Telepathic AI, Neuronal Art and Squids, Everywhere!

Pierre Huyghe Image from The guardian

Technology in the Gap

This is the first in a little series of posts about the real-life developments in technology that led to the bizarre extrapolated versions in my new book, Mind in the Gap. In this one, I share some of my research on the possibilities of creating art directly from the brain.

Squids, Everywhere

SQUID is a real device used to detect minute changes in electromagnetic fields, including those in the brain. It stands for Superconducting Quantum Interference Device, and has been used in science fiction for years, most memorably in William Gibson’s novels as a way to read-out information stored in neural circuitry.

The current method for brain imaging, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), has limitations in that it is blind to detailed and direct neuronal activity. SQUID is one of the developments being investigated as a replacement for the future.

I used this idea in my story Frankie. I wanted to show such technology becoming so canonical and safe that it was used in a socio-commercial setting as opposed to only in medicine. I created an alternate reality where people no longer carry around mobile devices to interact with the world, but instead wear headpieces that continually read and output brain signals (and actually look like a squids!).

Telepathic AI

Scientists in a Kyoto laboratory have been working on a project that uses AI to analyse data collected during fMRI scans, and to interpret them into visual representations of what the individual was imagining at the time from a database of photographs. They call it Deep Image Reconstruction. Artist Pierre Huyghe worked with this recently by asking volunteers to imagine things he described, and then getting the AI to create a visual from their brain signals.

“If I tell you to think of an apple, the apple you think of will not be the same apple I think of,” he told The Guardian. It is one subjective impression (quale) informing another, which is then interpreted by an artificial intelligence. The resulting images are far from accurate according to those involved; they look nightmarish, fleshy and deformed (see the image above). They are uncanny: somehow recognisable to us but just strange enough that we know they can’t be real. You can read the whole article here.

I like to imagine these are the kind of images AI could think up independently in the future if we tried to simulate human perception. Would these grotesque mashed up images define us as a species in the mind of a robot? And I’m not even going to get into the possibilities of AI becoming capable of spontaneously reading our minds. I’ll save that for when I come to post about the horrors of my story One…

Painting with Thoughts

For several years we have been able use a brain-computer interface to command painting software: painting pictures with our thoughts, choosing colours and placement based on the way we focus our attention. It has been used to help people who don’t have use of their motor functions, and is hoped to even become an effective communication channel for people suffering locked-in syndrome.

Some say we can also use brain painting as a meditative therapy of sorts. If we ‘map’ our thought patterns and create a visual representation of what altering that would look like. It’s a bit like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with a visual aid and creative output, and I’d be very interested to see whether this is proven effective in the future.

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Do Androids Dream?

A type of AI called a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) has filters capable of abstracting out aspects of images in layers. This has been used in various experiments. For example, we know that CNN can produce new images that combine the ‘content’ of one existing image and the ‘style’ of another – think of the filters you have on your phone.

Google’s DeepDream uses a CNN to find and enhance patterns in images via algorithmic Pareidolia to produce psychedelic, over-processed images (pictured above) These experiments with neural nets are already evolving at pace. Artwork created by CNN is selling for thousands of dollars, and is informing the way virtual and augmented reality develops.

Frankie

In Frankie, I combined the general ‘output’ ideas of Deep Image Reconstruction, CNN and Brain Painting with the ‘input’ of advanced brain scans at neuronal level. I imagined a little piece of worn tech taking minute signals from the brain, that could output them instantly onto the surfaces around us to create a sort of communal psychedelic wonderland. I thought about what it could be like if certain skilled individuals were able to build the output images up in layers to create hologram-like objects for as long as concentration would allow. My nameless protagonist lives in a world where this is what memes have become.

Being a lover of psychology, I then began to wonder: what, then, might happen if the headpieces could take readings from the subconscious mind to show us things we didn’t realise we were thinking? It could tell us ‘You share an exciting chemistry with that person over there,’ or ‘you are harbouring deep-set doubts about this.’ And what if those thoughts in the subconscious weren’t intermittent, but ever-present in the background, and ever-growing? You’ll have to read Frankie to find out!

