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    Ubicomp Getting Under Your Skin? So Are Hackers.
    Project: Polytopia


    A deeply fascinating and, by measures, terrifying milestone on the path to truly ubiquitous networked computation... The BBC notes that security firm, McAfee, was able to remotely compromise a wireless, implantable insulin pump, thereby propelling the conversation about medical implants into the realm of cyberwarfare. Another McAfee researcher claims to have "captured the signal" of an implanted heart defibrillator, only to have thrown the signal right back at the device causing it to shut off mercilessly. As a class, such devices are increasingly being implanted into us fragile apes in order to contain the threats of heart disease, diabetes, and other slow-moving but potentially fatal conditions that might thwart our god-like ascent into techno-superiority. But grok this, ye mighty, and despair:

    "We can influence any pump within a 300ft [91m] range," Mr [Barnaby] Jack told the BBC. "We can make that pump dispense its entire 300 unit reservoir of insulin and we can do that without requiring its ID number"... Making the device empty its cartridge into a host's bloodstream would cause "deep trouble""


    Security concerns for the nascent field of wireless implants are certainly welcomed but the event stands more broadly as a glowing sign of the times. The relentless ubiquitizing of computation is working its way into our bodies. As has been noted elsewhere [pdf] the path of finance and innovation for these waves of emerging technology typically follows the military-medical-consumer pipeline, walking down the line of survivability from being blown up by an Afghani IED, past spastic hearts and hungry cells, into urban navigation and caffeine acquisition. And maybe transdermal metabolic sleeves for networked jogging or ward implants for not-so-bad convicts squeezed out of overcrowded prison farms and remotely monitored for geofencing violations or the odd spike in muscular adrenergics. The military has the money to develop the tech and treat its soldiers, who are summarily discharged into hospitals that facilitate the transfer of technology into the private sector. Point being, if you're starting to save up for that cybernetic occipital mat implant, you'd be most well-served to enlist the ready hand of McAfee Security to guard your mind meats from the shady legions of digital malcontents. Standard fees, of course, do apply.

    All of this is a fairly long-winded way to observe that our computers are getting under our skin quite literally and likely will continue to do so in ever more alarming and strangely-compelling ways. Consider security, who or what has access and when? How do you guard against Lulzsec or your employer? If your insurance fails and you miss too many payments on that monthly defibrillator bill, will they hit the kill switch? What federal agency will legislate your biochip provider to unlock the requisite NSA Backdoor? Somebody must think of the children... If your visual stream runs through a Tyrell Corp chipset, what did the EULA say about your right to what you see? Marketers and advertisers have done some of the most profound work to get inside our brains. What might they do when able to write on its walls? Or maybe you take the other tack and yield to the algorithms, letting them intercede on your behalf and take care of those mundane everyday tasks for you. Habits that write code and leave network trails, filters that screen out the messiness, the ugliness, the uncertainty. Let the world be arranged in concise chunks and loops, dulled to the want for some computational serendipity.

    It's this sort of crazy futuring - or "diagetic prototyping", in the parlance of our times - what's been fleshing-out the framework of our cybernetic imminence. Or, if not imminence... our... unavoidable tendencies. The holy glory of this massive frontal cortex gave us the wicked gift, our greatest curse: the talent for foresight, also known as "worry". We fire up that hundred-billion-strong living network and run crazy simulations across manifold beds of electromagnetic neurochemistry hoping to prepare and predict and envision. We plan our futures. We model them, and paint them, and give them color and depth and complexity, all allure and beckoning, baleful and impossible. Then we use that other cursed blessing to mold those plans into reality and shape the world to our vision. Thus, technology extrudes from our hands on waves of innovation eventually replacing a lost limb or taming a wild heart or embedded in a little chipset behind your left ear gently talking only to you, guiding you through a foreign town, mentioning waypoints and destinations, happily de-babelizing the local tongues... and coyly whispering that if you come in to Paolo's Rosticerria by 5pm, the second plate is half off.

    We build machines and they help us. Mostly. We invite them into our lives and, in turn, we figure out how to use our ape brains to make them smarter and more capable. They too are the convergence of computation and networked intelligence simultaneously celebrating our own technical expertise and foreshadowing our eventual obsolescence. Now, it might surprise you but I don't fancy myself much of a Singularitarian. Maybe it's just the halcyon nostalgia infecting my lobes, addled by decades of indole and wind-blown pollens, but I do keep to that old mystic faith holding consciousness above computation. That there is some unknowable anima inside it all, rolling and dancing forward with the inertia of the stars. That the power demands to model such a nigh-infinite structure could only be met by wielding the entire computational mass of the known universe. The self can only ever be fully known by the Self, when the atman is consumed by the brahman.

    It is the light of this abiding faith that warms me in those cold, lonely nights, assailed by the flitting demons of artificial intelligence and robotic uprisings. I take comfort in this faith.

    Mostly.

