Future Tech: Bouncing a Bit Off the Wall Edition
By Mark Devlin
February 8, 2012
New Hard Drive Development: Man, That’s Hot.
According to this article at Science Daily, an international research team led by scientists at the University of York’s Department of Physics have come up with a new way to record information using heat. Here’s a clip…
York physicist Thomas Ostler said: "Instead of using a magnetic field to record information on a magnetic medium, we harnessed much stronger internal forces and recorded information using only heat. This revolutionary method allows the recording of Terabytes (thousands of Gigabytes) of information per second, hundreds of times faster than present hard drive technology. As there is no need for a magnetic field, there is also less energy consumption."
Previously, heat has always been considered the enemy of magnetics…
"For centuries it has been believed that heat can only destroy the magnetic order. Now we have successfully demonstrated that it can, in fact, be a sufficient stimulus for recording information on a magnetic medium."…
…said Dr. Alexey Kimel, Institute of Molecules and Materials, Radboud University Nijmegan.
Zen Meditation? Bah. Hook Up Those Electrodes.
There may be some psychological accuracy to the well-known phenomenon of ‘getting in the zone.’ You know, like when you’re driving particularly well in a rare state of mentally blocked distractions, instincts cranked up, and making all the right moves with perfect timing . Or, maybe you’re kicking serious butt in a video game. Maybe you’ve experience this as an engineer or designer.
Whether you’re in the military or in an office, such a state is called Flow, according to this interesting reference…
"Flow" is a mental state of deep concentration. It typically takes about 15 minutes of uninterrupted study to get into a state of "flow", and the constant interruptions and distractions of a typical office environment will force you out of "flow" and make productivity impossible to achieve.
Unlike X-Files popularized loss of time related to alien abduction…
…the much more realistic state of Flow also results in a different sort of time los—in a good way: One simply loses track of time that’s passed. Here’s another description of Flow from the above reference link…
I find problems draw me into them. When they draw me in, I get into flow. I find it hard to design without that. It is a state of balancing ideas and arguments and program flow and the state of objects. All I need is a bit of quiet and the knowledge that I am going to have the next two hours to immerse myself. Often I only need half an hour to address a particular problem, but I need to think I am going to have 2 hours. Other times I sit, think and type until 2 a.m.
As opposed to ‘zoning out’ where mental numbness sets in, Flow also heightens situational awareness and related response.
(I hope I’m understanding all of this correctly; if there’s a shrink in the house, please comment yay or nay.)
While the previous brief discusses heat to write data, here we shift to the human mind, Flow, and constructive electrical shocks. Seriously. Here’s a clip from an excellent article at New Scientist…
[Michael] Weisend [of the Mind Research Network in New Mexico], who is working on a US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency programme to accelerate learning, has been using this form of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to cut the time it takes to train snipers. From the electrodes, a 2-milliamp current will run through the part of my brain associated with object recognition - an important skill when visually combing a scene for assailants.
That’s using what’s ‘essentially a 9-volt battery’ with the positive in contact with one’s temple, and the cathode connected to the left arm. (PLEASE DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME.)
Leading toward an electrically enhanced state of Flow, the method described ‘boosted the speed at which wannabe snipers could detect a threat by a factor of 2.3.’Weisand continues…
"The number one thing I hear people say after tDCS is that time passed unduly fast," says Weisend. Their movements also seem to become more automatic; they report calm, focused concentration - and their performance improves immediately.
If it’s working in the military now, expect at least limited mainstream uses within a decade, easily.
Imagine what such enhancements could bring to learning, on-the-job performance, and even the performance of athletes. Truly amazing stuff.
Another Form of Mind Control
Back in the not-too-distant past, I was an ‘operator’ in Princeton’s PEAR (Princeton Engineering Anomalies Resarch) Lab. The purpose of PEAR was to pursue the possibility of interaction between the human mind and physical devices. Established in 1979 at Princeton University by Robert G. Jahn, then Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, PEAR set out to discover whether or not the human mind’s effect of devices might be higher than chance in random trials. (Yes, that’s a Wikipedia link above; I chose to include it since the article seems well-referenced and accurate.)
Jahn concluded—after 28 years worth of ‘tens of millions’ of trials—that human intent does have a slight effect on random-event machines. While provable, the deviations were predictably small (though consistent and statistically significant). Thus, mainstream science never accepted PEAR lab results. The lab closed in 2007, though the lab’s website still exists here.
While, in the nineties, the government determined that PEAR failed to ‘document practical intelligence value,’ this New Scientist article indicates that DARPA hasn’t abandoned the idea of mind-machine interfaces that could, in the future, ‘allow soldiers to operate weaponry remotely.’ Instead of Star Wars ‘Force’-style control, however, DARPA’s looking into prosthetics to potentially make a direct connection, according to this DARPA brief…
Revolutionizing Prosthetics research teams from DEKA Integrated Solutions Corporation and Johns Hopkins APL recently updated representatives from more than 10 federal agencies on their efforts—including advances in socket systems and implantable devices that will be used to allow direct brain control of the arms by amputees and by others affected by stroke, spinal cord injury or neural degenerative disorders.
Admittedly, brain-machine interfaces aren’t new (See this Wired Danger Room article about a related Duke University patent, for instance.).
Consider the countless applications beyond defense, however, such as robots, industrial controls, commercial electronic devices, and even home electronics and appliances.
No matter how it might eventually be accomplished—whether via electronics, gases, or even what we now believe to be paranormal—getting into the enemy’s (or, a worker’s) head potentially violates human rights since doing so could interfere with natural thought processes. That’s according to a UK Royal Society report on the military applications of neuroscience.
Here’s a clip from the Royal Society site…
Professor Rod Flower FRS, chair of the Royal Society working group that wrote the report and Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology at Queen Mary University of London, says:
“The application of neuroscience research in the development of enhancement and degradation technologies for military and law enforcement use raises significant ethical considerations. Support for this type of research is potentially diverting funding and resources away from other important social applications such as the treatment of neurological impairment, disease and psychiatric illness. This is why it should be subject to ethical review and as transparent as possible.
…along with a 5-minute interview with Professor Flower…
He clearly states the benefits of such technology when used for military applications involving performance enhancement as well as physical and psychological rehabilitation. Conversely, he warns that the same technologies used in positive ways for one side could lead to abuses against adversaries.
The full report’s available here (PDF).
To tinfoil hat or not to tinfoil hat, that is the question.
Enjoy your weekend…