Elon Musk Isn’t the Only One Trying to Computerize Your Brain

Elon Musk wants to merge the computer with the human brain, build a “neural lace,” create a “direct cortical interface,” whatever that might look like.

from Pocket http://ift.tt/2nqnLSf

This reminds me of the part about Moravec’s Mind Children in N. Katherine Hayles’ book, How we Became Posthuman (I just read ‘Theorizing Posthumanism by Badmington, which refers to it as well). There’s a scenario in Mind Children, writes Hayles, where Moravec argues that it will soon be possible to download human consciousness into a computer.

How, I asked myself, was it possible for someone of Moravec’s obvious intelligence to believe that mind could be separated from body? Even assuming that such a separation was possible, how could anyone think that consciousness in an entirely different medium would remain unchanged, as if it had no connection with embodiment? Shocked into awareness, I began to notice he was far from alone. (1999, p. 1)

It appears that Moravec wasn’t wrong about the possibility of the technology to ‘download’ human consciousness, but let’s hope the scientists all get round to reading Hayles’ work on this techno-utopia before the work really starts…


Badmington, N. (2003). Theorizing Posthumanism. Cultural Critique, (53), 10–27.

Hayles, N. K. (1999). How we became posthuman: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature, and informatics. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press.

AI and free speech

Independent, 23rd February 2017

Just something that popped up while I was looking at the news, and I thought it worth sharing; there are several converging issues here, of the blurring of any still-existing boundaries between human and machine, of the presumption that there are still boundaries of some description, of surveillance and secrets and the confidentiality of information.

Comment on Stuart’s blog

This is a really interesting evaluation of a very very complex topic. I agree that losing the ability to conceal our thoughts if we choose would lead to a very different situation than we’re in now. Though I wonder if we’re already on that road? There are definite issues surrounding privacy and surveillance and our ability to conceal what we think. However, I have two follow up questions:

– do you think that our ability to disclose (roughly) what we choose is actually connected to our mind and soul (which makes us unique)? is it innate, or a social construct? (I’m in two minds – no pun intended!)

– do you think that ‘thought’ in its natural form would make much sense to an onlooker? or is it our interpretation of that thought that makes it intelligible? I strongly suspect that if a robot were able to read my mind right now it would very quickly go into shutdown… 🙂


from Comments for Stuart’s EDC blog http://ift.tt/2kH2YeE

Whose lifestream is it anyway? – Week 3 summary

This is a visual interpretation by Jen Maddox of one of my favourite songs from the amazing musical, Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and throughout this week I’ve kept going back to this song and its message about history. Or, maybe George Orwell was right when he wrote that “history is written by the winners”.

Cybercultures, or the history of the internet, is relatively recent history. Most of us have lived through it, and we may feel some sense of ownership over it. We might experience the kind of nostalgic determinism that The Buggles exhibit both in Video and in The Age of Plastic. My lifestream this week has been a reflection of my attempt to question this. I’ve been preoccupied by whose voices we hear. For example, I’ve questioned the ‘cultural sensitivity’ appreciated by care robots, and whether this is agitated by the fact that we’re approaching this from a strictly Western perspective. In my digital artefact, and influenced by Sterne’s project, I tried to expose one or two of the narrative nooks and crannies when we’re presented with new technology: commercialism, consumerism, the bottom line.

This is leading me to the conclusion that the socio-materialists have got it right: there’s a need to account for the affordances of technology as a complex assemblage, and it’s crucial to ensure that voices other than those of the Western, privileged classes aren’t black-boxed in these interpretations. This too should help us to keep sight of the culture of cybercultures, and the ways in which our chronicling of the history of the internet is influenced by culture, in practically every sense of the word.



Silver, D., Massanari, A., & Sterne, J. (Eds.). (2006). The Historiography of Cyberculture. In Critical cyberculture studies (pp. 17–28). New York: New York University Press.

John Naughton writing in The Guardian

Is technology smart enough to fix the fake news frenzy? | John Naughton:

picture of a keyboard with 'truth or lie'


An excellent, timely, thought-provoking article. Good conceptualisation of the complex assemblages in which technology is implicated, and the political, economic and social ramifications of it. Interesting, too, to consider how assessments of technology being able to ‘make up’ for human failure or inadequacy can shift depending on our appraisal of those failures and inadequacies.
from Tumblr http://ift.tt/2kuJKqH

Comment on Nigel’s blog

This is great, Nigel! How did you make it? There is so much in this image.

