Posts Tagged ‘Singularity’

Scary, and it gets worse…

Sunday, April 14th, 2013 by Roberto Saracco

Just few weeks ago I reported on a successful experiment carried out by Duke and Natal Universities that proved possible to send brain signals from the brain of a rat in the US to one in Brasil.

And now I stumbled onto a news that a joint research team in South Korea and US have managed to send signals from a human brain to a rat brain. And as they are announcing the results they claim the road is open for sending signal from a human brain to another human brain.


The experiment was performed by placing sensors to detect EEG on the head of a volunteer. The person looked at stroboscopic lights on a screen. This generated a pattern that could be detected by a computer reading the EEG. This pattern can be modulated by the person thinking on moving the rats tail left or right, hence the computer could detect the “thought” of that person and send the signal over a telecommunications link.

The signal transmitted to the rat via a communication link was converted by another computer at the receiving end to  drive a transducer that focussed ultrasound on the rat’s brain. The ultrasound creates pressure waves on the rat’s brain that results in a stimulation of specific areas of the rat brain inducing specific activities. The rat was anaesthetised, to keep it still and be able to precisely focus the ultrasound, although in principle there won’t be any need for anaesthesia.  Indeed the experiment shown that a person thought can be send to a rat brain and stimulated it to move its tale left or right.

You might say, rightly so, that it is like having found a way to drip a drop of water into a valley whilst what would be needed is to flood that valley with a mighty river to create a lake.

And then, wasn’t the Volta experiment showing the possibility to create  a tiny spark of electricity quite similar? What can you ever do with such a tiny spark? Well that was the start of a revolution that has brought us where we are now. All of our life everyday experience wouldn’t have been possible without demonstrating the capability of generating a little spark.

Well, you might say that it took us over 200 year from that fateful November 7th, 1801, when Volta presented the experiment to Napoleon at the Institut de France in Paris. Will we have to wait 200 years to move from this “move tail left or right” to the seamless communication of thoughts among human brains (or interspecies brains!)?

I don’t think so. The progress of technology is such that we experience a compression of time, the amount of evolution we had in the last 50 years will be matched by the one we can expect in the next 18 months. May be Kurzweil is right predicting a singularity by 2030.

I’ve got the feeling… I’m losing!

Saturday, March 10th, 2012 by Roberto Saracco

As manager of this blog I am getting more and more concerned by spam, computer programs posting comments to advertise products based on some words captured in the post. I am getting more and more of them and this tells me that the CAPTCHA code being used is getting more and more easy to solve by computer.

We are getting some 20 spams a day, from about 6-10 different sources, thus indicating that there are several computers that can decode CAPTCHA.

This is an opportunity for new companies to develop smarter CAPTCHA, like NuCaptcha.

The company has invented a CAPTCHA consisting of moving letters and is telling you which ones have to be use as a code, in the case of the picture on the left you are supposed to type the red letters (KSR) as they move along the screen.

However, researchers from Stanford have just announced that borrowing from the understanding of human vision they have developed a program that is able to capture the floating letters with an accuracy of over 90%, thus invalidating the NuCaptcha solution.

I have to say that more than once I have had problem in understanding the scrambled letters myself and knowing that a computer can do better than me in spotting the right combination makes me feel a loser.

Are we really getting close to Kurzweil singularity, estimated at 2025, when computers will be able to best humans in most areas and look more intelligent than us?

Will Immortality be in the Cloud?

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011 by Roberto Saracco

Once in a while I guess we can move beyond the “reasonable” to enter pure speculation. This is the case with this post. In a way the news I read reporting the outcome of the Singularity Summit recently held in New York reminds me of a little scenario I wrote three years ago on the conceptual possibility of using technology to extend our “presence” beyond our life, in the context of our project The Digital Shadow.

Would ever be possible to replicate consciousness in digital form?

At  the Summit Dmitry Itskov presented the “Project Immortality 2045″ that aims at creating a humanoid avatar within 5 to 7 years and transplanting “digitally” a human brain in the avatar at a level of experiences within 10-15 years and further down the lane, in 20 to 25 years becoming able to transplant emotion and consciousness.

As sensors of many types are becoming available to track one’s life, continuously, and software gets better and better in extracting meaning (storage is no longer an issue) we can really imagine that the possibility of recording one’s life and “enacting” that life is within reach.

Of course there are many many nuances and replicating all of them is not just difficult, it can be impossible to prove that the replication is a faithful one. I remember reading one story in the Hofstadter’s book “Mind’s I” where a computer was loaded with the information contained in the brain of a technician to command a robot and through several twist many aspects of what duplication means came to the fore.

As there are many (infinite?) nuances it may be impossible to claim a complete duplication and immortality but at the same time it means that we can keep bettering the duplication and we can reach several points where it is “good enough” for what is intended.

Let’s not forget to bring home the bacon: moving on this path (and for simpler/less ambitious reasons than immortality) requires a continuous stream of complex, individual and contextual, information to be captured, hence the presence of a ubiquitous connectivity fabric. By continuously monitoring the gait of a person over time it is possible to create a digital signature of that person and this can be used in case an orthopedic re-education is needed (like when you break a limb). It can also be used to detect early signs of brain pathologies. The applications, already today, are many. Just imagine what will become possible once all our life will be digitized (and of course there is the issue of privacy and protection to be considered…).