Category Archives: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

Arthur C. Clarke said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

The videophones came when we weren’t watching.

facetiming by Suzanne Forbes Jan 2016Videophones- we were going to have them in the future.

Then we could have them, and we didn’t want them. Because why would you want someone to call you at home, and see you when you’d just gotten out of the shower? The videophone was strictly for corporate meetings. Then last Fall my friend Devon was on the phone with her boyfriend, and suddenly I realized she was showing him the costume project we were working on, live. Video phones had arrived.

Since I’ve never had a phone that could Facetime and now for the last nine months I haven’t had a phone at all, I promptly forgot about Facetiming.

Until I saw this lady on the U-Bahn, doing something that clearly wasn’t a phone call. I realized I recognized the posture and gestures, that I’d been seeing people doing something like this for the last year or so. A new thing added to the human family of communication behaviors, Facetiming with headphones.

More animated, more involved, more private than a phone call.

She never noticed me drawing; she was in another world. It makes sense, as a communication tool, the same way Skyping as a thing you plan, make a date for, makes sense. You can do it on the subway, you can talk to your girlfriend who’s trying on a dress or to your kids at home and walk them through starting dinner.

Thomas Edison would be proud.


The famous Punch cartoon from 1878 by George du Maurier, depicting Edison’s Telephonoscope.

The New Aesthetic, spontaneous ABS mutation and machine vision glitches.

Photo from Trammell Hudson

We just discovered 3D Printer Failure on Flickr- check out this delicious image from Trammell Hudson! There are loads of cool fails, like a devolving Buddha and portraits that fail to render accurately, an outcome anyone who has been interviewed by a media outlet will be familiar with.

3D printer failure is a great synecdoche for the New Aesthetic. The sea sees us; GIGO is everted into meatspace. The looping coils of mis-extruded ABS create gorgeous organic forms. Some seem resolved, like the extrojection of some noumena into our dimension. Continue reading

Mechanical telepathy, getting closer every day.

When I got on Twitter in 2007, I fell in love with the way it formed a kind of cloud consciousness for my community.

It reminded me of being a graffiti writer in New York in 1980 and getting on a subway car that had just been tagged by someone I knew. In the wet ink I could see the traces of my friend’s presence, the knowledge that they had probably gotten off just one stop before I got on. I could feel the network of the subway system brachiating out through the city, feel my awareness of my community spreading across it, leaving marks of our passage for each other. There was a signal going out into the world, openly visible and yet you needed to be part of it to recognize it.

Twitter and Foursquare were an evolution of that community consciousness and communication, a distributed mechanical telepathy. Now, of course, the Twitter signal is mostly noise, except when it’s news, which is a very different thing. But mechanical telepathy is still moving forward, with devices like Google Glass at the forefront.

Mechanical telepathy is why I want a ChipInHead, not because of the HUD aspect.Continuum's Kiera uses her HUD display.


I want the MMI‘s I saw in 1982 in Larry Niven’s most politically radical book, the Panopticon/ecoterrorism fable Oath of Fealty. In Oath of Fealty, two executives who have Brain-Computer Interfaces with their corporate server essentially IM or email each other through the corporation’s AI-like system.

It’s a very manageable, intentional vision of telepathy- there’s no possibility of accidentally overhearing things you don’t want to hear, or becoming overwhelmed by hearing every mind in the world. You don’t need earworms about Tensors to protect yourself from snooping Espers. In fact, this version of telepathy is most like texting, and one of the reasons I love texting is that it possesses agency, latency and a non-invasive property that the phone call never did. Texting, and the smartwatch bubble, are steps on the way to mechanical telepathy. So is Neurogaming.

The world’s first Neurogaming Conference was just held in SF last week.

Neurogaming tech builds on the current Quantified Self sensormania, ever-improving haptic tech, and the is-VR-finally-here excitement around tools like the Oculus Rift. In the Year of The Cyborg Tipping Point, we’re ready for recreational use of medical and military bio-monitoring tech. We’re ready for AR, not in the locative death scene art-installation sense but in the quotidian sense. But market forces have to justify the R&D. The success of sensor tech like the Kinect and the Wii doesn’t mean guaranteed resources for gaming EEG and invasive-sounding biofeedback tools like sweat tasters.

