Authority V Liberty (Round 4,287,541)

Nobody would contest the desirability of knowing exactly what was in the killers’ heads and history; preferably before they managed to gun down fourteen fellow American citizens in San Bernardino in December. The FBI obviously thinks this is a poster child for their demand for American tech companies to provide back-doors into our encrypted gadgets.

If you’re remotely inclined to sympathise with the FBI, consider this.

It is not just conceivable but highly likely that within 10-20 years, we will have technology capable of ferreting that information out of anyone’s  head. And if you think I’m exaggerating, take a look at this.

or this

or this

or this

or this

or this

or this (added 2016-06-15)

I could go on. The point is that those links illustrate the amount of effort being put into digital mind-reading and the extent to which it’s already been achieved; and that some people are already fully aware of the potential threat, which makes ALL other Privacy invasions pale into insignificance. My 10-20 year time-frame is probably conservative.

I’ve been taking a close personal interest in this technology since Dr Larry Farwell had his 15 minutes back in 2003 when he  managed to get his Brain Fingerprinting evidence accepted by a court which resulted in the release of Terri Harrington, who’d, by then, served 23 years after being wrongly convicted of murder.

I wrote to Farwell at the time, suggesting that his technology could offer the “perfect bio-metric”. I postulated, for example, that it could identify me, uniquely, by observing my neural reaction to seeing a photograph of my late father.  No one else’s brain could simulate my reaction so no one else could pretend to be me. I also suggested that another obvious benefit would be to solve the most intractable problem in secure authentication; viz: access under duress. “Yes they are entering the correct password or revealing the correct retinal scan, but are they only doing that because someone is holding a gun to their head?”

I’m still waiting for a reply!

But it’s obvious that, since then, the technology (and America’s military interest in it) has been marching on. So, whether you like it or not, it’s on its way.  And the authoritarians who are funding the most meaningful research don’t share my views on the use of the technology to prevent privacy invasion. Quite the opposite. They see it as the greatest possible advance in privacy invasion and you can expect laws to change to permit it as we get closer to it. In a sense, that’s exactly what’s happening today.

Once digital mind reading is possible, it will be plausible to argue that, for example, airlines should be allowed to put every passenger through such a mind scanner, in order to ensure that no-one with evil intent against the aircraft is permitted to board.

That’s not my fevered imagination either. Comes from the man himself, almost certainly, given the date of that article, as part of his personal reaction to 9-11.

A first reaction, given my fear of flying, is that I might even think its a good idea myself. Particularly if the “duress protection” was mandated as part of the technology, so that no one could be coerced into having their mind read. And if there was a formally agreed set of questions to which our brain responses would be measured, with no recording of data, alarms raised only on appropriate warnings etc etc, I’d certainly welcome the assurance that, provably, no one sharing that flight with me, had any intention, when they boarded at least, of bringing the plane down.

But as we’ve seen, in some detail, over the past decade, that’s not the way Authority works.   Duress protection, independently citizen audited surveillance of the process and strictly limited application are never on the authoritarian agenda. Instead, they demand back doors, weak encryption, surrender of passwords etc etc.

Society is divided into two groups. The authoritarians and their followers form one group and they will argue in favour of allowing the mind-scanners and insisting that we all step through them.

Once we’ve conceded that for something as serious as air travel, it will be only a matter of time before they mandate it for (in roughly descending order) weeding out Pedophiles, Rapists, Tax dodgers, Copyright cheats,  Trolls, Recreational drug users and Dissidents. Then, depending which level of authoritarianism you live under, they’ll move on to apostates, homosexuals, marital cheats, speeding motorists and other ne’er do wells.

Those who understand Liberty and the nature of threats like the above will probably have to fight the authoritarians literally to the death in what may come to be known as Humanity’s Final War.

The current Apple battle is an early skirmish in that war.

