Via MindHacks: The Augmented Cognition website. The AugCog group includes DARPA (of course), Boeing, DaimlerChrysler, and Microsoft, among many others. From the site:

A main goal of the field of Augmented Cognition (AugCog) is to research and develop technologies capable of extending, by an order of magnitude or more, the information management capacity of individuals working with 21st Century computing technologies…. A computational interaction employing such novel system concepts monitors the state of the user, through behavioral, psychophysiological and/or neurophyiological data acquired from the user in real time, and then adapts or augments the computational interface to significantly improve their performance on the task at hand.

It looks like a combination of biofeedback and advanced UI. It’s sort of like if your heartrate affected your Windows machine…

When I first read about this, I thought it was more like brain enhancement, but now I’m pretty sure it’s only interface enhancement. Whew. One question, though: what happens if you fall asleep at your console? Does it sense that and wake you up?

For more thorough analysis and lots of details, check out Neurophilosopy.

Anyway, welcome to fifteen years from now.


Piracy and DRM

A few weeks ago Slashdot linked to an article about how DRM causes piracy. Consumerist has a similar story posted today. I commented several times over there, so instead of repeating myself over here, I’d like to direct you there to see what I and many others have to say about the issue. It’s a great thread, and covers quite a bit of ground. But it would seem that piracy offers consumers a better and more valuable experience than buying legally, even ignoring the money. The pirates simply have better service.

What I think DRM is really all about is ownership. When you buy a music CD, are you buying the music, or a license to listen to the music? What does it mean to own the CD? Software has had the licensing model for ages – you don’t buy software, you buy a license to use the software. That’s because computer people understood much earlier that making a copy of software has virtually no cost. The cost is not zero, since information is always a physical thing, but it’s so low that a business model based on production and distribution (that is, the medium) will fail. So the model has to be based on the content, which means the rights to the content have to be controlled – i.e. licensed. “On Demand” is the ultimate realization of this idea – you pay for permission to look at or listen to something and then it fades away forever (unless you pay again).

One consequence of this is that the idea of a music collection will vanish. No one wants to collect media licenses. If you don’t own your CD’s, then collecting them is completely pointless. The other consequence is that if buying music is truly a licensing agreement, then the RIAA is free to set the terms. They could theoretically say that when you buy a CD, you’re only allowed to listen to it four times. Anything more than that is a violation of the license. Or that you can only listen on weekdays from 9 to 5. They’re holding all the cards – all you can do is choose whether to pay or not.

As an aside, one American pioneer got it long ago: Consumerist commenter Troy F. says that he has a vintage Edison phonograph with the following message:

No license whatever is granted to anyone to use this patented Phonograph with any reproducer or recorder or blank or parts not manufactured by or for us nor with any other records than Edison records and original records made by recording upon Edison blanks, nor in any altered or changed condition, nor if this label or said name plate or serial number or trademark be removed or defaced or changed in whole or in part.

That’s right – Thomas Edison was saying you were not permitted to play non-Edison records on your Edison phonograph. Edison lost the format war of his time to Victor, by the way. He lost the AC/DC war, too (he was on the DC side). Huh.

One final point – one unintended benefit of DRM is that it may drive consumers to look elsewhere for music. The independent music scene is already benefiting from technology like myspace. Independent bands that offer DRM-free downloads and CD’s will have an advantage that bigger bands don’t. Which is good for music.


p.s. Richard Stallman recently wrote a letter to the Boston Globe on the topic.

Artificial Acting

The Times of London ran an article a few weeks ago about how movie studios are digitally enhancing actors’ performances after the fact. Even tears are now added in post-production using computers now. Jennifer Connelly in Blood Diamond is given as an example.

What do you think? Good? Bad? Irrelevant?


Something To Slip Ahmadinejad

A little oxytocin might mellow out the man, apparently.


p.s. Apparently “Oxytocin is the window to the soul“…

"Sorry It Took So Long…"

These are some actual quotes from e-mails that I’ve received on JDate. Is it me?

  • “I’m sorry I dropped off the face of jdate and am only getting back to you now. If you’ll forgive my tardiness I’d love to resume the conversation.”
  • “I’ve been horrible! Sorry for taking so long to write.”
  • “After an extended hiatus from J-date, I found this very old e-mail from you buried in my inbox.”
  • “I completely lost track of our last correspondence.”*

* This one came a month after the previous e-mail I had sent her.

