A while back, I wrote a short article on this website explaining the potential for hacked smartphones and laptops to hypnotise their owner if left on, by their bed, at night. As many psychological and medical studies have shown, it is relatively easy to influence a person by speaking to them while they are asleep. This method is has been used a lot for self-hypnosis and unconscious learning. For example, you can set up a tape that tells you how good you are, or a tape that reads out a textbook, while you’re asleep. In the morning, you wake up super-confident or more knowledgeable, depending on the tape. This all sounds good and although it may not work, depending on circumstances, there’s lots of evidence that it can work to some extent. The dark side of this method is the possibility of someone hacking your device and telling you things to influence or control your thinking while you sleep.
I was reminded of this possibility recently when a website article reported on several users of Apple's Alexa device reporting that their devices had been talking in the night without any prompting by their users. What’s more, the devices did not log that they had been talking. Clearly, there can be several perfectly reasonable explanations for this occurrence, but it does fit with the dark scenario I’ve just been describing.
Cautious readers may decide to turn off or unplug their Alexas or Echos at night, to prevent this problem ever occurring, if such a thing can occur. Unfortunately, this may not leave them free of possible influence. There is another form of audio hypnotism that can occur while the user is awake. One method of self-improvement through audio playback is to play back statements while the subject is awake, but at a volume level that is too low for the subject to consciously notice. This is known as ‘whisper volume’. The subject can consciously hear it, but the sound is nevertheless loud enough for the subject to subconsciously pick up. This method is explained in this website. Once again, such a method can be used for a dark purpose. A hacker can influence a human target through a hacked device, by talking to them in 'whisper mode' even when the person is awake, without the subject even being consciously aware of what is going on.
I don’t know how effective the above two methods are - sleep talk-control and whisper talk-control - but I’m guessing that many military departments and secret services have spent a lot of time and money establishing exactly how much a person can do with such tools. It is also highly likely that some of the big corporations have also invested money in developing such techniques, as they would be immensely valuable in terms of encouraging sales. In some ways, it is strange that our media does not talk about the power of computer-assisted hypnosis, as it is logically a hugely powerful tool. Some commentators have talked about the dangers of hacked devices running automated AI programmes to exploit human vulnerabilities, such as in this article, but I haven't found anyone talking about the dangers of hacked devices doing AI hypnosis.
Obviously, our civil laws and human rights prevent such digital-hypnosis methods being used on the general public, but what if a hacker or ‘rogue state’ gained enough access and knowledge to put them to use? One hacker, with enough programming time and the right codes, could well insert code in hundreds of thousands of devices and thereby set up an automated system of mass mind-control, sending out hypnotic messages, tailored to each user using their social networking history. The hacker could programme these events to take place either through day-time ‘whisper mode’ or night-time ‘sleep mode’. Since all these devices have microphones, the devices could detect for any signs that the user has noticed what's going on and cease their actions. It would be a very effective system. Through this method, one single hacker could ultimately mind-programme a nation or nations. It’s a very disturbing thought. Hopefully, it’s only a speculative idea. It would certainly making a thrilling story, if anyone has the stomach to watch it. :-)
Fortunately, there are some people who are interested in the field of UFOs, mind over matter, spirits and other officially 'crank' topics, who do have a solid scientific understanding. One of them is Dr Tom Valone. Below is a talk he gave at the X-Conference a few years back on the subject of advanced propulsion systems, UFOs and what their flight behaviour (as far as can be observed) may be telling us about what is possible in terms of interstellar transportation.
During the talk, Dr Valone touches on a physics matter that has intrigued me for many years. He explains that the perceived ability of some unidentified flying craft to execute high-speed, right-angle turns indicates that their designers have developed technology that reduces or negates inertial mass. Dr Valone points out in his talk that it may be possible to reduce inertial mass by creating a very-high-voltage electromagnetic environment. Traditionally, inertial mass and gravitational mass for an object are assumed to always stay the same - this is known as the Equivalence Principle - but this assumption may be flawed. In certain exotic systems, involving high voltages, the inertial mass, possibly created by the object's interaction with the vacuum energy field, could be reduced.
Interestingly, I explored this possibility in an article a few years ago but not with regard to UFOs. Instead, I postulated that stars, being high-voltage, high-pressure, high-temperature plasma balls, may have a much lower inertial mass than their gravitational mass. This would explain why stars orbit the centres of their galaxies much faster than they should, a phenomenon that has caused mainstream physics to conclude that the universe is full of dark matter. I'll try and mention this interesting idea to Dr Valone; he may find it fascinating! :-)
Isn't it fascinating? What is that device? I have no idea but it does seem to possess an ability to hover and move through the air without any need for wings or rockets or a jet engine or propellers even a gas bag. In a sense, it's the best UFO I've ever seen footage evidence for because it is completely alien. No one would come up with such a flying device. This sort of encounter I think shows why it's so hard to be a responsible science-fiction writer, because there seems to be advanced stuff out there that makes no sense at all, so how can one write believably about it? I think I'll stick to writing stories about people in metal boxes; it's so much easier.