Pick your sides now and be sure of a good seat…

Finally, if you want to hear an intelligent presentation of the current state of the relevant science, and some of the issues, check this out:

Modafinil Works!

It’s official. Those of us who’ve been using it didn’t need persuading, but the moaning Minnies who thought we were imagining benefit or experiencing a placebo effect can now form an orderly queue to submit their apologies.

Hard core unbelievers should check this out.  If you’re not used to ploughing through academic papers or just don’t have the Modafinil to hand, here’s the plain english version and here’s the obligatory Wiki page which, among other things, will confirm that it’s been in medical use (for treating Narcolepsy) since 1986. No directly related deaths, addictions or lingering side-effects ever since.

It’s not quite the perfect wake-up drug I’ve been searching for the past 40 years because it takes longer than I’d like to kick in. That’s about an hour and I really want something that works in seconds and doesn’t get you high. High is for playtime. I’m happy with the drugs we have for that.  When I’m working, there are times when I’m desperate for something just to clear the fog.

Others, presumably even more desperate than me, have not shied away from using the more dramatic “uppers” like Cocaine or Amphetamines in the workplace. These will certainly wake you up or keep you awake, but they can’t be said to improve or even maintain your ability to think straight. In fact I would argue that one of the most serious dangers of Cocaine, excluding overdose, is that it makes you believe you’ve taken a brain booster, when it actually impairs cognitive function and, amongst other things, promotes the kind of risk taking which has been blamed, in part, for the financial meltdown in 2008.

Had the wankers bankers been on Modafinil, I suspect that calamity may have been avoided. Unfortunately it’s difficult to set up a double-blind placebo controlled study to test that hypothesis.

I’ve been using it consistently since 2009 and I can fully endorse the findings of the current review. Took me about a year to work out how to use it optimally. Was far too enthusiastic to start with. In short, try to limit usage to one tab a day and not more than four or five days a month. Otherwise you develop a tolerance and the law of diminishing returns comes up and bites your ass.Other useful tips: take it on an empty stomach or you may not notice any significant benefit (or it’ll take a lot longer to kick in). Give it at least 15 minutes to get into the bloodstream before you pollute it with food. And, providing you’re not on other drugs, you can roughly double the effect (or halve the typical dose – to 100mg – which is what I prefer) by drinking about half a pint of grapefruit juice with it.

It keeps you awake (and lucid)

It has two major benefits. The first and most dramatic enables me to maintain concentration on a difficult or complex task for much longer than I can without its aid. I only use it intensively once a year and that’s for the week we’re producing the PFL bulletins (don’t ask). That entails a week where we get about 2-3 hours sleep a day, spend the daytime gathering news and all night creating a satirical rag loosely based on any gossip, rumour or occasional facts we’ve managed to harvest. We then speculate wildly and invent any other facts we need to fill the four pages we’re committed to publish.

That used to grow increasingly painful as the week went on, the sleep deficit builds up, the creative juices dry up and the proof-reading becomes less and less important, or even possible. One of the most horrendous nights of my life was on the last night of the annual gig. The rest of the team had passed out or gone to bed and I’m left there on my own at 5 o’clock in the morning, unable to see straight or keep my eyes open; with a blank page to fill, no material, the layout and proofing to do and a deadline in 2 hours, by which time I had to drive the copy 8 miles to the printers (this is in the days before printers routinely had email). I’ve still got no real idea how I survived that night. Sort of thing that could make you believe in Flying Spaghetti Monsters – or even see them! (Other durum deities are available)

Nowadays, we pop a pill at about 1 am and we’re totally and reliably functional right through till about 7 am when we email the copy to the printers and we’re just about comfortably numb enough to catch 90 minutes of zzzs before we’re up again to breakfast, zap over to collect the print and deliver it to the punters. We’ll take another tab to get us through till about 2ish, leave the day shift in position, head back to the Safe House, perform any running repairs, routine housework, t-shirt printing and all that shit, see if we can squeeze in another hour in the arms of Morpheus before returning to collect the day shift and beginning the evening rounds. Rinse and repeat for what used to be 5 days, (now reduced to 4)

We’re certainly still “feeling it” by the end of the week, but Modafinil removes all the stress and makes it doable. More importantly,  makes it possible for us to carry on enjoying it; which, at the end of the week, is the only reason we do it in the first place. (The punters will never figure that one out; they’ve spent nearly 40 years trying to calculate our ulterior motives. So have we.)

