Thursday, May 29, 2008

Monkeys Control a Robot Arm With Their Thoughts

Monkeys Control a Robot Arm With Their Thoughts

Published: May 29, 2008

Two monkeys with tiny sensors in their brains have learned to control a mechanical arm with just their thoughts, using it to reach for and grab food and even to adjust for the size and stickiness of morsels when necessary, scientists reported on Wednesday.

I don’t have much to add. In addition to having possibly the best headline ever, I think the article pretty much speaks for itself.

Remember when the year 1984 came, and everyone joked about how non-futuristic things were compared to the book 1984? And then when 2001 passed and everyone joked about how mundane and non-futuristic things seemed compared to the movie 2001? Well, I think at some point between then and now, the crazy sci-fi future snuck up on us when we weren’t looking.

Except for the flying cars and sentient androids, we’re basically living in a Blade Runner / Neuromancer world. Let’s go through the major elements of a Blade Runner/cyberpunk-type setting, the things that would have seemed like futuristic madness 15-20 years ago:

-Widespread body implants and subcutaneous microchips? Check.

-Retina, face and fingerprint scanning, voice recognition software? Check.

-Clones, genetically modified mutants and bizarre transplants? Check.

-Unmanned combat drones and other battle robots? Check.

-Lobot-style earphones worn by half the random assholes on the street? Check.

-Videophones, tiny storage devices with massive capacity, handheld tricorder-like devices with nearly limitless functions, etc.? Check.

-USA in pathetic decline? Check.

-Orwellian newspeak? Check.

-Cartoonishly dastardly corporations, apocalyptic ecological disasters, sprawling megacities in odd places like Dubai and Ürümqi? Check, check, check.

-Everything suddenly turning Chinese? ENORMOUS CHECK.

And now we’ve got monkeys with mind control over robots. Aside from, again, the flying cars, we’re living in a futuristic dystopia. And, I have to say, it’s very nice. Any dystopia where I can play Mario Kart DS wirelessly, and where my mom plays Brain Age, is a very pleasant dystopia indeed.

P.S. I had no idea how difficult it is to find a picture of a chimpanzee wearing virtual reality goggles. Preferably one also holding a gun, as I seem to recall happening in the movie “The Lawnmower Man”. You’d think it would be a snap. It is a nearly impossible task. There are no pictures of virtual reality chimps out there. None. I wasted nearly an hour looking. Isn’t a chimp in virtual reality goggles, like, an iconic image we’ve all seen a thousand times? Oh well. If you find a good one let me know.

P.P.S. I don’t often cite my photo sources, mainly because I see this humble blog as the online equivalent of one of those collage posters middle-schoolers make out of stuff cut from old magazines. Also, citing sources is a friggin pain in the neck. But the photo above of the scaffolded apartment building is from a lovely site, one which I’ve spent a lot of time perusing, by photographer Michael Wolf. It’s great stuff, although my sense of wonder at some of the photos is a bit dulled by the fact that they look like the actual view from our new apartment.

1 comment:

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