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:

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’!

Who and What is it safe to Believe?

If we can’t even trust the Peer Review system, who or what can we trust?

A friendly banter between me and one of my Stumbling friends began as an argument about whether or not Vaccines are safe. Public confidence in Vaccination became a (serious) problem with a failure of the peer review process by the Lancet, when, in 1998, they published Andrew Wakefield’s notorious and extraordinary claims about a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Based on case studies of just 12 patients it should never have been accepted by a reputable journal in the first place. It was finally Retracted in 2010. The shit from that ludicrous storm in a teacup is hitting the fans as we speak with the current ongoing panic as a low-level measles epidemic spreads from Swansea.

Our argument was over the validity of vaccinations as a basis of public health. When confronted with the question as to why we should trust the claims, my ultimate fallback was the peer review process. But then I realised that it was almost impossible to defend as it is still one of the “Trust Me” based social infrastructures and too many stories like the Wakefied cockup and the various examples touched on in this “Scientist Magazine” article (first link) were and are surfacing. Personally, I firmly believe that vaccines are reliable, safe and well-tested. But given the abuse of the peer review system which is little short of rampant (see also Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Science”) I have no trusted means of validating my belief for the benefit of those who remain sceptical. This is not just sad, it’s dangerous…

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.

Dawkins on good form at Al Jazeera

Can’t embed the video but that link will take you there. Mehdi Hasan puts up a good fight trying to expose weakness or prejudice in Dawkins argument. He fails of course, because what weakness exists in Dawkins argument is not one a religious believer is inclined to perceive or accept.

Hasan’s arguments, by contrast, were excellent illustrations of the weakness of religious argument, though far more coherently delivered than is usual. For instance, he challenges Dawkins objection to teaching children that their recently deceased friends, being of the wrong religion, will inevitably go to hell, where they will suffer in agony for the rest of time – a terrifying image which Dawkins argues is a serious form of Child abuse; arguably more serious even than ad hoc priestly sexual molestation.

Hasan’s attempt to undermine this “radical” position is to ask: “To teach children that there is one god, or that god created the world in 6 days That IS Child Abuse?”

If you want to understand the religious mindset, you need to understand why even intelligent believers – like Hasan obviously is – do not understand why his question is so badly off target.

But Dawkins, perhaps being uncharacteristically restrained, didn’t take the opportunity to expose the stupidity of the question. So let me try.

Dawkins actual argument is based on the anecdotal evidence of a 40+year-old woman who was both sexually and religiously abused as a 7-year-old, probably by the same catholic priest. He sexually molested her and, on learning that her 7-year-old (protestant) friend had died, he told her that the friend was condemned, by her protestant status, to roast in hell for the rest of time. She obviously didn’t consent to or enjoy the sexual attack but she got over it fairly soon after the event. But it took years for her to recover from the psychological damage caused by nightmarish visions of her friend burning in hell, planted in her vulnerable psyche by an evil priest.

Hasan’s first challenge to that tale was on the basis that, as an empiricist, Dawkins shouldn’t be relying on one-off anecdotes; which suggests that Hasan believes that the example IS a one-off, which would itself be an extraordinary belief. But then Hasan does profess a literal belief in the story that Mohammed flew to heaven on a winged horse and challenged Dawkins to prove that it didn’t happen, so his grasp of empiricism isn’t quite complete.

In any case Dawkins’ real objection, shared, I would hope, by ANY humane human, religious or not, is that putting nightmarish images into the minds of children who are not able to defend themselves against such literal psychological Terrorism, is a clear, unambiguous grossly indefensible attack and abuse of a young child. In contrast, telling them that Father Christmas is going to leave presents for them under the Christmas tree, though it might be as equally factually implausible as the visions of eternal hellfire and damnation, doesn’t do any HARM.

It could, of course. If the Santa Claus doctrine was applied with the same fanatical rigour as the hellfire and damnation meme, and, for example, children were made to learn the names of the reindeer by rote, punished for getting them wrong, and warned that anything less than total compliance with parental or religious instructions would result in Santa not just leaving them out of the annual distribution jamboree but possibly even sending nasty goblins in the night to take away some of their existing toys, then the Santa Claus fairy story could start to become as damaging as some of the classic religious fables.

Dawkins is making the charitable assumption that Hasan’s teaching of stories from the Quran is closer in spirit and effect to the Father Christmas end of the meme market than to the eternal hellfire end. I’m not sure I’d have been that charitable but it was an entertaining debate. I was particularly encouraged by the audience reaction. Two thirds agreed that just being taught catholic doctrine, as a child, was as bad or worse than being sexually abused by a priest. That’s a step in the right direction…

More Support for “Early Use of Fire”

I’m sorry for the child of course. But I’m still rather pleased to read this news that the kid probably died of malnutrition as a result of withdrawal of meat from his diet.

It lends further support to my conjecture that we’ve been using Fire for more than 2 million years; in contrast to the orthodox archaeological view that half a million is more likely.

A key thing to consider is the “at least” in the articles first sentence. For humans to have suffered the consequences of withdrawal of meat, implies evolutionary adaptation which itself would itself have been the result of “at least” a couple of hundred thousand years of meat-eating. Put that together with Richard Wrangham’s observations about dramatic changes in Skull shape and diet around 2 million years back (which he puts down to cooking meat) and it’s all increasingly consistent with my suggestion that we started using fire methodically (rather than opportunistically) more than 2 million years ago as a direct result of the prolonged use and manufacture of flint tools – which are uncontroversially dated back “at least” 2.5 million years.

Anyone who’s attempted working with flint – or has a non electronic lighter – knows how easily they produce sparks and it has always seemed obvious to me that such sparks would have occasionally produced small fires in the dried brush of the savannah and that, after a few hundred thousand years it might well have occurred to even the most conservative Homo Erectus to think “hey – wait a minute…”

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!