Category Archives: Chip In Head

The unbearably slow progress of our culture towards being able to get hardware added to your brain at a grey-market clinic in Seoul.

Soylent is free research for space sustenance. Drink on, geeks!

Suzanne Forbes illustrationI just read Lizzie Widdicombe’s thoughtful New Yorker piece on Soylent. On the face of it, Soylent seems like a classic example of privileged people solving Valley problems. No-one wants to not need food but supertaster Aspies who think they’re too busy saving the world to eat, right? When the Kickstarter launched, I saw it primarily as another asshat lifehack from an engineer who lacks sensuality. And a possible solution for my hacker fiance’s dislike of eating.

But… I care about space travel as much as I care about heirloom tomatoes, and Soylent could be an important piece of making it viable. We know that the DNA of heritage turkey breeds could provide the genetic diversity from homogenized foodstock turkeys we need for a resilient new-planet ark. Slow food is part of the future of space travel for those reasons. So is DIY. The legion of unpaid researchers using their own backyards to develop greywater irrigation and raised bed planting innovations are working for space. Although they’re only trying to grow their own food to save this planet, and building these raised beds because their West Oakland soil is full of toxins, they’re advancing our sustenance palette.

NASA would have to pay people lots of money to live on beige post-food slurry and carefully monitor and record the results. Companies would spend fortunes on the R&D these Soylent formula obsessives are doing for free. If I get on the generation ship (as a resident artist, I hope!) I’ll be glad a bunch of vegans in a Santa Cruz dorm tested green sludge recipes for a year. So I withdraw my criticism of Soylent, and I say, drink all the sludge you want, narcissist ascetics. Just make to quantify everything you learn.

Depression is a disease, and most of us aren’t doctors.

Friday evening my phone rang, and I ignored it. I never answer the phone;  anyone who knows me texts. Then it rang again, with a number not in my contacts. I hit the end button and set it down, and it started ringing again. I picked it up then, knowing someone was dead.

“I just got the news about Conor”, my boyfriend said. His voice was gnarled with static and shock, calling from Germany, where he was at some hacker conference. “Are you ok?” he asked. He sounded terrified. He said something about Twitter. “I’m fine, baby, what’s going on?” He told me he’d heard one of our friends was dead by his own hand. He told me he was with M. and Q., that they were ready to help if I needed anything. Continue reading

GlassUp is a receive-only HUD, versus the Google Glass voyeuristic creep factor.

Do we want AR?

Are we ready for augmented reality, on our faces on the daily?

screenshot-2017-01-05-at-1-27-10-pm-editedIs AR a very separate need from the visual version of distributed mechanical telepathy and jacking in to someone else’s sensorium? Will we buy a second screen for our second screens, a HUD that will show texts in our visual fields, because looking down at our Dick Tracy watches is just too inconvenient?

I’m currently re-reading Gibson’s Spook Country. Like all of his recent works, Spook Country is mostly a collection of stylistic tics (luckily, I love Gibson’s stylistic tics). However, it’s interesting in that it foresees* (in ’07) our return to the seemingly failed notions of VR and AR.

The idea of locative art has long since peaked, but the notion of enriching our awareness of the world through technology we wear is red-hot. The eversion of cyberspace has happened, is commodified. There is a wearable tech gold rush on, and HUDs are a big part of the territory. So a number of devices that compete with Google Glass are emerging.

One is the very affordable ($299 without camera) GlassUp device, which projects your phone data onto your glasses.TechCrunch suggests that price and eyelessness could push adoption of GlassUp- that people who are creeped out by the camera on Glass would feel better about buying GlassUp. This ignores the fact that GlassUp will be available with a camera for just $100 more.

The concept is similar to that of a Bluetooth earphone (actually, we have thought of a notifier earphone as well). Whatever arrives on the glasses is already on the phone, so it’s useful only to see messages without grabbing your smartphone. We see it as a first step towards telepathy, for which we couldn’t yet find the technology solution (yet :-)).

The privacy issues that horrify my boyfriend (see my “promise me you won’t wear them in the house” post) about Google Glass are related to the Glass camera and facial recognition. He is a person who is very uncomfortable about the idea that his movements can be tracked, online or in meatspace. Not because he’s a criminal, but because he read Ayn Rand at an impressionable age.

Myself, I assume that the government is tracking everything I do, and has been all my life. Because my parents were drug-taking hippies in an era when people who took drugs were the objects of a Phil Dickian surveillance state, and by the time I was fourteen all my friends were drug dealers (Stuyvesant had a lot of them in 1981), I accepted being watched as a fact of life.

Being connected to the Grateful Dead tour acid dealing network meant being connected to people whose phones were tapped by the DEA and FBI. I was lucky enough to get sober and out of drug culture as the “war on drugs” escalated and people I knew began to go to prison, in the late ’80s. But I never shook that feeling of being watched.

My boyfriend is a Millennial; he was born in ’82. He’s been online since the beginning, since chatrooms and dial-up. He’s always been in hacker culture, which is intrinsically paranoid and anti-establishment and parasitically infiltrated by the Man, so even though he’s not a druggie, we share a cellular, atavistic reaction to the word “narc”. And we share the experience of having our friends go to prison.

Yet being surveilled is enraging to him, while to me it’s undisturbing and in fact somewhat promising. Is it because I believe privacy is dead? Or is it because I believe in agency-based social compliance, enforced by alibi archives, copseyes and benevolent surveillance? Nah, it’s because I don’t have the bandwidth to care about anything ominous, and I’m basically techno-optimistic and an Internet Optimist.

I trust my friends at the EFF to protect my rights, and I trust the American Constitution to bounce back from damn near anything. I trust human adaptability and I trust the future. This is what growing up on science fiction did for me: it gave me an OS of hope. If we all wear glasses that tell us when the Colosseum was built and that mom is at the restaurant already, it’ll be no big deal. If we all wear glasses that let us see through each other’s eyes, it might change the world.screenshot-2017-01-05-at-1-33-24-pm-edited

*About Spook Country: It also contains a chilling awareness of the NSA tap-o-sphere that foreshadows both Snowden’s revelations and the surprising public indifference to them.

Gibson notes that most Americans assume the government is tapping their phones, and so the idea of their digital communications being monitored as well is unsurprising.

I’m not sure what annoys me more: That the National Security Agency can tap into every major Internet service and telecom carriers and monitor everything you do online or that I just can’t get wound up about it.

Edit: in 2019, I must edit this post to note, obvs I was fucking wrong.

It never occurred to me that the tech companies would use our data for anything other than the simplest and fastest way they could make money, or that anyone OTHER than marketing people for expensive jeans and our own government would use our data, or that  waves of incels downvoting Captain Marvel would actually have a real-world effect.

In 2019, I reserve my techno-optimism for a Hail Mary pass at saving the burning planet, even though I know the plastic-eating nanites will come up on the shore and eat us after they clear the water column.

My husband and I got rid our of our phones in 2015, instead of getting Google Glass.

We have a landline. We live happily without Facebook and when I take the bus Zuck doesn’t know where I am until I pass a camera. But it’s too little, too late, and I have no idea what’s gonna happen. Honestly, I would no longer get a chip, in my head or anywhere else, and I hate those fuckers for destroying my jolly vision of my 2020 cyborg self. Among other things.

Some days, my husband says he thinks the internet was a mistake.

Some days, I think he’s right.

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!