* * *

If you’ve already read Mind in the Gap, have you seen the Connections and Easter Eggs page? People are starting to add their theories and findings, and I’d love you to join in. If you haven’t read it yet, you can check out the blurb or pick up a signed copy here. It’s also available as an ebook on Kindle or as a paperback from anywhere that sells books. Thank you!

The Test

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85% or higher: that’s all Kaley needed to gain the gold star emoji next to her name on all social media platforms. The effect would be immense; everyone wanted to associate with a star. The Corporations would be falling over themselves to advertise on her page, and the crowd-funding for her comic books would boom. She’d be able to eat proper food again; maybe even dine out! She’d be able to buy from exclusive shopping sites, access the expert forums and apply for plane tickets. All she had to do was prove she was authentic.

  “I hope you’ve prepared!” said the cynical voice of a beggar crouched outside the dramatic, mirror-clad tower that was the test centre. Prepared? She thought. How can you prepare for an authenticity test; either you are, or you aren’t?  Continue reading “The Test”

Toxic Duck Inc.

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My life was pretty peachy before I caught the virus. At least, that’s what they tell me.

My partner, Jaz, and I had managed to save up enough money to travel the world and stay comfortable. We lived in full colour then; climbing mountains, skiing down them, eating in fancy restaurants… And at night, just like everyone else, we would put those little squashy pads against our temples and plug into our phones to upload the memories of the day to the cloud. They say it not only preserves your special moments for ‘fully immersive enjoyment’ another day, but it also improves the efficiency of sleep, security, and peace of mind. Except I have no peace, not anymore.

One evening, after a few drinks in the famous old Tokyo Mixology Lab, Jaz and I got back to our hotel and plugged in. No way were we going to risk losing the memories of that day! Then an alert box appeared on my screen:

Free updates are available. Apply now for extra security?

And I hit ‘yes’. Continue reading “Toxic Duck Inc.”

Author Interview – Stephen Oram

 

Stephen Oram 4M - Copy

Stephen Oram is one of my favourite contemporary authors. His debut novel, Quantum Confessions, had a significant influence on me; in fact, it was the book that inspired me to start writing my own. His work primarily examines the way our society works, and how it could be affected by technological developments in the near-future. Stephen works closely with future thinkers and scientists, most notably as part of the European Human Brain Project, and extrapolates their research into accessible, thought-provoking narratives. There is often a dystopian feel there, a warning perhaps, which is all the more poignant once you realise how close to reality some of the ideas really are. Recently, I was lucky enough to be selected to share some of my flash fiction at an event he curates for Virtual Futures, and he kindly agreed to let me interview him for the Orchid’s Lantern blog. I hope you enjoy reading his well-considered answers as much as I did. Continue reading “Author Interview – Stephen Oram”

Near Future Fictions Salon: Virtual Persons

A great write-up of the second Near-Future Fictions event of the year, which featured my brand new story The Test.

Extruded Bodies & Phantom Flesh by Andrew Wallace

Virtual Futures’ March 2018 Near Future FictionsSalon explored the theme of Virtual Persons

Virtual Futures grew out of a series of conferences in the mid-90s that sought to develop a new discipline that would confront the technologisation of culture. Its latest incarnation is a regular ‘Salon’, where philosophical, scientific and creative thinkers combine discussion, performance and fiction to explore current and potential technological extensions of the human condition.

The Near Future Fictions Salons place science fiction centre stage, with previous guest participants including Alan Moore, Pat Cadigan, Gwyneth Jones, Hari Kunzru and Geoff Ryman.

Monday’s event explored the theme of ‘Virtual Persons’:

The digital world is a personality playground that offers us an unprecedented ability to curate and create a public persona – but what does this ability mean for the future of personhood? [from http://www.virtualfutures.co.uk]

Opening keynote by performance artist…

View original post 1,526 more words

Connections

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“Help! I’m stuck in the Internet!”
“Nan, you can’t be stuck in the Internet. You mean you’re stuck on the Internet. What are you trying to do?”
“I’m trying to get out!”
“OK. Well do you see a little cross in the top right-hand corner?”
“No I don’t Eamon, sorry. There’s just lots and lots of little boxes with faces in them.” She turned her voice to a whisper. “Some of them are other body parts!”
“It sounds like you’ve got a virus, Nan. I’ll come over and sort it out again OK?”
“Oh you are a good boy. Maybe I just need a kickstarter, eh?”
“See you soon Nan.”

