Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The metaphor of the cyborg soul rears its head again

It's no wonder that critics often have a knee-jerk tendency to distrust technology without nuanced considerations of research and applications. This article brings to mind the cyberpunk representations of cyborg souls in machines (e.g. Rudy Rucker's idea of a soul being transferred to a Mister Frostee ice cream truck). The metaphor persists in an intriguing way, despite the fact that it would be just as easy here to say "remote control."
Robot with 'human soul' explores remotely - tech - 21 November 2006 - New Scientist Tech: "Technology that lets a human 'inhabit' the body of a distant robot for remote exploration is being tested in Germany.

The robot sits on top of a wheeled platform and has an extendable arm that it uses to manipulate objects. An operator moves the robot around by simply walking or using a foot pedal and can see out of twin cameras positioned on the robot's head after donning a head-mounted display.

The controller's wrist is also connected to a touch sensitive (haptic) interface that controls the robot's arm. Furthermore, a wearable glove provides control over a three-fingered hand at the end of the robot's arm.

Force-feedback gives the operator a sense of the robot's physical interactions with its surroundings – by providing resistance to the user if the robot is pushing up against or grasping something, for example. Meanwhile, microphones relay surrounding noises to a pair of headphones."

Monday, November 27, 2006

Cyborg Jazz: Sequel (For Lester Bowie)

George Lewis | Sequel (For Lester Bowie): Review in All About Jazz by Kurt Gottschalk.
"2006 has been a good year for [George Lewis]. In April he presented a piece for jazz sextet plus his own laptop as a part of the New York AACM series that showed a new, cinematic side to his computer-driven composing; and in June he played a gorgeous electroacoustic duo with trumpeter Bill Dixon as a part of the Vision Festival. Sequel, subtitled “A Composition for Cybernetic Improvisors,” is the first wholly satisfying recording of Lewis the electronicist."

Cyborg track listing:
"Sequel, A Composition For Cybernetic Improvisors (For Lester Bowie)"; "Calling All Cyborgs (After Sun Ra)."

Mechademia: a new journal, and call for papers on "the limits of the human"

Mechademia: "Mechademia An interdisciplinary journal for Anime, Manga, and the Fan Arts, Mechademia’s subject area extends from manga and anime to game design, fashion, graphics, packaging, and toy industries, as well as a broad range of fan practices related to popular culture in Japan. We are interested in how the academic and fan communities can provide new possibilities for critical thinking and popular writing. Mechademia will appear annually, published by University of Minnesota Press. The first issue is scheduled to appear in Fall 2006."

Issue #1 is Worlds of Anime and Manga (Fall 2006).

Issue #2 is Networks of Desire (Fall 2007).

Issue #3 is Limits of the Human (Fall 2008). There's a call for papers on the website:
"We are currently accepting submissions for this issue, which will investigate the way anime, manga, and related media have probed the contours of human identity and activity. Possible topics include cyborg theory; new fan species; animalism and animalization; undead and the occult; speed and distance; phenomenologies and ontologies, etc. For more information, see the full Call for Papers. Deadline for submissions is Jan 5, 2007."

Dawn of War - Dark Crusade

Dawn of War - Dark Crusade: The latest expansion pack has a new cybernetic race, the Necrons. These "cold, metallic warriers" have lain dormant in crypts buried all over the galaxy for 60 million years (there must be a certain and emphatic willing suspension of disbelief here, of course!). They've come back to rule the galaxy and kill everything. "They do not fear death, for they are already dead. They do not fear destruction, because the regenerative metal of their skeletal frames cannot truly be destroyed...Their technology surpasses that of all known races."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Cyborgs can grow their own knees

Woman has first 'grow your own' knee transplant | News | This is London: "A woman with a damaged knee has become the first Briton to have a revolutionary 'grow your own' cartilage transplant that offers hope for thousands for injured sports enthusiasts.

The treatment uses a 3D implant grown with the patient's own healthy cells which is glued into the damaged knee cartilage."

Friday, November 24, 2006

::: Cyborg Kevin Warwick at the European Futurists Conference Lucerne :::

::: European Futurists Conference Lucerne ::::
Yesterday Kevin Warwick spoke on "Upgrading Humans - Mental Enhancements via Implants" at the "Making Sense of the Future" conference in Lucerne, Switzerland (November 22-24): "Clearly," Warwick explains in his blurb,
"an individual whose brain is part human - part machine can have abilities that far surpass those who remain with a human brain alone. Will such an individual exhibit different moral and ethical values to those of a human? If so, what effects might this have on society?"

Here's a link to Kevin Warwick's bio. Here's a link to running notes on Warwick's keynote posted by writer and Knight Fellow at Stanford University Bruno Giussani.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Genesis Machines by Martyn Amos

Please note: Dr. Amos has suggested that since I am a member of an English department I should be perfectly clear, right up front, that I am musing on an excerpt only, and have not read the book. I stand by my point that this book looks as though it will provide a useful overview of the state of the field, but to all the many readers of Cyborgblog, please be advised that the following is a half-baked meditation on a very brief perusal of a chapter that Mr. Amos generously posted on his website.

Now back to your regularly scheduled posting:

This just out, by Martyn Amos (recipient of the world's first PhD in DNA computing):

From the book description:
martyn amos: "Cells, gels and DNA strands are the 'wetware' of the twenty-first century. Imagine taking cells from a cancer patient and programming them to detect disease and them prompt the body to cure itself. Or clothes woven with microchips, where nanofibres and living cells combine to form wearable bio-weapons detection systems. Both of these revolutionary applications may be closer than we think. Some scientists are pushing the boundaries even further by creating synthetic biology; the ultimate scrapheap challenge, where brand new creatures are engineered in the laboratory."

