Brain to Brain

This is extremely interesting. Researchers at the University of Washington (Seattle) have leveraged two existing technologies–electroencephalography (EEG) for recording brain signals from the scalp and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for stimulating the brain to allow one test subject to control the finger of another test subject (both humans).
The experimental setup looks like this:

Below is a video of the test in action.

Election 2012

Today is election day here in the US. Voting is important–do it.
As for myself, I will be voting for Barack Obama for president. My reasoning here is quite similar to that of John Scalzi here. Basically, the direction of the Republican party is not at all aligned with either anything I believe in nor (I believe) the best interests of the country.
Here in Minnesota, we have two proposed constitutional amendments:

I will be voting no on both of these as they are restrictive of the rights of individuals in manners that I don’t see any need to be restrictive.

Minicon 47 recap

Last weekend was Minicon 47 and it was another interesting weekend spent among SF fans and authors. This year I was on two panels. The first panel I was on was on Friday night and was “Failing the Turing Test.” Co-panelists were: Ted Chiang, Aaron Vander Giessen (M), Andy Exley, Howard L. Davidson and Jason Wittman. Ted Chiang (in case you don’t know) was the writer Guest of Honor. I enjoyed being on this panel quite a bit. We had a lively discussion on whether the Turing test was still useful (yes) and if it had been passed yet (no — chatbots really don’t count as the human involved isn’t usually aware they are being tested.) I mentioned some ideas about the ethics of AI — if you have an entity you acknowledge as intelligent, what sort of rights should it have. Ted mentioned that voting is problematic — “What if it replicated itself 10 million times?”

The second panel I was on was Saturday night and was “What is Intelligence?.” The co-panelists were: Ted Chiang, Jason Wittman, Marissa Lingen(M) and Martin Summerton.Ted talked a bit about ideas of intelligence taking different forms and I mentioned Blindsight by Peter Watts as a good example of a book dealing with different kinds of intelligence. (Ted agreed.) Ted brought up Transcranial direct-current stimulation tDcs as an interesting example of mental augmentation that is going on. At the very end, Ted mentioned that he wished we had been able to talk more about ethical implications of super-intelligence. He mentioned that we don’t expect dogs to have many ethics, children to have a few more, adults many more, … So would we expect a super-intelligent entity to have more ethics? (With great power comes great responsibility.) After the panel I had a chance to chat with Ted for a bit (he’s a really nice guy.) I thought the idea was quite interesting and seemed reasonable. While we might expect higher ethics, it is, of course, no guarantee that any given entity will have them Just as adult humans vary wildly in their grasp of ethics. Also, there is the problem that an AI could hold a very different type of ethics. Like “mine iron!” might be its idea of the highest ethical goal.

In a later panel, Ted gave an interesting definition of SF vs. Fantasy. If the basis of the story operates via the scientific method–is reproducible without special circumstances then the story is SF even if it may appear to be fantasy. For example, Ted’s story “Seventy-two Letters” has golems animated by slips of paper with names in Hebrew written upon them. This might appear to be fantasy, but the difference is that anyone can write out the names and animate the golem. Thus (in that universe) it is a verifiable and reproducible result. No special status of “wizard” is needed. I thought this was an interesting definition.

Minicon 47

Minicon 47 is this weekend. The Guests of Honor this year are: Ted Chiang (author), Christopher J Garcia (fanzine), and Frank Wu (artist).
I will be on two panels this year:

  • FRI — 8:30PM Failing the Turing Test
    In 1950, Alan Turing asked the question “Can machines think?” Since then, the test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour has sparked new questions. Is this test useful? Is it significant that some people are fooled by chatbots? What’s the relationship between intelligence and personhood? In what ways are computers smarter than us? How have AI surpassed us, and what do we do when humans don’t pass? Ted Chiang, Aaron Vander Giessen (M), Andy Exley, Howard L. Davidson, Jason Wittman, Steven Halter
  • SAT — 7:00PM What is Intelligence?
    Ted Chiang’s “Understand” asks and then attempts to very thoroughly answer the question of what it would really be like to be super-intelligent. Along the way, it delves into the definition of intelligence, and whether greater intelligence necessarily means greater morality. What’s our current definition of intelligent? What is intelligence? Is our definition something that could evolve? Could we achieve super-intelligence with performance enhancing drugs? What would it mean to be super-intelligent? Ted Chiang, Jason Wittman, Marissa Lingen(M), Martin Summerton, Steven Halter

A couple of nice light panels for evening discussion. 🙂

The Coldest War Audiobook is Out

The Coldest War audiobook is out on They are trying a bit of an experiment in that the audible form of the book is coming out now and the print form comes out in July. I’ve never listened to an audio book before, so this is also an experiment for me. So:
Step 1 — go to
Step 2 — get the iPhone app. Hmm, need an audible account to get books.
Step 3 — create an audible account.
Step 4 — purchase book. Hmm, it tells me something went wrong, but it is in My Library. Hit download and see that I need audible installed. Install some things, clear my cookies, and we have it downloaded.
I see there are two parts for just over 13 hours of listening. So, the first thing I see about audio books is that they are slower than my normal reading speed. But, onward! I’ll post a review of the book and the experience once my listenification is done. 🙂


We’ve been on four cruises. Two to Alaska, one Caribbean and one from Venice to various Grecian islands. The Grecian island cruise was aboard the Costa Mediterranea. We had a marvelous time and so recent tragedy of the Costa Concordia is a bit too close to home.
If you haven’t ever been on a cruise, it is probably difficult to really envision just how enormous these vessels are. It is truly mind boggling to see one lying on it side. In looking at the pages I can see that the Mediterranea is a somewhat smaller ship with 12 decks and a capacity for 2100 passengers while the Concordia has 17 decks and a capacity of 3700 passengers.
Exactly how the Concordia wandered as far off its planned route (I have seen a figure of 2.5 miles off course) would seem to be the key element.
We also saw that the passengers had not yet had their safety briefing. This seems odd as on each of the cruises we were on, the evacuation briefing was one of the first things done, soon after leaving port on the first night.
It appears that Costa is being pretty forthcoming with answers as they emerge and has stated that there appears to have been “significant” human error. Well, yeah–there pretty much had to be.

Winter Visitors

We haven’t had much snow this year (so far) but we have had the annual reemergence of the turkey flock aka small velociraptors:

There are a few turkeys how come around all year long, but when it begins to get cold the whole herd emerges from the depths of the woods. There seem to be about 18 of them this year.
The picture is from our dining room window down to our back patio. The feeder usually serves the squirrels and the blue jays. We gave up on the various clever ways of trying to keep the bird food away from the squirrels. They seem to be more clever than human technology at the present time. However, the turkeys quickly show the squirrels just who is the apex animal in the back yard.