***

There was no answer when Eamon knocked on the door, so he let himself in. Nan’s laptop was out on the kitchen table with the Windows default screensaver scrolling. Sticky notes bearing passwords in her distinctive scrawl were everywhere, but the woman herself couldn’t be seen.
“Nan? Where are you?”
“Oh hello, lovey! I told you, I’m in the Internet.”
The voice did indeed seem to be coming from the computer.
“Nan, what are you up to? Come out please.”
“Oh don’t be silly. I’m stuck here, else I would!”
“I haven’t got time for games, I’m supposed to be at a lecture in half an hour. Where are you?”
“I think you just have to give the mouse a waggle, that usually sorts it.”
Eamon gave the mouse a nudge; he had little choice but to play along with whatever prank the old lady had come up with this time. Sure enough, Nan’s image came up on the screen. Her hair had been freshly curled, and she’d put on some blusher and her favourite violet cardigan. Eamon looked for clues in the background as to where she might be hiding. Continue reading “Connections”

The Future is Near

I was thrilled to find out this week that the two short stories I submitted to the Virtual Futures Near-Future Fictions team have both been selected to be read and recorded at their events in London.

The first event will be held on 20th February at The Library, Covent Garden, where 8 stories about the potential future of disease will be performed. Multi-award winning science fiction author, Geoff Ryman, has been announced as a special guest and will be giving a talk and reading of his own. I have a brand new story – Toxic Duck Inc – for this event, in which the protagonist tells of her terrifying experience with a new kind of virus affecting the human brain. The recording will be shared publicly on YouTube later in the year, but for those of you who are local there are tickets available to attend the live event here.

The second event is on 20th March, at the same venue, and the theme of this one is potential futures for personality. My story – The Test – follows a protagonist desperate to gain a badge of authenticity in order to promote her crowd-funded brand. Like Toxic Duck Inc, this is a brand new story written especially for Virtual Futures.

In a similar vein to the successful UK series Black Mirror, the idea of these stories is to highlight possible ‘traffic jams not automobiles’, so I can’t wait to hear what mind-bending ideas the other authors have come up with!

Virtual Futures are an organisation committed to exploring the convergence of art, culture, philosophy, science and technology. They regularly run conferences with high profile guests and field experts, which are later made available for free on their YouTube channel.

*****

Have you ever wondered how future technology will affect the human psyche? What defines the line between imagination and reality? Whether it is possible to find spirituality in science? Check out my new book, Fragments of Perception, for 36 quirky, bite-sized stories to make you contemplate!

The Scheme

Orchid's Lantern blog C.R. Dudley author

 “Sounds like you need to start selling your petaFLOPS, mate.”
  That is what Dave had said back in the good old days when they drunk in the Queen’s Head. At the time, Geoff had lost his job as an Accountant for one of the big 5 firms and was struggling to adjust to a life of leisure. He’d find himself staring into space for hours at a time, unsure of what to put his brain into next. Once upon a time, a GP might have prescribed him some ‘happy’ pills, but diagnosis of depression and stress was a thing of the past: the symptoms had long been recategorised as ‘misused capacity in the mind’.
 Dave’s suggestion for money-making wasn’t unusual, and the papers said the scheme could even become prevalent in years to come. With six pints swimming around his system, Geoff imagined he might be ahead of the curve; one of the trendsetters that would mark a new and enterprising use for the human brain. And, once the hangover of the next morning had subsided and he swore never to drink again, it still seemed like the only logical thing to do.

