Objects In The Sky

“In 1896, newspapers throughout the United States began reporting accounts of mysterious airships flying overhead. Descriptions varied, but witnesses frequently invoked the century’s great technological achievements. Some sources reported dirigibles powered by steam engines. Others saw motorized, winged crafts with screw propellers. Many recalled a flying machine equipped with a powerful searchlight.

“As technologies of flight evolve, so do the descriptions of unidentified flying objects. The pattern has held in the 21st century as sightings of drone-like objects are reported, drawing concern from military and intelligence officials about possible security threats.

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By the 19th century […] the age of industrialization transferred its awe onto products of human ingenuity. The steamboat, the locomotive, photography, telegraphy, and the ocean liner were all hailed as “modern wonders” by news outlets and advertisers. All instilled a widespread sense of progress—and opened the door to speculation about whether objects in the sky signaled more changes.

“Yet nothing fueled the imagination more than the possibility of human flight. In the giddy atmosphere of the 19th century, the prospect of someone soon achieving it inspired newspapers to report on tinkerers and entrepreneurs boasting of their supposed successes.

“The wave of mysterious airship sightings that began in 1896 did not trigger widespread fear. The accepted explanation for these aircraft was terrestrial and quaint: Some ingenious eccentric had built a device and was testing its capabilities.

“But during the first two decades of the 20th century, things changed. As European powers expanded their militaries and nationalist movements sparked unrest, the likelihood of war prompted anxiety about invasion. The world saw Germany—home of the newly developed Zeppelin—as the likeliest aggressor. Military strategists, politicians, and newspapers in Great Britain warned of imminent attack by Zeppelins.

“The result was a series of phantom Zeppelin sightings by panicked citizens throughout the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand in 1909, then again in 1912 and 1913. When war broke out in August 1914, it sparked a new, more intense wave of sightings. Wartime reports also came in from Canada, South Africa, and the United States. In England, rumors that German spies had established secret Zeppelin hangars on British soil led vigilantes to scour the countryside…”

Text: How UFO Reports Change With the Technology of the Times

Pic: Andy Warhol – Silver Clouds, M Woods Museum.

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The Event

“After I arrived, I was ushered into what I thought was the green room. But instead of being wired with a microphone or taken to a stage, I just sat there at a plain round table as my audience was brought to me: five super-wealthy guys – yes, all men – from the upper echelon of the hedge fund world. After a bit of small talk, I realized they had no interest in the information I had prepared about the future of technology. They had come with questions of their own. […]

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“Finally, the CEO of a brokerage house explained that he had nearly completed building his own underground bunker system and asked: “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the Event?”

“The Event. That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr Robot hack that takes everything down.

“This single question occupied us for the rest of the hour. They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader? The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers – if that technology could be developed in time.

“That’s when it hit me: at least as far as these gentlemen were concerned, this was a talk about the future of technology. Taking their cue from Elon Musk colonizing Mars, Peter Thiel reversing the ageing process, or Sam Altman and Ray Kurzweil uploading their minds into supercomputers, they were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape…”

Text: Douglas Rushkoff,  How tech’s richest plan to save themselves after the apocalypse

Wolves and Bunnies

“Population biology was a radical new field back in the early 20th century. Rather than just collecting statistics to describe animal populations, a few ambitious researchers like Alfred Lotka wanted to create basic mathematical models of things like predators and prey to predict the evolution of their linked populations. Predators (like wolves) eat prey (like bunnies) so they can make more wolf babies, thereby increasing the wolf population. Bunnies do a fine job of reproducing on their own, but if too many are eaten, their population numbers suffer. Today, population biologists, ecologists, and their compatriots use mathematical models to study everything from the spread of disease to the propagation of invasive species. The approach has even found its way to the study of human civilizations, including their collapse in places like Easter Island.