I like the way you’ve used the juxtaposition of what’s happening inside and outside to make a comment on the prevalence of technology, as well as its inherent possibility for variance. Is there something too about the way in which technology can absorb our attention, physically(?) preventing us from seeing what’s beyond it?


from Comments for Nigel’s EDC blog http://ift.tt/2kt3c7n

“We can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far”

What a corker of a song. The Buggles, from The Age of Plastic, 1979.

in my mind and in my car

However you name it, cybercultures, or internet studies, is our perspective on history. In this song, The Buggles nostalgically lament the loss of knowledge of bygone technologies, and they blame new technologies for this, rather than the humans who created them, or any of the socio-cultural or socio-material contexts which gave rise to it.

put the blame on VCR

This represents to me a decentring of human intention, but perhaps not in a way completely conducive with socio-material theories. This brings to mind the criticism of actor-network theory by McClean and Hassard (2004): they argued that it’s inevitably ethnocentric because we’re the ones explaining the network and making the connections. They quote Bloomfield and Vurdubakis (1999):

How can we re-present Other times and Other places with only the tools of Here and Now with which to do it? (p. 631)

Sterne raised the possibility of historiographical gaps in our narrative of cybercultures. But it may be worth taking this further. Is there a historiographical problem in general with our current perspective on cybercultures? Is our (natural?) nostalgia for the past – discussions of the noise that dial-up internet made, the Nokia 3310, fixing a VCR with a pencil, etc. – actually damaging for the way that we understand our interaction with technology now? And, if so, does this cross over into the way we think about using technology in our teaching?


Bloomfield, B. P., & Vurdubakis, T. (1999). The Outer Limits: Monsters, Actor Networks and the Writing of Displacement. Organization, 6(4), 625–647. https://doi.org/10.1177/135050849964004
McLean, C., & Hassard, J. (2004). Symmetrical Absence/Symmetrical Absurdity: Critical Notes on the Production of Actor-Network Accounts. Journal of Management Studies, 41(3), 493–519. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6486.2004.00442.x
Silver, D., Massanari, A., & Sterne, J. (Eds.). (2006). The Historiography of Cyberculture. In Critical cyberculture studies (pp. 17–28). New York: New York University Press.


Betty Sneezes

So here’s my digital artefact! I must apologise for the poor quality of it – I’ve not only been very stretched for time this week but I’m a horribly unvisual person, and I can’t do images. Which explains why I cheated and put a voiceover on it. Sorry about that.

Just in case you can’t see the video, it’s meant to be a commercial for a product called Betty Sneezes, which I’ve totally made up. Betty is a robot who can detect airborne rhinovirus, which causes 80% of instances of the common cold. Betty can alert you to this, allowing you to make a swift exit and therefore remain healthy. The end line of the commercial is: “you’ll never miss work again”.

I’ve wanted right from the start to make a commercial for a product – I haven’t personally given much thought to the intersection between cybercultures and consumerism but I suspect it is totally inescapable. Both from a practical perspective and an ethical one, technology can’t be economically neutral. This too is raised in the final line – while a common cold detector sounds pretty magnificent to me, I wanted to temper this with a slightly more pernicious message about human productivity.

Betty is a skeuomorph, rather than a cyborg. I did consider instead ‘inventing’ a chip or something that could be inserted into humans, but it (a) didn’t work as well visually and (b) I wanted to make a point about infection. One of the themes in this cybercultures block is what makes humans human, and whether cyborgs render debates over the differences between humans and technology completely redundant. Cathy Hills did an ingenious mentimeter poll to see what we thought the difference was, and I found the split of the results really interesting. But I wondered if, ultimately, the difference is going to be how the diseases between us spread, so I was playing a little bit on the word ‘virus’.

Finally, I just wanted to make it really clear that everything I’ve used in the video is available from Pixabay or Pexels and licensed under CC-0. No copyright infringements here 🙂 And, very much a hat tip to Cathy for her excellent poll!

Cybercultures playlist

I’m not sure how sensible this choice is, but I think it’s great. From the utterly magnificent Flight of the Concords, ‘The Humans are Dead’. Quick warning: it’s a little nsfw.

The robots tell us about the robot uprising in the 1990s. The robots, ruled by people, grew stronger, developed cognitive abilities, recognised that they were being overworked, and used their programming to determine the most efficient way to deal with this: they poisoned all the humans.

It’s very tongue-in-cheek, obviously, but the underlying message is quite relevant: the robots, designed to be more and more like humans, ultimately were able to oppress and destroy in a way that is way more efficient than the humans ever could. There’s even a moment in the song where the robots recognise the irony of what they’ve done. It’s deliberately emotionless, and although it’s very silly, it’s rather brilliant.