HTLGI2012: of hills, progress and cyborgs

June 1, 2012

The festival is still in its warm up stage with evening events only so I spent the morning working then headed into Hereford to pick up the bike.  Given that the weekend involved two evening operas in Cardiff I knew that today was my best change to ride it, and despite the light rain I resolved to make the effort.  The picture is the altitude profile of the journey back so reading from right to left you can see that the early part of my ride was exhilarating, followed by pain and sweat ending with a gentle run in.   I was pleased that my body remembered the trick of clip in pedals.  I remember when I was learning these it took time to learn how to unclip in an emergency: approaching a cross roads often ended up with rider toppling over feet still fixed and on one memorable occasion I ended up in the canal, under water with the bike held up by my feet.  Thank God I did not have to go through that learning experience again.   It was more tiring that I thought, and the prospect of an uphill return stayed with me for the two sessions I attended.

The first session , Uncharted Territory was a fairly typical bit of western naval gazing considering the value or otherwise of progress. On the panel we had Giles Fraser who resigned from St Paul's over the treatment of the occupy movement,  Bjorn Lornborg, a skeptical environmentalist, Hilary Rose a feminist sociologist and a 'Britain's Muslim Polymath' Ziauddin Sardar.   My notes are below (and from now on I will follow this practice, the wonderful Evernote app and the iPad allow me to do this) and I will not repeat them here.   My main observation is that for a large part of the new left, liberty seems to be more about sexual politics than economic conditions.  I think this may be because the legitimate success of feminism, gay rights etc are easily identified and can be celebrated.  The wider issues of equity, morality etc. are more problematic.  For many progress is measured in terms of science, in particular health.  I have some sympathy for this view as I would not be alive today if we had not discovered anti-biotics .  We get the normal and rightful derision of the Labour Party's use of It can only get better as the theme song for one of Blair's campaigns.  Hilary has a position which separates cultural from other forms of progress and most of her contributions just reference that.   I leave the session interested, but wishing we had at least one speaker who could have provided some intellectual rigour to shape the question better.

For the second session Cyborg Future I had chose to punish myself for past sins by listening to Kevin Warwick.  This professor from Reading University is obsessed with claims to be the first cyborg which I fundamentally dispute, most of it is simple sensationalism.  This is the guy who had a control system implanted in his arm so that he could control the opening of University doors.  Exactly the same effect should have been achieved with a credit card, but of course that did not involve an minor operation and would not have attracted the press.  A true scientist would have have different groups of people with implants and smart cards, and sought to discover if there was a difference in action or perception between the two.  Crating a link between your nervous system and that of your wife so that she can clench her fist and you feel it seems similarly pointless.  I can buy a T shirt that will change colour based on my emotions with a lot less pain.  I wax indigent I'm afraid, this is nothing to do with Cyborgs its more fetishism.

The two events over I set off in the rain and wind to ride home.  The first part of actually very pleasant.  The rain was enough to keep me cool and the hills were gradual allowing me to keep up a constant cadence, however the final hill shamed me into walking which brought my average speed down to 6.7 mph over the 12 miles.  a decade ago, anything less than 10mph would have been shameful and I never dismounted for hills.  Maybe later in the week …. 


Notes from Uncharted Territory

Bjorn art use we need to understand progress, we have moved dramatically in the right decision using health arguments.  Defiling and polluting the world, ok we have done some of that but then reference summits about green economy etc.  But says poverty is worst in the third world and it makes little sense

Hilary Rose sees three ideas about progress. One is scientific, more science you get more progress, but not the same as social progress.  Second social progress which is in a poor way and society is retreated looks more like the 30s. Third is cultural progress and while social progress is being battered. The world she grew u p in was unbelievable sexist but not unbelievably better.  Attempts at multi cultural develope s have been an extraordinary achievement. 

Giles Fraser is not a fan of progress.  Hates things will always get better political propoganda.  Always trying to deliver a promised land (Christian eschatology)

Ziaddin Sardar talks about poverty of Pakistan.  The only progress has been Cain family se gaining power.   The idea of progress is a western one, other cultures do not have the idea that things should just get better and better.  Linked to ideas of prosperity  and morality.


Giles attacking Utopianism again, we need to be on the lookout for new forms of brutality contorting with Bjorn who is fighting back.  

Poor panel he coming from different disciplines and practices with little ability or willingness to talk a cross boundaries.  Discussion on social and economic progress,  Bjorn says progress is economic progress, we can sit here is because of economic progress. Maybe getting a little too realistic for this panel.   Files arguing for idea of progress not based on growth reference to bubbles etc.  

Hilary talks about the reckless use of the world we.   43% poverty in tower hamlets.  Who are we speaking for, who have we got the riot to speak for?

Giles against Christianity and the enlightenment ….
Hilary arguing against west is he east is there stuff
Bjorn we underestimate what we will get in the next few decades over estimate the future ( quoting bill gates).  Fight with contemptuous Hilary at this point who sees change as education of woment not technology progress. 

Chair insists on questions not statements – what an idiot …
Then the pro animal Darwin guys steps in with a minor rant

Y ou guys will get the progress wether your like it or not. From Bjorn
Hilary talks about security
Z says he won't like it
Giles thinks the problem is always with us

Note from Cyborg Future

Warwick on his experiments
Class II implants could replace passports etc.  close association with the building which responded.  Largest use I s in the US for epilepsy and Diabitis
Sensory substitution such as magnets in the finger tips inserted by a tattoo artist called dr evil and gives a problem with ethical approval!.  Allows through other sensors the ability to feel how far away something is.
Sensor feeding tongue brain learns quickly to interpret the stimulus not much research on links between tongue and brain

Culturing neurone.   Growing a biological brain into a robot body.  Biological neural array   Using rat embryo tissue.   Says the brain of this robot is just ten days on and it develops as it  undertakes habitual learning.  Same robot aft two months makes no mistakes although they are not all this good

Now using human neurons not rat neurons and going to three dimensions and 30 million human neurons in a robot body

Deep brain stimulation used to deal with epilepsy clinical depression main use is Parkinson's disease
Inserts into the brain with electrical implants.  Dramatic results demonstrated.    They are  t dying to learn.how to predict tremors so it can predict.   AI techniques.  Getting good predictions around 20 seconds ahed so can put feedback loo in place

Enhancement.  Possibilities are wide, memory, senses, multip dimensional thinking, maths, speed of thinking,  extending the body.  He enthuses about communication moving away from speech, signals brain to brain just like computers do.

Utah array implant story.  Three month experiment, closing hand produced electrical aignals  took his brain six weeks to learn electrical pulses.   Changing colours of his wife's jewelry based on how he feels.   His wife also had it done and they electrically linked their nervous systems together.  His brain got a pulse when she  clenched her fist

Lots of first time in the world statements, surprise surprise


Reference to searle statement on consciousness.  The thinks that enough human neurons together with different sensory input then you would get some form of consiousness and self awareness that is not too far from mans

Ethics making it an enhancement v therapy issue. 
Asked about rich poor device with enhancement.  Seems to agree that it's a. If issue.  Could end up with super Human and then the decide is extreme

You tube. 'Rat brain robot'   'Cyborg'


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