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“We used these tools to build a simple model for the evolution of a civilization with its planet. In our approach, the exo-civilization’s population and the planetary environment are braided together by energy use and its consequences. The planet gives the civilization energy resources. The civilization consumes them to do the work of civilization building. As a civilization harvests more power from the planet, its capacities soar. That includes the ability to make and feed more babies. This link between available energy (in the form of food for simple organisms) and rising birth rates is fundamental to population biology. And for human civilization the steep rise we’ve seen in population is closely tied to fertilizer involving fossil-fuel use. So greater energy will, in the beginning, mean bigger populations. But there’s no free lunch from a planetary perspective. Using all that energy has to result in feedback on the planet. That’s what we earthlings are just starting to see with climate change. If global warming gets really nasty, everything from energy harvesting to food production is going to get severely stressed and our large human population won’t be sustainable. That’s why our exo-civilization models linked rising planetary impacts with population declines. It was all pretty straightforward, requiring no assumptions about alien economics, sociology, or any other science-fiction ideas.

“But to allow for some choice on the part of the exo-civilization we also included a basic switch describing how the civilization could respond to changing planetary conditions. For the sake of simplicity, we imagined that the planet had just two kinds of energy resources. One had a high planetary impact (like fossil fuels). The other had low impact (like solar energy). In some models we allowed the civilization to switch from to one to the other as things got bad.

“So, what did the model tell us? We saw three distinct kinds of civilizational histories. The first—and, alarmingly, most common—was what we called “the die-off.” As the civilization used energy, its numbers grew rapidly, but the use of the resource also pushed the planet away from the conditions the civilization grew up with. As the evolution of the civilization and planet continued, the population skyrocketed, blowing past the planet’s limits. The population, in other words, overshot the planet’s carrying capacity. Then came a big reduction in the civilization’s population until both the planet and the civilization reached a steady state. After that the population and the planet stopped changing. A sustainable planetary civilization was achieved, but at a high cost. In many of the models, we saw as much as 70 percent of the population perish before a steady state was reached. In reality, it’s not clear that a complex technological civilization like ours could survive such a catastrophe…”

Text: Adam Frank, How Do Aliens Solve Climate Change? The Atlantic 

What the Map Doesn’t Show

“Where the City Can’t See is the first fiction film shot entirely through laser scanning technology, directed by artist Liam Young and written by author Tim Maughan. Set in the Chinese owned and controlled Detroit Economic Zone (DEZ), in a not-too-distant future where Google maps, urban management systems and CCTV surveillance are not only mapping our cities, but ruling them.

“Exploring the subcultures that could emerge from these new technologies, the film follows a collection of young factory workers across a single night, as they drift through the smart city in a driverless taxi, searching for a place they know exists, but that the map doesn’t show. They are part of an underground community that work on the production lines by day, by night adorn themselves in machine vision camouflage and the tribal masks of anti-facial recognition, enacting their escapist fantasies in the hidden spaces of the city. They hack the city and journey through a network of stealth buildings, ruinous landscapes, ghost architectures, anomalies, glitches and sprites, searching for the wilds beyond the machines…”

Text: Where The City Can’t See, andfestival
Video: WHERE THE CITY CAN’T SEE TEASER from liam young on Vimeo.

 

“You’re talking about memories…”

“UCLA biologists report they have transferred a memory from one marine snail to another, creating an artificial memory, by injecting RNA from one to another. This research could lead to new ways to lessen the trauma of painful memories with RNA and to restore lost memories.

“I think in the not-too-distant future, we could potentially use RNA to ameliorate the effects of Alzheimer’s disease or post-traumatic stress disorder,” said David Glanzman, senior author of the study and a UCLA professor of integrative biology and physiology and of neurobiology. The team’s research is published May 14 in eNeuro, the online journal of the Society for Neuroscience.

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“RNA, or ribonucleic acid, has been widely known as a cellular messenger that makes proteins and carries out DNA’s instructions to other parts of the cell. It is now understood to have other important functions besides protein coding, including regulation of a variety of cellular processes involved in development and disease.