Amos also provides an online excerpt and list of references. Nice!

Amos writes about "a whole new connection between two ancient sciences – mathematics and biology" (2). This in itself is quite fascinating and intriguing: the mathematical predictability of material processes was what inspired many early 17th- and 18th-century mechanistic philosophers to imagine the body--and the mind--as a machine. Historians have wrongly claimed that the mechanists were superseded by the proponents of vitalism, when in fact the mathematical calculations of biology have increasingly shown that the biological organism and the "machine" are governed by the same natural principals. Isaac Newton could never have predicted the actual convergence of biology and "machine" that we witness today, but those early philosophies of calculation were the beginning of Amos' claim that "Once we understand that computation is not just a human-defined construct, but part of the very fabric of our existence, we can begin to fully appreciate the computational opportunities offered to us by nature" (5).

On the one hand, Amos doesn't seem to be saying a whole lot that we don't already know:
"Every month, new results are reported, molecular algorithms developed, exotic organic complexes constructed. DNA, the code of life, is right now being used at the heart of experimental computers. Living cells are being integrated with silicon nanotubes to create hybrid machines, as well as being routinely manipulated to add entirely new capabilities. Brain cells are being used to build real, 'wet' neural networks. Preparations are being made to build entirely new organisms, never seen before in nature. The fields of computer science, biology and engineering are constantly morphing and merging to accommodate this radical new enterprise." (4)
On the other hand, however, the book looks as though it will provide a good overview of the state of the field.

This excerpt also shows a complete and unquestioning faith in the value of such biocomputing exercises. "Millions of dollars" are being invested by governments and private corporations in this "truly international effort," he writes. While the possibilities are indeed exciting, it's a little disappointing to read the familiar rhetoric of the new world order wrought by computing technology: Amos concludes the above paragraph with the tired old "Traditional boundaries between disciplines are breaking down." He's talking about how "computer scientists move between laptop and laboratory and biologists routinely talk in terms of logic and genetic circuits" but really this seems rather unremarkable: it's only been a short time in human history that computer science has been a separate discipline from biology, and I'd suggest that despite the institutional barriers between the two fields there have been overlapping interests ever since (and before) Norbert Wiener came up with the idea of cybernetics.

The insight this book will give into the field of biocomputing will be valuable, but it looks as though the reader will be wading through some self-congratulatory exposition. I hope the comment that "there are undoubted pitfalls along the way – scientific, technological and ethical" is an introduction to more nuanced considerations later in the book. Even if it isn't, this book will provide an excellent introduction to DNA computation and artificial life.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Christmas wish list: cyborg: the ultimate adventure board game

"This game is unpunced condition still in plastic Bag.. CYBORG (Fantasy/science fiction adventure boardgame) this is a two-player fantasy game in which the forces of the 'Princess and the Holy City' are pitted against those of 'Aemulatio and her Necromancers.'" I don't know what "unpunced" means, but the game looks interesting.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Yay! This means cyborgs could be genetically engineered to smell like bananas

Technology Review: Bizarre Bacterial Creations: In the news this week, the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (iGEM) at MIT. The MIT team "tosses out wacky applications for its technology: minty-fresh foot fungus or baker's yeast that smells of bananas. But its real goal is the construction of functional biological parts. 'The key idea here is to develop a library of composable parts which we think of in the same way as Lego blocks,' says Tom Knight, an engineer at MIT who cofounded the competition with MIT bioengineer Drew Endy. (Both advise the MIT team.) 'These parts can be assembled into more-complex pieces, which in many cases are functional when inserted into living cells.'"

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Cyborgs don't have to go blind: / Implantable Telescopes! More good news on the Age-Related Macular Degeneration front

VisionCare Ophthalmic Technologies, Inc. :: Results of Implantable Telescope Trial Published in Ophthalmology Report / Ion Vision and Quality of Life in Patients With End-Stage Age-Related Macular Degeneration: "'Implantable Miniature Telescope for the Treatment of Visual Acuity Loss Resulting from End-Stage Age-Related Macular Degeneration,' details the results from the IMT002 trial which enrolled 217 patients at 28 U.S. investigational sites. Patients entering the trial had severe vision loss due to the characteristic central blind spot caused by end-stage macular degeneration. The publication reports 90% of patients met or exceeded the protocol-specified primary efficacy endpoint of visual improvement, defined as a 2-line gain in either distance or near vision on the study eye chart. The protocol stated the endpoint would be achieved if at least 50% of patients met this target"

New Wikipedia List of fictional gynoids and female cyborgs - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This page was just split off from the Gynoids page on Wikipedia at the end of October.
List of fictional gynoids and female cyborgs - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "This List of fictional gynoids and female cyborgs is sorted by media type and alphabetised by character name. Gynoids appearing in both anime and manga are listed in the animation category. There are several names that are synonymous with the word gynoid in anime and manga, for example: persocom, marionette, and cyberdoll."

more on HAL

Here's a very interesting video on HAL, which explains how the "robot suit" is actually a cyborg apparatus since it responds to signals from the brain. I still think the name HAL, from Hybrid Assisted Limb, is unfortunate. You gotta wonder what this "father of the cyborg," Sankai, has up his sleeve. In any case, this is fascinating to watch: