Weekending 03112012

All Nicolas has time to say is, “A quick trip to Montpellier for a workshop about locative media.” Well..maybe he’ll add more when he lands in Geneva, immediately goes to teach a class and then (tries) to get on our monthly Design Fiction teleco.

So, in the meantime, Julian will fill in:

From Austin Texas, Nicolas and Julian put together a panel for SxSW called “Mind and Consciousness as User Interface” for the interactive component of the event. What we wanted to do was show the cultural and technical trajectory and pre-history of this idea that we can control aspects of the world with our mind. But we wanted to share more than just contemporary ideas around this and definitely more than just the technology. Rather, there was an emphasis on the agelessness of this diea that one can exert one’s will to effect the world through thought. From the spiritual, to things like Reiki and Jedi Mind Tricks and global consciousness movements and human potential movements and the emphasis on the hubris of this — that *my thoughts and will can make the world change — this is a very human and somewhat desperate aspiration that we have. We did not want to under emphasize this important cultural and historial element of all the weird monkey-controls-robot-arm experiments. These are subsets of a rather troubling desire to control things. So — there’s that. And besides, Nicolas showed some fantastic imagery of brains with wires, while Julian recounted the cultural record of these things through some important science fiction films such as Brainstorm, Star Wars (“..these are not the droids you are looking for..” & “release him Vader!”), Surrogates and Black Mirror.

Scientific American had a nice little write up about the brain control panel.

Julian was in Los Angeles for a few days last week after the fun Design Fiction event in Tempe. But, while in Los Angeles, there was continuing work — ranging from slight panic, to great triumph — for the Project Audio design effort I’m calling Marshall Stack. Hardware is meant to be done by the end of *this week, which is fantastic considering its a six week project and the hardware guys started basically two weeks ago. Once we get the hardware in hand in the model shop — that’ll be a tiny little ARM-based board with a number of wires dangling off of it leading to switches and antenna — there’ll be much hand work to CNC the compliment to that hardware as proper industrial design. That’ll take another two weeks, I reckon. Handwork and all..

That photo? That’s the Slavinator/Slavinbot/Slavin Head used by the New Aesthetic panel to represent Slavin..who was not in attendane but meant to be. It was weird. And so was the panel, in a weird, super-awesome, lovely-to-see-and-think-about-things-this-way sort of way. It was an *awesome anecdote to the otherwise rough, only-partially-inspiring, over-whelming, too-many-people-trying-to-give-me-free-beer-to-pitch-their-wares kind of experience. This’ll be the last time for quite some time, I suspect. I may focus on smaller, lightly curated gatherings rather than the #everyone-come-and-do-stoopid-stuff-they-think-is-creative-like-have-homeless-people-wifi-hotspots-as-if-that-could-ever-be-a-good-idea.


Continue reading Weekending 03112012

The Mind & Consciousness User Interface: SXSW Proposal?

A visit to the Psyleron facility in Princeton New Jersey

A couple of years ago — 2009, I believe — my brother and I went to visit the facilities of Psyleron, a very curious research and engineering company in Princeton, a few miles from Princeton University. He piqued my curiosity about the operation, which was extending the research of the PEAR lab at Princeton — Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research. The PEAR lab has been in operation for decades and Psyleron is a kind of way of commercializing the insights and theories and all that.

They developed a random event generator and software to allow the at-home enthusiast practice their brain control skillz. It’s called the REG. You can buy one. Adam Curry at Psyleron was kind enough to loan me one. The object needs some industrial design help, which would be fun to work on.

Why is this interesting?

* It’s atemporal, I think. There’s a twist of the Cold War paranoia about mind-controlling Russkies arranged in a phalanx on the ground, specially trained to shoot brain waves to make enemy fighter pilots shove their sticks forward and crater their jets. It’s 50’s era thinking infused into something that is still futuristic. I like the history. The story of the Princeton Engineering Anaomolies (PEAR) laboratory start comes from that history — a chance encounter at a weird proto-DoD sponsored workshop on the role of consciousness in hot-shot right-stuff-y fighter jocks in the 50s who were better able to tame the barely stable faster-than-sound aircraft than other pilots. Were they more synergistically coupled to the planes, all other things being equal? It was a real question, and a contingent of the defense apparatus wanted to know and thus funded the PEAR studies.

* People are going to tire of their fascination with “gestural” interfaces. That term already sounds antique. Even thinking about it makes my mind groan and roll its eyeballs. What’s next? I’m not saying that brain control *is next — it is a logical, automatic extension to go from contact to contactless interaction, sort of like ranges of massage and body work — from the brutalist Swedish deep tissue stuff to the hands-off, chimes-and-insense Reki flavor.

* This guy Dr. Jahn who co-founded the PEAR lab lived nearby when I was growing up. That’s kinda cool to have this weird return to early days. He was squirreling away on this research in the basement of a building I used to sneak into during those easy, trouble-free adolescent years in breezy, leafy Princeton.

Cabinet Magazine has an good short article on Dr. Jahn and the background of his research.

There’s all sorts of curious artefacts and media and materials in and around the proto-Psyleron PEAR laboratory research experiments. The PEAR Proposition DVD is an epic, 3 DVD collection of lab tours, lectures, lecture notes about the project. Margins of Reality is the reading equivalent. Good “research” materials.

Psyleron also has a number of devices to activate the principles and propositions of mind-control/consciousness control and influence. An assortment of stand-alone probes and dongles — keychains, glowing lamps and that sort of thing. A robot is forthcoming!

The most curious to me — because it produces information that can be studied, allowing one to conduct experiments and because it could probably be DIY-ified — is their REG or random event generator. The REG in general stands at the center of the research as I understand it. Having a “pure” REG that is not influenced by shaking, bumping or jostling of any sort allows one to have a sort of “white noise” norm for measuring any external effects. The best way I can understand this is one needs to remove any bias on the system except for the influence of consciousness/es. A great REG is purely random data — white noise. Supposedly the white-noise randomness of this device is superlative. Who knows? It may be, or may have been before some innovation or whatever. I think there’s some quantum tunneling mojo going on in there beneath that bit of metallic shielding.

Why do I blog this? I’m *way behind on any project related to the work at Pear and my own personal affiliation with the research itself — Dr. Jahn lived in the neighborhood when I was growing up and the kids in the neighborhood all played together in the streets and yards of the neighborhood, including his daughter. I’m also thinking about writing a talk or panel proposal for SxSW 2012 on the topic, perhaps with Mike, who’s interested in looking into brain control interfaces.

I think there’s a nice continuity between the *macro interface of many minds/bodies of the Psyleron work and the more local, *micro interface of one mind with the likes of this stuff from this operation called emotiv. I like the continuity from consciousness and action-at-a-distance to the more directly coupled, sitting-on-the-head-stuff. Making a continuum from levers, knobs, switches, lights; punchcards keypads, teletype rigs; typewriter keyboards and CRTs; mice and keyboards and CRTs; 3D mice and all that up to “gestural” interfaces and touch and then into the mind could be quite and interesting graphic. A more complex graphic or an additional vector within that one could also look at the particular semantics and syntax of thought that is required to operate the devices — the ordering of knowledge necessary to frame a task or problem and then explicate it for the specific set of interface elements one is afforded by the device. Command-line interfaces, as we well-know, allow/disallow specific tasks; menuing systems are beards for what happens on the command-line — making the framing of the task more amenable to more people (?) and certainly less terse. It’s a translation effectively of what might normally go on the command line.

One possible approach to understanding this stuff is, of course — to start using it.
Continue reading The Mind & Consciousness User Interface: SXSW Proposal?