    Fri, Apr 13, 2012  Permanent link

    Sent to project: Polytopia
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    Wildcat     Mon, Apr 16, 2012  Permanent link
    Fascinating article Chris, thanks for posting this.
    Few points and questions if you mind:

    1. Halcyon nostalgia? When? Where? Wouldn’t you agree that despite all the dangers you are pointing at, all within the range of the plausible and the possible, we are still to a very large extent on a positive streak? That it is an uphill battle is no doubt quite the truism, that it may fall into the abyss of non-restraint is a no-brainer, given the nature of the human, and yet, we have somehow managed to avoid (until now that is) total collapse. In this sense I think the Halcyon days are ahead of us and not in our past. On the same token, our technoculture is truly in its embryonic stages, we MIGHT be totally subjectified and manipulated with deep implants, we MAY however be also the masters of our destiny, using these lethal toys for the enhancement of the magic that is life.

    2. Your last paragraph mentions an interesting kind of twist on the subject of faith, isn’t that which you are pointing at a kind of panpsychism? Like you I do not self describe as a singularitarian (at least not in the hard sense of the term), however I do not exclude the realism of integrated minds extending their consciousness in a slow and partially, almost inebriated, manner into the universe of matter, which might account for a continuous singularity, extended across times and spaces, where these demons of AI (as you call them) are harnessed, slowly but surely.

    3. I have faith yes, but of a different kind, I have faith that the full spectrum of consciousness in the universe is yet to be awakened, to a different kind of being to which presently we have only hints and possible clues, hence I’ll hold a moment before despair enters the equation.

    4. Some of us allow for a certain kind or mild, if you prefer, form of oscillating futures that are not yet born and may be prone to suggestions of a more gentler nature, there is where I see our real task, to whisper sweet suggestions to these futures, enticing them to come forth. And be generous towards our kind, that gave them birth, but holds no attachments to their outcomes.
    chris arkenberg     Tue, Apr 17, 2012  Permanent link
    1. I do take some poetic liberties as a writer. ;) Likewise, I write from a perspective, a mood, an intuition that is itself transient and a product of my moment. And I've been indulging the poetic more in my writing of late. Your mileage may vary. I am, at heart, an optimist with a bit of a dystopic streak tempered by pragmatism.

    2. Agreed. I'm fascinated by the way that mind is working its way into machine, and what that may mean for our self conception. How will our gods behave as we drag them into virtuality, transhumanity, artificial intelligence? Regarding "demons of AI", again I take a certain poetic license to be evocative & provocative. But then, I also hold to that Discordian maxim that "convictions cause convicts".

    3. I think you read too much despair into my words. My writing has always been about wordplay first & foremost, emotion second, intuition third, followed by fact/opinion/analysis. I do not suggest that all is despairing. Indeed, in this piece I've tried to pair my words here in symbolic paradox: "wicked gift", "cursed blessing". I do not really believe in binary propositions but, rather, enjoy the contradiction and deeper truth within paradox. But yes, I too indulge a bit of your faith in universal consciousness...

    4. To me the future is a field of probability ever in flux but never of fixed outcome. It is something to be nudged & nourished, a cultivated network of signals unfolding across innumerable points "undergoing the formality of actually occurring", to crib from McKenna cribbing from Whitehead. All good futurism is an activist pursuit, IMHO. Indeed, we have an obligation to "whisper sweet suggestions", as you so eloquently put it, to encourage the unfolding to be one of beauty and love & light, if you will. I'm not so sure, however, about being unattached to their outcomes. If I must live within the results, then I will never truly be unattached, short of barricading myself inside a Zen monastery.
    sonicport+techfolder     Tue, Apr 17, 2012  Permanent link
    "Syncronicity injections seem to come up like a hive of spots when I am stressed and tired.

    Eventfulness is like mindfulness.

    Meditation is necessary to reduce the event to a level we can cope with, otherwise the future-hunters have designed a home for our past soul.

    The individual should have the liberty to design the future home for their soul."

    BIG BROTHER's voice in THX 1138

    "Blessings of the state, blessings of the masses. ... Work hard, increase production, prevent accidents, and be happy."

    Pro-liberty and anti-liberty quotes
    CoCreatr     Tue, Jul 24, 2012  Permanent link
    Yes, designs made by humans are fallible and given enough resources, everything can be hacked.

    While I admire and accept the potential of technology to improve lives and profitability, while reducing environmental impacts, some of the gains I prefer to live without. Take the smart grid, for example. Promoted for years, largely a reality in Japan's industry, now offered as a necessary investment for household use to help stabilize the power grid while a growing proportion of decentralized and variable renewable energy supply threatens to destabilize the system.

    Unintended (?) consequence of the current solutions foisted upon consumers: the current crop of smart meters share energy usage patterns with utilties. Being hackable, I see the risk for data leakage making criminal activity much easier if the uninvited underworld can trace our living patterns.

    One of the early smart grid proponents, Ken Wacks, wrote in 2007:

    Local intelligence obviates the need to gather such consumer data.


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