  Geoff signed up to have a tiny sub-dermal chip installed in his head that connected him to the worldwide network. It was a simple procedure, done under local anaesthetic, and had a surprisingly fast recovery time: in just two days he was ready to come online. He popped the prescribed pill under his tongue, sat back in his La-z-Boy and selected ‘join game’ on his console.
  And that is how it was, 9-5, Tuesdays through Saturdays. As per the deal, he would do one of two things: play a match-3 game or watch sitcom re-runs on TV. The former gave him enough of a dopamine hit to keep him awake and powered up; the latter allowed him to enjoy taking a passive role while still earning a healthy income. Repetitive, predictable tasks that used only a small proportion of potential brain function were essential, so that the remaining neurones could be isolated by the drug and fired over the network to perform a range of data-crunching tasks.
  Any number of corporations could bid for the use of human processors, which were sold in petaFLOPS. For them, the efficiency in terms of energy usage, space and cost was unparalleled. For Geoff, it was a dream form of employment. He bought Dave’s drinks all night whenever his generous pay packet came in, to thank him for his valuable suggestion.
  “Honestly mate, you can’t tell anything’s going on back there,” he told him one day. “You just sit making rows of colourful sweets all day without a care in the world, and you get paid for it. And another thing: you feel like you’ve done a day’s work. I feel as fulfilled as I ever did being a bean-counter.”
  Dave swigged his drink and wiped away froth from his beard. “Aren’t you ever tempted to – you know, take a peek behind the curtain as it were?”
  “Ah it’s against the rules.”
  “Not even once?”
 “To tell the truth, I wouldn’t even know how. Besides, I’m onto a good thing here, why would I risk throwing it away?”

  But a seed had been planted, and come the next Tuesday morning, Geoff was wondering. What exactly are they using my brain for? By Friday, he had decided to try and find out. He split one of the little pills in two, and put just half under his tongue. He spent the morning building up his puzzle game score as usual, but after lunch during Only Fools and Horses, columns of moving numbers began to overlay his vision. They made no sense at first; they were just vaguely hypnotic. He was elated that his brain could be used for feats he did not understand. To be a cog in a machine that would better the world was enough for him, and he swore to go back to taking the full pill straight away. But then he began to notice patterns in the numbers: it was a code, and it was recording transactions. Geoff grabbed a pen and paper and started scribbling down what he could see.

  On Saturday, his access to the game was prohibited: the agency had locked him out. A message appeared on the screen: Security violation detected. Await instructions. Geoff’s mind worked overtime thinking about what that could mean. It had to be something to do with what happened the day before. Did they think he knew something?
  “I swear,” he said aloud, “I saw nothing but a series of random numbers.”
  “Tut tut Mr O’Brien,” said a voice from behind him. “We can’t have our operators breaking the rules. Our confidentiality has been breached. You must be disconnected now.”
  A big hand grabbed his shoulder and spun him around. Another pushed his head back against the chair, and a third sliced into him with a scalpel, removing the chip amidst Geoff’s screams.
  “I swear!” He cried out in desperation,”I swear I know nothing!”
One of the hands held up the notebook he had used to scribble down the transactions.
  “But I don’t know what it means, it’s just a load of numbers!”
  “It’s all up here,” the man tapped his temple. “And now we have to remove it.”

*****

For more dark imaginings of our future with tech, and fictional explorations of ontology, check out my collection of very short stories: Fragments of Perception.

The Meaning of Pareidolia

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I miss my psychiatrist. I miss the way he would grit his teeth so as not to show his annoyance that I’d skipped my last session. I miss the way he would ask how my week had been, and attempt to make eye contact with me to ascertain the level of truth in my response. And I miss watching him scrawl notes in my file by hand.

I sit in the wicker chair in the corner of my bedroom and stare at the folds in the laundry. Sometimes I mix it up a bit and stare at the curtains, trying to pick out figures or faces in their damask pattern. I start to wish that they were real people; that they would just hop out of the fabric, give me a hug and tell me I am valuable. That’s not so healthy, I think, so I call Linda to ask her to come over. She only responds to messenger so she doesn’t answer, but when I select her name on my phone I see those three little dots that mean someone is typing. . . and a few seconds later I get a “Hey what’s up” in my inbox. I tell her I’m not doing so good, I could use some company, and she says she’ll be round in 5.

Continue reading “The Meaning of Pareidolia”

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