“The researchers gave mild electric shocks to the tails of a species of marine snail called Aplysia. The snails received five tail shocks, one every 20 minutes, and then five more 24 hours later. The shocks enhance the snail’s defensive withdrawal reflex, a response it displays for protection from potential harm. When the researchers subsequently tapped the snails, they found those that had been given the shocks displayed a defensive contraction that lasted an average of 50 seconds, a simple type of learning known as “sensitization.” Those that had not been given the shocks contracted for only about one second.

“The life scientists extracted RNA from the nervous systems of marine snails that received the tail shocks the day after the second series of shocks, and also from marine snails that did not receive any shocks. Then the RNA from the first (sensitized) group was injected into seven marine snails that had not received any shocks, and the RNA from the second group was injected into a control group of seven other snails that also had not received any shocks.

“Remarkably, the scientists found that the seven that received the RNA from snails that were given the shocks behaved as if they themselves had received the tail shocks: They displayed a defensive contraction that lasted an average of about 40 seconds.

“It’s as though we transferred the memory,” said Glanzman, who is also a member of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute.

“In the field of neuroscience, it has long been thought that memories are stored in synapses. (Each neuron has several thousand synapses.) Glanzman holds a different view, believing that memories are stored in the nucleus of neurons.

“If memories were stored at synapses, there is no way our experiment would have worked,” said Glanzman, who added that the marine snail is an excellent model for studying the brain and memory.”

Text: Biologists ‘transfer’ a memory between snails, University of California.

Pic: Paul Rumsey, Snail, 1988-93.

Data paintings

“What resembles the wall of an exotic underground grotto is actually a work of art representing the circuitry of the brain in action. Engram / Remember is an incredible moving spectacle, forged from algorithms that convert data about brainwave activity into captivating imagery – this image shows just a single frame. The high-resolution screen starts off showing what seems to be a piece of paper ripping and folding into itself, then morphs into swirling shapes that wriggle and squirm around in an imaginary box.

“Artist Refik Anadol creates his “data paintings” and other works at the Neuroscape Laboratory at the University of California in San Francisco. He measures and records volunteers’ brainwave activity with electrodes placed on their scalp (pictured below), then uses fractal algorithms and neural nets to turn the data into these shape-shifting displays. Engram / Remember uses data taken from his own brain activity while he was recalling positive long-term memories, he says.”

Text: Swirling wall of moving patterns represents our thoughts, New Scientist.

Video: Engram: Data Sculpture for Melting Memories from Refik Anadol

“Read and write the language of the brain…”

“The therapeutic potential for the device is exciting. From helping to restore sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, to reinstating sensation in patients with peripheral nerve damage and helping amputees control prosthetic limbs.

“This has great potential for neural prostheses, since it has the precision needed for the brain to interpret the pattern of activation,” says Mardinly. “If you can read and write the language of the brain, you can speak to it in its own language and it can interpret the message much better.” Mardinly is already thinking beyond therapeutic uses, towards augmenting human experience: “This is one of the first steps in a long road to develop a technology that could be a virtual brain implant with additional senses or enhanced senses.”

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“We’re still a ways off before you can plan your next staycation at a 3D Shot themed resort and spa. As of now, the researchers are testing a prototype in the visual, touch and motor areas of mice brains.

“The mice are showing similar patterns of neural response correlating to sensory stimuli. The next step is training the mice so scientists can observe behavior changes that correspond to the stimulation. Studying behavioral cues is the best measure of success because you can’t ask a mouse if it’s experiencing the ripe, mushroomy taste of Limburger cheese as you flash holograms into its cortex.

“The researchers plan to scale-up the device’s capacity to interpret and create from a broader terrain of brain matter while scaling-down the device to make it portable enough to slip inside a backpack.

“They’re also working towards capturing neural patterns inside the brain with the goal of reproducing sensory experience and playing it back through holography.”

Text: Scientists Project Holograms Into The Brain To Create Experiences, Forbes.