Alternative 2: The relocation of a fraction of humanity into underground bases and subterranean cities.
Alternative 3: The establishment of human colonies on the Moon and Mars.
In the rest of the previous blog article, I explained that the programme makers of Alternative 3 insisted that it was meant as a fictional programme. I do believe them but in truth, that's unimportant. What's now important is the question; 'Are Alternatives 2 & 3 in that programme actually underway?' Let's investigate… Read More...
The programme then moves into an even more sinister area. Senior scientists in the UK admit to the investigative reporters that mysterious but extremely powerful groups at the top levels of government have worked out that the Earth is heading for a climate collapse due to the greenhouse effect (note that it is in a programme broadcast in 1977). These groups have concluded that in the next century-or-so, only a small fraction of the current human population will be able to live on Earth’s surface, due to the climate collapse. Read More...
Dear New Scientist. In your Opinion page (issue 3032, 1st August 2015, pg22), Martin Rees states that biological brains will eventually be superseded by far superior, machine intelligences. This follows on from recent comments in the media by Stephen Hawking and others, warning of the dangers of runaway A.I. These are all surprising assertions, as digital computers, fundamentally, are no different from punch-card clocks. Also, A.I. and quantum computing have so far failed to live up to their initial hype; they're currently more Superficial Intelligence than Artificial Intelligence. How do Hawking and Rees think these automated sorters and calculators will reach such lofty goals?
I'm pleased that the New Scientist magazine published it. They didn't publish the full letter; they removed the middle sentence, but it's still good to see it in the magazine. Thinking again on the topic, I would like to add a few more points. I did write a blog article in March, explaining the fundamental limitations of computers, and that does cover a lot, but here's three new points: Read More...
I only knew a little about the SpaceShipOne project before I watched the video, and I had no idea how they had got on with their craft, so I found the documentary both exciting, intriguing and a complete nail-biter. I really didn't know what was going to happen at any point in the documentary and because they were doing a lot of the project work on a shoe-string, with an entirely new design of craft, without wind-tunnel testing or advanced simulations or an exhaustive series of tests to cover every possible potential problem, it really felt as if there could be a disaster at any point in the story. Gripping stuff (Note: it's not 1080p and it's actually only an hour-and-a-half long).
I found the documentary both engrossing and bizarre. Throughout the program, the people involved in the project were convinced that it was a viable and brilliant way to send humans into space and the other planets in our solar system. They pointed out, sensibly, that rocket motors did not produce enough power to effectively fling humans to the edges of our solar system, or our nearby astral neighbours. Chemical rockets were good enough to go to the moon, but that's about it.
This all made sense, but at no point in the documentary did anyone say 'wait a second, how on Earth are you going to accurately steer this craft as you explode nuclear weapons under its 'spring plate'? Also, how are you going to safely detonate a whole series of nuclear bombs under this 'spring plate' without them frying the crew with radiation or running the risk of one of them blowing up while it's still inside the bomb bay? The practical problems seem endless, and yet they carried on with idealistic zeal. Fascinating stuff.
The New Scientist magazine ran an article last week on this subject entitled 'Virtual reality film revolution puts you in the scene'. The article reports on how several major companies involved in technology and film, such as Sony, are exploring how to use VR to make a new generation of movies and documentaries. The article discusses the benefits, but also the obstacles for VR film-making. I wrote a letter to the New Scientist magazine, suggesting a different use for this new technology, which they've published: Read More...
How real is the threat of rogue A.I.'s? Can one really become sentient, accelerate in intelligence, form its own agenda and take over the world, destroying humanity in the process? Read More...
I enjoyed the book. It was pretty clear from early on (in fact, P.D.Smith admitted as much himself) that the author had been writing a biography of Leo Szilard, an admirable and brilliant Hungarian physicist who had to leave his home in Budapest when Nazism and anti-Semitism emerged in central Europe. He ditched up in London and finally emigrated to the United States. Unlike other brilliant Hungarian physicists who ended up playing a major role in the development of atomic power and the atomic bomb (such as Von Neumann and Edward Teller), Szilard was a compassionate and ethical man. Read More...