Medical dollar competition, like prosthetic control and the race for the bionic eye market, may push brain-computer interface development along.

The Nurmikko Nanophotonics and Neuroengineering lab at Brown has a research goal of recording signals from primate brains. Then there’s magnetized ink for a haptic tattoo. Nokia has taken out a patent application. Feeling a distinct pattern of pulses when your loved one calls is definitely a form of telepathy.

What about the product actually called Telepathy?

Telepathy One, the Glass-type wearable AR device that was demoed at SXSW, sent out a press release about its US launch this week. Telepathy One is focused on media sharing and experience augmentation, and uses earbuds rather than bone conduction, which supposed to make it affordable. The concept is more “reach out and touch someone” than digital upgrade/onboard PA. The tech seems to be at least partially working, but the sleek design has a deadly flaw- the headset looks and apparently is uncomfortable and unstable on people’s heads in a way Glass isn’t. While Telepathy One is supposed to make it to market before Glass, it doesn’t look robust enough to get rapid adoption.

Is mechanical telepathy too creepy?

To people who aren’t me, I mean? One of the things I find most exciting about Google Glass is that you can pipe video of your viewpoint live to someone else’s laptop, the closest we’ve gotten so far to simstim and “accessing” other people’s sensoriums. (Peter Acworth sees application to POV prOn, while I see poignant echoes of Slow Glass.)

Last Friday I went to WearTechCon, the Wearable Tech Meetup at Twitter, and met some folks from Vergence Labs.

Vergence is working on what they call “Social Video” glasses. The glasses are called Epiphany Eyewear and are being developed with IndieGoGo funds, after Kickstarter choked their campaign. Because it was creepy? Or because a similar project had left a bad taste in the mouth of many contributors?

I spoke to CEO Erick Miller and designer David Meisenholder, who’s doing a Product Design Masters at Stanford. (Did you know Stanford had Product Design? I didn’t!) They seemed like extremely smart, talented guys with impressive pedigrees working on a cool project to me. I kind of totally love the engineering equivalent of an artist’s statement Miller has on his LinkedIn, seen below. It’s like a geek version of the Rozz-Tox Manifesto. And he comes from the world of CG TDs, which is a world I know well, having been married to one and worked at a VFX house.

So I don’t think these guys are startup jerks trying to create a product that will enable POV Girls Gone Wild videos.

I think they’re serious people who care about technology’s human future, and not just in a dopey Singularity way. Also, the glasses totally work.

The glasses look like chunky black plastic hipster frames; the hardware is in the earpieces (temples or bows). The temples are scarcely thicker than those on Buddy Holly’s. They look sleek in black, but I loved the slightly-translucent white ones, with their visible components. (I imagined them styled with a Unif Vapor Moto jacket and ombre seapunk hair!) Miller demonstrated the glasses recording his POV and then uploaded it to Vergence Labs’ social platform, I was delighted.

Later that weekend, I excitedly told my boyfriend about it. He was horrified.

I was babbling happily about how he could record his experience at events he goes to that I don’t attend, like Chaos Communication Camp and Burning Man. Then I remembered that a) as an online NYM Rights activist, he is violently opposed to mass-disseminated video life-logging and video documentation that could be exploited by facial-recognition software. (See my Google Glass post, “Promise Me You Won’t Wear Them In The House“). B) so are all his hacker friends. And C) Burning Man has had plenty of issues with video and consent.

Ah well- so much for watching the Man burn while sitting on our couch with the cat.

I’m still totally in favor of social video glasses, and Epiphany Eyewear is already compatible with prescription lenses, a distinct market advantage over Glass. You can just go to Lenscrafters and have them cut lenses to fit your Epiphany frames. Plus, they’re cheap as hell – looks like they’ll launch at a MSRP of around $300. I asked Miller when they’re shipping, and he said he couldn’t confirm a date yet – so I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled and the blog updated.

