–we have to learn and practice. With cochlear implants, research confirms that the more time a child like Jonathan has to practice, the better he’ll be able to hear, understand, and speak.

The technology that lets Jonathan hear is the best we have right now, but a lot more options for the hearing-impaired are on the way. Amir Abolfathi, one of the minds behind Invisalign (the clear, plastic aligners that fix your teeth without obscuring your smile) has used his dental knowledge to create the SoundBite for single-side deafness. The Soundbite is a bone-conducting hearing aid that can be easily snapped onto or off of the molars on the same side as the deaf ear. It’s easier, cheaper, and safer than the current invasive technique.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cyborgs, Medicine

Torchwood: Eyeball Cameras II

By Sam Lowry | August 3, 2009 11:15 am

I finally got around to watching Torchwood: Children of Earth this weekend.



Wow.  Bleak.  Maybe I shouldn’t have watched all five episodes in one afternoon, but I haven’t been this depressed since Dark Knight.  What happened to the randy, swashbuckling Captain Jack that we loved?

On the SciNoFi front though, Torchwood gives us the opportunity to revisit the topic of eyeball spy cameras, last seen in an episode of Dollhouse this spring.  As Stephen noted in a post at that time, scientists have been working on plugging directly into the brain (in cats at least) to locate and interpret visual processing activity.

Interestingly, the Torchwood contact lenses appeared to be a much more basic technology: essentially small video cameras that could transmit images back to a laptop and also display text messages to the wearer.

Given how far we have to go in understanding the brain, a contact lens camera is probably a more straightforward and only marginally more detectable solution for this kind of surveillance.  Eyeball sized cameras are already commercially available.

MORE ABOUT: Torchwood

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