Hal Hodson reports that Google's software for ranking pages on their trustworthiness will make its judgement by drawing on a store of facts gathered from the internet. Isn't this circular logic? How would the Google system handle a statement such as "glass is a liquid"? On the internet, the notion that glass is a slow-moving liquid, resulting in medieval windows that are thicker at the bottom, seems far more prevalent than the truth – that glass is a solid and medieval glaziers placed the thicker end of blown glass sheets at the bottom. Since nothing on the internet is unanimously agreed, Google's software would have to take the majority consensus. If this happened, there is a good chance that any site dispelling a popular misconception would appear far down the list of search results, making it harder, not easier, for people to learn the truth. Popular fiction would dominate because the software would add it to the Knowledge Vault and use that reference point to downgrade the truth. Intelligent people can make clever software, but no one makes intelligent software.
This project also reminded of the physicist Max Planck's comment about new ideas. He said:
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.
In your letters page (21st Feb 2015) John Bailey concludes that since we haven’t been bombarded with self-replicating alien robots or seen huge heat signatures in space, there probably aren’t any advanced civilisations in our galaxy. He seems to think that advanced races will have a ‘more is better’ philosophy, but climate change is showing us that a ‘less is better’ philosophy is the only intelligent long-term strategy. If this is correct, then the more advanced a race is in the galaxy, the less visible they’ll be. It’s the quiet ones that are clever, not the shouters.
John Bailey's expectation that advanced alien civilisations will be huge, star-spanning confederations with big, powerful ships and zillions of self-replicating robots is, I think, because of how they're currently depicted in mainstream fiction. We pick whatever seems cutting-edge and exciting at the moment - nano-technology, robotics, ion-drives - and multiply them by a thousand or a thousand million and, voila, that's your advanced alien civilisation. A century-or-so ago, H.G.Wells came up with the idea of Cavorite, a substance that could negate gravity. Using this discovery, two Englishmen travelled to the moon. From a scientific point of view, Cavorite is just as believable as a warp drive or a hyperdrive but it's now seen as quaint, silly and unscientific. I'd bet that self-replicating robots will be seen as just as daft in a century's time. Read More...
For a long time now, wind power has been criticised as being an eyesore and an inefficient and hopeless method of power generation, but these criticisms are fast looking ridiculous. For example, wind power is Denmark is so successful that it is meeting their entire energy needs during periods of the year! They constantly monitor and display the output in the country and the net difference between energy produced and energy consumed (source: energinet.dk):
"The plan to sell home data centres to customers as heat sources sounds innovative, but seems to be missing some key financial points (7th February, pg20). Each customer will need to seek the extra computing power online. The cost of a high-bandwidth connection to the internet and an intermediary to handle the processing tasks is not mentioned. More importantly, the article doesn't mention Moore's law, which states that computing power doubles every two years [Although this law isn't as straightforward nowadays with processor speed limits, it is still roughly true]. This means that the expensive kit a Project Exergy customer buys will roughly halve in value every two years. Also, companies buying the processing power will invariably switch to newer users with newer and faster kit. Early Exergy adopters will be abandoned, leaving them with nothing more than [wildly] expensive electric heaters."
As can be seen from my letter, I wasn't impressed with the strategy of Project Exergy described in the article, but I think their sentiment is positive. As the article states, 'it takes the energy from 34 coal power plants to sustain all digital activities in the US every year'. That's an awful lot of CO2 and innovative ways to reduce this consumption are most welcome, but I think their current strategy isn't the answer.
How about this for an alternative approach? Instead of each household installing servers that remote companies can use for processing tasks, why not set up the servers to mine bitcoins? Bitcoins are created by running an algorithm to solve a mathematical equation for certain values. In other words, processing time is converted into units of digital currency. If households set up their Exergy servers to do this work, they would not need to encourage remote clients to use their machines and they would therefore not need an intermediary. They would also not need to transmit lots of data and would therefore not need a fat pipe to the internet. In addition, their servers would still be able to grind out bitcoins as the years went by, just at a relatively slower rate. These households would therefore not get 'dumped' by processor clients switching to new customers.
It's still not ideal, but it's hard to think of any currency accumulation that isn't energy intensive. Gold is inert and non-toxic, but it takes a lot of effort and power to get it out of the ground and refine it. Also, its mining processes are hideously bad on the environment. Much of the wealth of the modern world is effectively petroleum turned into money, which isn't much good either. By comparison, generating bitcoins while heating your home doesn't seem too irresponsible. If I can, I'll suggest the idea to the Project Exergy people.
