Latest from me at Wired:
In the not too distant future, we could see cyborg plants that tell us when they need more water, what chemicals they’ve been exposed to, and what parasites are eating their roots. These part-organic, part-electronic creations may even tell us how much pollution is in the air. And yes, they’ll plug into the network.
That’s right: We’re on our way to the Internet of Plants.
That’s the message from Andrea Vitaletti, the head of a blue-sky research group working on this very thing at a lab in Italy. The project is called PLEASED, short for “PLants Employed As SEnsing Devices.” Though the project is still in the early stages, Vitaletti believes plants could serve as ideal sensors, monitoring so many aspects of our environment. Plants are cheap and resilient, he argues, and they could potentially monitor many different things simultaneously.
“Plants have millions of years of evolution. They are robust. They want to survive,” Vitaletti says.
I wrote about J.J. Armes for Grinding:
Every night dozens of people around the world don masks and costumes and venture into the streets to fight crime.
Phoenix Jones and Master Legend are perhaps the most famous, but there are hundreds of costumed would-be crime fighters and their activities range from attempting to apprehend criminals to watching over the homeless while they sleep to make sure their positions aren’t stolen.
These caped crusaders aren’t mutants, aliens or cyborgs — they’re just concerned citizens. They have no superhuman powers. But with advances in technology — such as exoskeletons and bionic limbs — you might think it’s only a matter of time until we see the first grinder superhero.
Actually, we’ve had him for quite some time.
The first real-life superhero may have been J. J. Armes, a private detective who active in El Paso since 1958. His super power? A gun implanted in one of his prosthetic hook that he could fire with his biceps — without using his other hook.
Armes lives in a mansion, surrounded by lions and tigers. He always wears three piece suits, and travels by limo driven by his body guard cum chauffeur. It’s no wonder Ideal Toy Company manufactured a line of action figures based on his likeness, and comic book mogul Stan Lee wants to make a movie based on his life.
Cyborgologist Nathan Jurgenson on the 30th anniversary of Videodrome:
Over the course of the film, Max comes to know a “media prophet” named Professor Brian O’Blivion—an obvious homage to Marshall McLuhan. O’Blivion builds a “Cathode Ray Mission,” named after the television set component which shoots electrons and creates images. The Cathode Ray Mission gives the destitute a chance to watch television in order to “patch them back into the world’s mixing board,” akin to McLuhan’s notion of media creating a “global village,” premised on the idea that media and technology, together, form the social fabric. O’Blivion goes on to monologue,
“The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen appears as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality; and reality is less than television.”
This is Videodrome’s philosophy. It’s the opposite of The Matrix’s (1999) misreading of Baudrillard’s theories of simulation, and it goes completely against the common understanding of the Web as “virtual,” of the so-called “offline” as “real.” O’blivion would agree when I claim that “it is wrong to say ‘IRL’ to mean offline: Facebook is real life.”
This logic—that the Web is some other place we visit, a “cyber” space, something “virtual” and hence unreal—is what I call “digital dualism” and I think it’s dead wrong. Instead, we need a far more synthetic understanding of technology and society, media and bodies, physicality and information as perpetually enmeshed and co-determining. If The Matrix is the film of digital dualism, Videodrome is its synthetic and augmented opponent.
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Although I agree with Nathan’s rejection of digital dualism, I do find that the internet, or rather particular parts of the internet create a “place-like” experience — much the way reading a book or watching a movie does. Except other people are there. Place metaphors have been common since the beginning, besides cyberspace we have chat “rooms” web “sites.” Of course these spaces are real, and enmeshed with the physical, but they are also ethereal — they are unplaces. That’s part of their appeal. You can enter them from anywhere, your phone at a bus station, a cybercafe in Bangkok or your new apartment in a new city. And when you enter, you are someplace more than the place that you are physically.
(FWIW, both Neuromancer and Matrix include some concept of entanglement between meatspace and cyberspace: when you die in them, you die for real.)