I think the results show in the quality of the output but others would have to judge that; though in some ways its obvious – like the dramatic reduction in speeling missteaks and other tapas.

and it helps you to sleep!

In “normal” times, I generally try to limit my use to when I really really need it. Like when I’ve not had a good night’s sleep but I still have work to do. Which brings me to the second major benefit. NOT the fact that it keep you awake in such situations but the exact opposite. It can help you sleep better! Why? Because it’s an excellent cure for “anxiety insomnia” where your despair at not being able to get to sleep feeds back on itself and keeps you awake.

That used to be a regular problem for me (approx twice weekly) but Modafinil has banished it completely. How so? Because just knowing that, even if you don’t get the sleep you need, you won’t suffer, because the Modafinil’s there if you need it, once again, completely removes the stress. So now, if I find I’m not drifting off to sleep as normal, I take it as an opportunity to try to focus on some on-going problem or project I’m working on. And, in that relaxed, semi-focussed state, I usually drift off to sleep quite naturally and, even if I don’t, I’ll have gained some useful insight into the aforementioned problem, before getting up, dropping a tab and spending most of the next day performing slightly better than normal. Hence, I average about one or two tabs a month for the rest of the year.

Unless, that is, I’m required to drive for more than a couple of hours, which is quite rare at the moment. I usually pop one at the beginning of a long drive, just to fend off those head nodding moments and keep me fully alert on the road. Incidentally, I’d feel a lot safer in a plane, knowing that the pilots had similar access to Modafinil on demand.

So, in summary, seriously good shit with no significant side effects or long term adverse consequences. Strongly recommended but use sparingly, only when you REALLY need it.

Only problem is, last time I looked (about 18 months back) it was becoming more difficult to buy and the sites selling it looking ever more dodgy. It’s supposed to be “prescription only” and the authoritarians have been clamping down on the online providers to the extent that its difficult to know which ones you can trust anymore. So if anyone knows a reliable and trustworthy “dealer”, lemme know…

Digital Evolution – Another Step Closer

This is a key step towards our digital evolution and our migration from organic to digital lifeforms. Basically, if we can’t record the human brain in sufficient resolution, we can’t migrate. Period. No Omortality

But this research looks like we’re poking our sticks in the right ant-nests! If we get this right, then, sometime in the next 10-20 years, we’ll have the technology to record and store the information constituting a complete human brain, probably in a few 10 minute sequences, to the resolution required to preserve our entire personality, memory and neural matrix well enough to be re-animated, later, when a digital substrate exists to house us.

Unfortunately, that might be MUCH later. Like another 50-100 years. So we might, I’m afraid, still have to spend a few years technically dead. Although, interestingly, along the way, technology should reach the point where the brain maps could be interacted with as a kind of “living in the permanent present” avatar, like Henry Molaison, who we’ve been hearing about only this last week…

This isn’t a breakthrough, but it is a major step in the direction we need to travel in order to achieve the break-through.

Oh, and along the way, it’s going to have some fascinating commercial and security spinoffs:

Ferinstance, I give you: the perfect authentication device. It not only verifies, unspoofably, unique individuals, but can even detect the absence of informed consent and thus even block those attacks based on coercion. You couldn’t unlock the safe or file even if you did have a gun pointed at your head. And the attacker will know this, so they won’t even try that. It will even enable version 1 of the Mindlock I mused on back in April.