Mechanical telepathy, about to be unevenly distributed!

Should you freak out about 3D printed guns?

“The street finds its own uses for things.”

William Gibson said that, in the short story “Burning Chrome”. If you’ve ever lived on the wrong side of the law, reading that made your hair stand on end.

If in 1981 you had drug-dealer boyfriends with pagers, when the only other people who had them were doctors, and you were making your long-distance calls with calling-card numbers hacked by the Yippies, you understood that technology belongs to the people who take it. And the cops never catch up with the robbers.

Everything that’s happened since I read “Burning Chrome” supports the idea that black and grey market forces will drive technology development.

First 3D printed gun fired- photo by Michael Thad Carter for Forbes

First 3D printed gun fired- photo by Michael Thad Carter for Forbes

This Sunday the first 3D printed gun was fired, and now the internet is in a panic.

It’s perhaps unfortunate that the spokesperson for the gun printing company, Defense Distributed, is a total doucheboat captain. And that he test-fired the gun in Texas.

The company’s mission statement is all up in Second Amendment space, and the gun is called the Liberator.

These guys are swinging for the fences, internet-frenzy wise.

Wilson, who’s a law student, claims the gun is a thought experiment about the impossibility of re-bottling tech genies.

Like most people with a trolling agenda, he either doesn’t think or doesn’t care about possible consequences. The gun was printed on a Stratasys machine- the same kind of machine that’s being used for development of 4D printed, self-assembling objects.

Meanwhile, Autodesk is partnering with bioprinter Organovo to develop life-saving 3D bio-printing tech.

Both of these research directions could change the future in big, big ways- much bigger than the convenience of home-printing your own part for a broken food processor. But panic and the rush to ban around 3D gun printing could affect the insane market growth of 3D printing companies like Stratasys, 3D Systems and ExOne Co.

When Stratasys became aware of Wilson’s intentions, they voided Wilson’s lease on one of their machines and repossessed the machine pronto.

It’s not yet clear* how he got ahold of the second-hand machine he ultimately used to print the gun. The company did acquire a Federal license to manufacture firearms, making the use of the printer legal. In August, Defense Distributing’s IndieGoGo campaign to raise the funds for the project was shut down before it reached its goal. BitCoin made Wilson’s funding happen, despite this.

*edit: we’ve learned that the machine used to print the gun was bought on eBay for $8,000.00.

In December, MakerBot‘s 3D-sharing platform Thingiverse purged all gun part printables.

This CNET article covers the policies various 3D printing companies had in place regarding printing firearms or their components, as of September 2012.

Also in December, Wired named Wilson as one of the 15 Most Dangerous People in the World.

Let’s note that the panic on the internet is mostly ignoring something crucial: that’s it’s not just legal to make a 3D printed gun, it’s legal to make a gun, period.

Did you know that before today? I sure didn’t. This quite level-headed article on TechCrunch addresses the realities of the situation. And of course, although the notorious Armory has been closed, you can probably still buy a gun on Silk Road or some other Darknet site if you want one.

So really, what’s important here is this:

  • America is a free country where wackadoodle Libertarians can BitCoin up the dollahs to manufacture anything.
  • American politicians will jump on any hot-button cause, because votes, and gun control is très chic.
  • 3D printing companies have some ‘splainin to do, but their PR teams will dodge this particular, um, bullet.

The Guardian looks at the bigger picture and notes that what we’re talking about here is what it means to have the digital extend into the physical. Bringing all the issues of censorship, legality, copyright and clearance the digital has already raised along with it.

this post originally appeared on the T324 Blog.

What will Google X announce this month?

So Sunday night I had dinner with a friend who works for Google X. My friend can’t talk about what he’s working on, but he did say that there’s an announcement coming up soon about one of the X projects. A quick visit to the internets confirmed this, with absolutely no more information than I had already.

Google has recently moved two of their top executives over to covert projects at X. Will they be working on Glass, or something entirely different? With all the Glass news at SXSW, it seems unlikely another announcement about Glass is in the offing. It’s also definitely not a space elevator. (Damn! I want to travel Friday-style!)