Kevin Kelly: … maybe we can explore some of the consequences of the technology. Have you changed your mind about [the impact of VR] very much?
Jaron Lanier: Sure, I mean, it’s broadened quite a bit. In the ’80s, I had maybe an outright mystical approach to it. For me, the very most important thing about VR was that when you were in it, you’d feel your own existence, in the sense that if all the sensory input is artificial, then what’s floating there, that’s your consciousness. So to me, it was sort of proof that subjectivity is real; that consciousness is real, that it’s not just a construct that we put on things. Just to notice that you really exist, to me, was the very, very core of it. There were a zillion and one variations on that that [could] become really vivid and colorful in different ways. But that was always the core for me. And extending from that, this possibility of a kind of communication that would involve directly creating what people sense in common instead of relying as much on symbols such as words.
Given that civilian drones will soon occupy our skies, I believe there is an urgency for people to investigate the complexities of their potential impact on our lives. As a research, design and innovation company, at Superflux we not only prototype and build applications. We also design ways to translate our research and understanding into tangible and experiential visions that create visceral connections with how these technologies might touch our lives in the near future.
For the past few months we have been doing just that. Supported by the prestigious Grants for the Arts Award, we have been getting under the hood of this technology, to understand how it works and where its true potential might lie. The project is called ‘The Drone Aviary’, where we use the word “drone” to talk about a machine that has a certain amount of agency for decision-making. And one that can affect larger systems without human intervention or even observation.
In the coming months, our ambition is for these themes to find form in a large-scale interactive installation. Ten specially designed and programmed drones will inhabit a space in the heart of the city, moving within feet of visitors, bringing them into direct interaction with these flying robotic machines. At once a breath-taking spectacle and a provocation, it is our ambition to create a visceral connection with these new species of urban anima. They will soon become part of our city’s ecosystem, roaming the skies, sniffing data and performing tasks with increasing autonomy.
A new radio-chip device could offer a cost effective solution to the capital-intensive hurdles preventing the proliferation of the Internet of Things.
Engineers at Stanford University have developed what’s been described as an “ant-sized radio” that could allow two-way communication between any electronic device. Capable of operating at 24 billion cycles per second the chip, which is one tenth the size of a WiFi antenna, costs only pennies to produce. While being small and inexpensive are certainly boons for this type of device, designers admit that one of its most appealing characteristics is that it needs no external power. In fact, according to Stanford, the new chip is so “energy efficient that it gathers all the power it needs from the same electromagnetic waves that carry signals to its receiving antenna – no batteries required.”
Being able to control devices remotely could be key to achieving better personal energy efficiency and changing the way we interact with technology. In the distant future connected devices could also be a training ground for weak AI systems where domestic duties like making coffee and running the dishwasher could be triggered by actions like turning on the shower or dimming the lights for bed.
It’s a question that’s perplexed philosophers for centuries and scientists for decades: Where does consciousness come from? Neuroscientist Christof Koch, chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, thinks he has an answer.
Koch: There’s a theory, called Integrated Information Theory, developed by Giulio Tononi at the University of Wisconsin, that assigns to any one brain, or any complex system, a number — denoted by the Greek symbol of Φ — that tells you how integrated a system is, how much more the system is than the union of its parts. Φ gives you an information-theoretical measure of consciousness. Any system with integrated information different from zero has consciousness. Any integration feels like somethingto that system. When it’s dissolved, it does not feel that anymore. (http://www.scoop.it/t/consciousness/p/3582464734/2012/12/04/integrated-information-theory)
The internet contains about 10 billion computers, with each computer itself having a couple of billion transistors in its CPU. So the internet has at least 10^19 transistors, compared to the roughly 1000 trillion (or quadrillion) synapses in the human brain. That’s about 10,000 times more transistors than synapses. But is the internet more complex than the human brain? It depends on the degree of integration of the internet.