The highlight of the show may have been our discussion of the way that quantified self and augmented reality could unite to emotionally handicap us — much the same way GPS can damage our sense of direction. This after Chris explained that he gave a speech during which he was displaying vital stats like skin temperature and heart rate to the audience (something we actually talked about in our first episode):
Chris: One day they came up to me and said, “You know, at the end of your keynote I could tell you’re a little emotional and what really moved me was seeing how your body was reacting because I could hear it in your voice, but seeing it really made me think twice about how much that meant to you at that moment.” And it just stuck with me that literally there could have been tears and that’s not what she remembered. She remembered seeing the numbers. I mean, are we to the point where people need to see it to believe it?
Klint: I don’t know. Yes, that’s a really interesting reaction, or not reaction but I guess it’s an interesting thing for her to remember to impart. If that is the way we’re going to start seeing each other as streams of data instead of as the actual emotional cues that our bodies send off in a non-machine readable way. That’s some pretty profound implications for how we view each other and how we interact with each other.
This week on Mindful Cyborgs Chris Dancy and I interview Ernesto Ramirez, the program director, editor and community organizer of Quantified Self Labs and the webmaster of quantfiedself.com. We talked about the beginnings of the quantified self movement, its chances for catching on with the broader public and the privacy implications of sharing health data on the cloud.
This week cyborgologist Nathan Jurgenson joined Chris Dancy and me on Mindful Cyborgs. Nathan is the co-founder of the site Cyborgology, co-founder of the Theorizing the Web conference, a contributing editor at The New Inquiry and a sociology graduate student at the University of Maryland.
Here are a couple highlights from the transcript:
If you’ve taken a lot of photos, if you’re a photographer and you spend a lot of time with the camera in your hand or up your eye. You develop the thing that is called the “camera eye,” that is even when the camera is not at your eye you start to see the world through the logic of the camera mechanism. You see the world as a potential photo with a framing, lighting, the depth of field and so forth. And that’s called the camera eye and I think social media, especially Facebook, has given us the sort of documentary vision or the Facebook eye where you see the world as a potential Facebook post or tweet or Instagram photo.
That is you see the present as always this potential future past, this sort of nostalgic view of the present. I don’t think it takes us out of the moment. Some people say that, that you’re not experiencing life in the moment because you’re worried about posting it on Facebook. I think that’s just a different experience of the moment. But it’s worth debating whether that’s a better experience or worse experience.
What Eric Schmidt was getting at when he was talking about how using a smartphone is emasculating and you need to have this Google Glass that is somehow more masculine or something like that. It was really, I thought, offensive. And I think the correct reading of that was that the smartphone, now, everybody has a smartphone. How can you look like you’re a rich, powerful man if you have this thing that everybody has?
Well, there’s Google Glass now and again reinforces how what a cellphone used to do. When people see you wearing the Google Glass will say oh, well, you’re an important rich, powerful man. It’s really I think sad in sort of an offensive way to market that product. They’ve done a terrible job marketing Google Glass I think.
Mindful Cyborgs: Contemplative living in the age of quantification, augmentation and acceleration.
Hosts: Chris Dancy and Klint Finley.
Chris Arkenberg on giving new meaning to “body hacking”:
In what amounts to a fairly shocking reminder of how quickly our technologies are advancing and how deeply our lives are being woven with networked computation, security researchers have recently reported successes in remotely compromising and controlling two different medical implant devices . Such implanted devices are becoming more and more common, implemented with wireless communications both across components and outward to monitors that allow doctors to non-invasively make changes to their settings. Until only recently, this technology was mostly confined to advanced labs but it is now moving steadily into our bodies. As these procedures become more common, researchers are now considering the security implications of wiring human anatomy directly into the web of ubiquitous computation and networked communications.
Barnaby Jack, a researcher at McAfee, was investigating how the wireless protocols between implants and their remote controllers opened up potential vulnerabilities to 3rd party attacks. Working with instrumented insulin pumps he found he could compromise any pump within a 300-foot range. “We can make that pump dispense its entire 300 unit reservoir of insulin and we can do that without requiring its ID number”, he noted, adding that making the device empty its entire cartridge into a host’s bloodstream would cause “deep trouble”. Previously, independent security researcher Jerome Radcliff, a diabetic and insulin pump recipient himself, showed a crowd at the 2011 Black Hat Security Conference how he could wirelessly hack into his own pump to obtain its profile, then alter it in a way that would modify his prescription when sent back to the device.
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