And of course, it makes possible the Perfect communication and self-surveillance device I was fantasising about in the History of Digital Telepathy

…and think of the impact this is going to have on VR. I think we can bet that “Full Immersion” will come along shortly after the first wave of smart dust adopters have begun to appreciate the benefits of receiving data direct to the sense processing parts of the brain.

And obviously, whatever we record, subject to our informed consent, can be played back. Think what that’s going to do for the sex industry. Just a thought. Though I challenge you not to think about it.

It’s happening Reg! Something’s actually happening!
Just remember, you ‘eard it ‘ere first. Righ’!

Mindlocks on the horizon

Wasn’t expecting this development quite so soon after my mention of mindlocks in the context of Digital Telepathy. But is precisely the sort of thing I was talking about.

I first proposed brain based authentication in an email to Dr Larry Farwell about 10 years ago when I came across an article describing his own work as the discoverer of “Brain Fingerprinting” My specific proposal was based on the conjecture that, for example, my own brain wave reaction to, say, a photograph of my own late Father, would be dramatically and reliably different to anyone else’s reaction to the same photograph and that, if measured, that reaction could be used as a form of biometric identifier for the purposes of authentication.

But actually my main hope for brain based authentication is that it offers the only conceivable solution for the “final” authentication problem; viz the one thing we can’t yet test for – is the individual whose identity we have just verified operating under duress? This is a vital authentication test in certain critical situations. For example, it would very useful to build it into the protocols which control the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles! I’m perfectly sure that existing procedures can reasonable verify the identity of the operators arming the missiles, but can it tell whether the operator is only performing their task because they have a gun pointed at their head? Of course it can’t. But it would be very reassuring to the rest of us if we knew the system COULD make that assessment and block the launch if the operator was found be performing under duress.

But it would also be just as useful, though not quite so dramatic, if we could ALL protect our important actions the same way. If and when I ever have a million quid in the bank, for example, I would quite like to know that I couldn’t transfer the dosh to another person’s bank account without the authentication system verifying that I wasn’t conducting the transfer under duress.

And, of course, in a Trusted Surveillance system, the same tests would trap all sorts of evil, from corrupt border guards to forced sexual consent.

The mindlocks which I casually mentioned in the Digital Telepathy story are based on a related notion, not, this time, of duress but of “intentionality”. The idea being that if – as in the story – we’re all capable of digitally recording everything we’re in range of, then the first level of abuse will be the illicit publication of such recordings without the consent of the other parties present. I propose privacy locks to solve that problem. They involve the recordings being locked with shared keys and a cryptographic protocol to ensure that all parties present have agreed and implemented the locks. But that would also prevent “private” playback within even your own head which is a) too restrictive and b) blocks potentially extremely useful functionality (aides memoire, personal diaries, recording minutes, private pleasure etc).

Mindlocks based on intentionality could solve that problem. They would permit private viewing of the recordings (only within your own head) and instantly lock the recording if they detected any intention on your part to share the recordings without the required consent of the other parties.

This research brings all the above a small step closer.

Transhumanism & Gout?

no, it’s not a Googlewhack. Hang on, I’ll just test that assertion. Nope, it’s definitely not a googlewhack

I read this article in the New Scientist earlier today and got rather excited. I’ll explain why in a minute. I wanted to share it with you but I knew – as you’ll have just confirmed if you clicked on the link – that the article is behind a pay wall. New Scientist is the one publication I subscribe to so can read stuff like that, but we’re a tiny minority.

So I went looking for another source for the story and came across this rather dry abstract. And because I’m that sort of nerd, I read it. And got almost as excited again.

That research may have filled a gap in our knowledge regarding the effects of ph on the human body. As a gout sufferer for the last 10 years I have had to research the condition and possible treatments or regimes. I have, by trial and error, discovered what works for me: an alkaline diet. The question is why?