For instance, our brains are connected all the time. On the internet, computers are packet-switching. They’re not connected permanently, but rapidly switch from one to another. But according to my version of panpsychism, it feels like something to be the internet — and if the internet were down, it wouldn’t feel like anything anymore. And that is, in principle, not different from the way I feel when I’m in a deep, dreamless sleep.
It’s now eight years since David Cameron first declared that “it’s time we focused not just on GDP, but on GWB - general well-being” and in that time the UK has become a global leader by measuring national well-being – but we have yet to make the leap from measurement to action.
A new report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Wellbeing Economics, for which NEF acts as the secretariat, explodes both of these myths. The group, which includes parliamentarians from across the political spectrum, argues that well-being matters more, not less, in difficult economic times: we care about recessions because we care about unemployment, and we care about unemployment because we care about people’s well-being. And they show that well-being offers a real alternative to business-as-usual policy making, from the way we run the economy to the way we run our schools.
The report is based on a nine-month inquiry which explored well-being in relation to four diverse policy areas. In each of these, the evidence threw up both some distinctive policy priorities and some fresh approaches to old problems. The report makes five key recommendations for building a high well-being society:
The AirDog is a quadcopter with rotor-arms that fold away for easy storage when it is not in use. It’s said to be fully autonomous, needing no remote control in order to fly. Users can input the basic flight settings using the device’s “AirLeash,” a dedicated beacon for the AirDog that’s worn on the wrist or helmet and is tracked by the drone.
Networked objects are learning to anticipate our needs and orchestrate responses that deliver safety, efficiency, and convenience.
Jen: This anticipatory alarm received information from the cloud regarding weather and traffic, but also from the car itself. The car could also push a message to the cloud that its gas level was low. The system would then anticipate that the driver might have to stop for gas and add that to the expected commute time.
Tim: The vast majority of trips that we take in vehicles tend to be trips we’ve made before, but having that information, creating a profile or history in order to derive conclusions about what someone might be doing on a Tuesday at 5:30, provides useful information. If it’s aggregated and people opt in, that can beneficially impact the traffic load balancing. It could help create an efficient use of infrastructure and help the overall impact of transportation as it plays out.
Jennifer Healey, research scientist at Intel, and Tim Plowman, embedded user experience lead with Intel Labs’ Experience Design team.
An analyst’s view: The IoT can be characterised as an ever-expanding universe of connected things, and to guide companies through this system, identifying specific collaboration partners within a specific topic area is a wise starting point.
IoT requires quicker application development platforms to address the growing requirements of enterprises in maximising the benefits in this market opportunity, and at the same time, IoT needs to be enabled by scalable application management platforms, handling the new volumes of data and applications.
To be able to handle these volumes of data, M2M and IoT service enablement and application platforms as well as associated databases and analytical tools will need to be highly scalable, and sufficiently agile and flexible to manage the heterogeneity in data types and structures.
In reflecting the texture and attributes of IoT, ‘Subnets of Things’ will remain scalable, agile and flexible, constantly evolving and creating (or re-creating) new and exciting business relationships and partnerships between diverse set of stakeholders.
Daily life in cities tends to differ from daily life in small towns, especially by who we interact with. The MIT Senseable City Lab and the Santa Fe Institute studied this social aspect — individuals’ contacts by city size — through anonymized mobile phone logs.
It seems that even in large cities we tend to build tightly knit communities, or ‘villages,’ around ourselves. There is an important difference, though: if in a real village our connections might simply be defined by proximity, in a large city we can elect a community based on any number of factors, from affinity to interest to sexual preference.
As a physicist, Max Tegmark sees people as “food, rearranged.” That makes his answer to complicated questions like “What is consciousness?” simple: It’s just math. Why? Because it’s the patterns, not the particles, that matter. He explains that “consciousness is the way that information feels when it’s being processed”. Learn more about Max Tegmark at http://space.mit.edu/home/tegmark/mat… and TEDxCambridge at http://www.tedxcambridge.com.