More to the point, should I bother continuing these conversations? (To be fair, full membership on JDate, which gives you access to e-mail, is pretty expensive at $35/month, and at least one of them appears to be a simple cost-saving measure: she wasn’t a full member when I e-mailed her. And JDate doesn’t tell you if any given person is a full member who can your read your messages. The others though…)


p.s. If anyone strongly feels that this post is inappropriate, in the sense of my posting an e-mail intended only for me, I will take it down.

p.p.s. Yes I’m guilty of what I’m complaining about here ;-)

p.p.p.s. Totally off-topic – why does JDate have special rates for longer-term memberships? If they’re giving me a discount if I order six months of JDate in advance, that doesn’t exactly vouch for their efficacy. It’s like “Yeah, you’re going to be here for the long haul – you might as well pay up now.” I thought the whole point (“mission”, if you will) of JDate would seem to be to get off of JDate as soon as possible!

The Ranking Economy

America is no longer a manufacturing economy, or even a service economy -– it’s a ranking economy. We rank things. You need something ranked, you come to us. If the editors of “Cat Fancy” magazine haven’t yet published their special “Top 100 Cats of All Time” issue, don’t worry – they will.

So said Bill Maher back in September 2003. Unfortunately, I can’t find the original quote (he took his old blog down) – just expired 3rd party links.

He’s right – a major sector in our economy is buying and selling “top 5/10/20/50/100” lists. The New York Times (via Slashdot) reports on a group that made a list of “The Ten Most Important Games”. Why?

“Creating this list is an assertion that digital games have a cultural significance and a historical significance,” Mr. Lowood said in an interview. And if that is acknowledged, he said, “maybe we should do something about preserving them.”

Or maybe you just wanted to make a list so people could fight about it (the list seems designed to antagonize) and get you lots of publicity. The fact is that no one needs to “preserve” Warcraft 3 or any of the Super Mario Bros. games – they’re doing fine, thank you (and none of the games are out of copyright – they’re very much preserved in that sense).

What we need is for people to do real work and make real things (even real games), not sit around and discuss what the most important games of all time are. That’s just a cynical attempt to monetize a frivolous discussion, like almost every ranking scheme out there. Listing other people’s stuff off is a great way to fall behind.


1984 And Zero-Information Society

Let’s say you receive a “message” (this is a highly abstract example) – the letter A. Then you receive another “A” from the same source. Then another, and another, and so on. It’s easy to describe the complete message as “continuous A’s”. Each new “A” does not add any additional information – it’s still “continuous A’s”. If you got a “B” after, say, three hundred and twelve A’s, and then got A’s again, you would have to say the message consists of “312 A’s, 1 B, and then continuous A’s”. In other words, it takes more information to describe the message, because the message itself contains more information (in the Shannon information theory sense).

I just finished reading George Orwell’s 1984 (finally!), and I realized that one of the goals of Big Brother (the totalitarian government in the book) is to maintain a zero information level. In the book, Big Brother has complete control over every human being – there is even “Thought Police” and “crimethink”. Big Brother’s Ministry of Truth is in charge of maintaining this zero-information level by literally rewriting the past to suit Big Brother’s needs in the present. For example, if Big Brother makes a prediction that turns out to be false, all references to that incorrect prediction are collected and altered. Nothing that contradicts Big Brother is allowed to exist, ever. Citizens who fail to alter their own internal records (their memory) to comply with Big Brother’s are “vanished”.

In terms of the previous example, Big Brother, upon receiving a “B” message, either destroys it or changes all the previous A’s into B’s, so that the message does not add any information. That way, no new message could increase information within the society. Orwell understood intuitively that changing old information can be equivalent to destroying new information.

And now I’m off to watch some prolefeed.


p.s. Fine – I’ll make a political point: when the administration lies about lying about WMD’s in Iraq, they are attempting, in a very Orwellian manner, to destroy the potency of new information (no WMD’s in Iraq after all) by rewriting the past (“we never said that/we’ve always said that”). Much of 1984 hits far too close to home these days.