The research is absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with gout. But it may, nevertheless, answer that question. What it is revealing is that if your cells are in an alkaline environment rather than acid, the potassium ion gates are opened and positive ions (which actually constitute or create the alkaline environment in the first place) are able to rush in.

As I’d just learned from the first story – the one I wanted to share – opening the gateway to positive ions turns out to be a good thing if you’re a mammalian cell. It allows the scavenging of “free radicals” like oxygen ions which are poison to the inside of a cell, but are formed as the waste product of cellular “digestion” and one or two other intra-cellular mechanisms.

This would explain why alkalinity tends to promote healing and dampen the infamous “inflammatory response” (which is a principle mechanism for most disease), so I immediately conjecture that the same process, through some related mechanism, also reduces the likelihood of precipitation of uric acid crystals from the blood into the joints – which is the precise cause of gout.

This matters because what I think we are gradually confirming is the reason that alkalinity is good for health generally, not just gout. Many sites around the web have been pumping out the Alkalinity message for over a decade. Many, unfortunately, are misguided nonsense talking about “Blood Alkalinity” and the importance of preventing “acid blood”. In fact, if your serum ph ever went acid, you’d be dead, pdq. Amongst other things, your haemoglobin wouldn’t be able to bind to enough oxygen to let you breath properly.

Blood ph is remarkably stable (typically 7.35-7.45) because it is homeostatically controlled. i.e. it will take whatever it needs from the body to ensure that it NEVER becomes acidic or too alkaline. If you are heading towards acidic, what will happen in the short term is that you’ll start breathing faster as your body insists on ejecting carbon dioxide, the result of which is a change in the serum bicarbonate production and rise in ph back to normal, if you’re lucky. If the problem is more long term your bones will start dissolving as the homeostasis leaches calcium to maintain the higher alkaline ph. Or the liver will break down more than usual nucleic acids resulting from protein digestion into urea, or worse, uric acid – which has the painful tendency to drop out of precipitation from the blood into the most painful places it possibly could – the joints of big toes for instance.

The abstract is essentially explaining the mechanism by which an alkaline diet will flood the system with positive ions, suppressing the requirement to leach the calcium or produce uric acid and leaving the body’s building blocks right where they belong. And allowing the cleanup of free radicals. So now we know…

It was impossible to find another source for the original story, unfortunately, but I did find the same source handily pasted into one of Kurzweil’s Transhumanist forums. Which means you can now read it without charge and I’m not the one in breach of copyright (for a change).

It’s obviously on the forum for precisely the reason I wanted to share it with you. One of the biggest challenges in developing “mind-uploading” techniques involves how we map the entire brain non-destructively. That “Positive Switch” story describes what will almost certainly be a major component of the solution to that problem. The same intracellular switches which will one day return Francisco Sepulveda to full normal (possibly better than normal) hearing, will eventually morph into the devices we need to read every cell in the brain for the purpose of mapping it to our digital clone.

And it looks like it could be ready to roll in the next 10-20 years. That’s got to be worth another spliff!

Neuromarketing – How to Focus the message on YOU

Yet another reason to ensure you’re using Adblock.

I’m betting this won’t work for broadcasting, except in those very rare cases where there is a genuine consensus, like, say, the desirability of living long and prospering. In the more typical scenario, where beliefs and opinions are divided, sometimes bitterly, any neuromarketing broadcast to the population at large, will be as likely to alienate as motivate. Mind you, I concede that provoking such polarization will occasionally be the aim and yes, it will work in that context.

But when they start narrowcasting with these techniques, we’ll see some really serious social, commercial and political manipulation made relatively scalable and trivial. And targeted web advertising is right in the centre of their sights as we speak. It’s whole point is narrowcasting, where they know, already, what mindset and beliefs the target holds. Armed with that insight it is clearly going to be pretty easy pretty soon to pick the symbolism which will most profitably leverage that knowledge.

You’ll even persuade yourself you wanted to do it.

Elected Leaders are literally addicted to power

Hands up if this comes as a surprise…