Apart from all that, I'm still immersed in writing a science-fiction comedy novel. I'll try and knock out an article on something interesting soon, when there's a natural gap in the writing. Until then, if you're in the Northern Hemisphere, I hope you're enjoying the longer, sunnier days! :-)
In your article on a new strategy for those involved in the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI), David Messerschmitt says that alien civilisations would logically choose to send short, wide-band radio signals rather than prolonged narrow-band ones, to improve both energy efficiency and bandwidth (31st January, p17). Yet probably the most important signal so far detected by SETI is the narrow-band 'Wow!' signal, picked up in 1977. It came from the direction of Sagittarius and was almost exactly on the hydrogen line, a frequency many thought would be ideal for interstellar transmission. Should we tell the alien civilisation in Sagittarius that they're being a bit primitive?
The U.S. government builds the machine described in the blueprints. Eventually, Jodie Foster's character gets to travel in the machine. I won't reveal any more to avoid spoiling it for anyone who hasn't seen it, but the way the story unfolds and is finally resolved is both clever and intelligent.
There is a terrible irony if we compare 'Contact' with the 'Wow!' signal. If we had received the 'Wow!' signal today, rather than in 1977, we'd have the technology to record it in detail and analyse it, just as Foster's team did with the signal they received in the film. It's perfectly possible that the 'Wow!' signal was an extremely detailed signal, just like the film. Unfortunately, the technology available at the time could only record a few alphanumeric values, so we'll never know. Argh! How frustrating!
There is also a funny side to the story of the 'Wow' signal. To quote the Wikipedia article:
In 2012, on the 35th anniversary of the Wow! signal, Arecibo Observatory beamed a response from humanity, containing 10,000 Twitter messages, in the direction from which the signal originated.
To think, we might have had better kit and found the 'Wow!' message to be full of data. We'd have decoded it, delirious with excitement at the prospect of receiving messages from an interstellar civilisation, and read ten thousand alien social networking messages! CHECK OUT HER TENTACLES! OMG! LOL! :-)
As part of spreading awareness of the graphic novel and the ideas contained within it, I've posted an article on this website about a key piece of evidence that I unearthed while researching the story. As the title of this blog entry indicates, the key piece of evidence concerns the Great Pyramid and the year 2787 BC, when a crucial celestial event occurred. For a full explanation, do please read the article.
The first type are the tablet games that eat me, in the sense that the game entirely consumes my mind and time. When I play certain games, particularly the simpler games where you match up tiles to complete a row, or combine two sliding tiles together to make the next level up of tile, I fall into a weird mental state where all I'm doing is combining tiles and nothing else in the universe exists any more. It feels good combining those tiles. I work out where to slide the tiles and which tiles to focus on so that they combine well and I can create the next level up of tiles which I will then combine to make the next level up of tiles after that and every time I do that I get a little kick of happiness and success until finally, after I can't change any more tiles and the game ends, I look up and an hour's gone by. An hour?!! How did that happen? What's worse is that even though I've just gone through a self-created, pointless time-warp that's just erased an hour of my life, I actually have a itchy, nagging desire to play the game again!
Earlier this year, the New Scientist magazine published a very interesting article entitled 'Obsession engineers: Mind control the Candy Crush way' that discussed this very phenomenon. The article focussed on two popular games, 'Flappy Bird' and 'Candy Crush saga'. Either by accident or design, both games ate people. 'Flappy Bird' was an accidental success but its popularity was a mixed blessing to its developer, Dong Nguyen. He made a lot of money but he received so much angry correspondence from frustrated players that he withdrew the game from public circulation.
By comparison, Candy Crush Saga is still most definitely available and it really eats people. To quote from the New Scientist article:
Candy Crush has become an instant, unstoppable juggernaut and a pop culture phenomenon. Since its introduction two years ago, the game has become the focus of obsessive analysis and sordid confessions. Journalists have openly declared themselves addicts, with more than a few admitting they have paid extravagant sums to play. They played on the train, at work, at weddings, while driving and during bathroom breaks (according to one anonymous web confessor, when she finally got off the toilet after 4 hours of play, her legs collapsed beneath her).
Psychologists have studied the astonishing addictiveness of such games. They refer to the pattern of play in these games as a ludic loop. In a ludic loop, the player performs short cycles of repeated actions that are easily achievable. When the player achieves these actions, they are rewarded, usually by a pleasing tone and visual flash of colour. These repeated events give the player a dopamine hit to their brain, similar to a drug-rush. Combined with the knowledge of a large achievement in the future, this ludic loop compels us to repeat the activity ad infinitum. When I read this explanation, I immediately thought of Super Mario Bros and fruit machines. They both flash and make a jingle when you pick up a star or a coin. Of the two, I'd recommend Super Mario Bros; it's a brilliant game, contains hours and hours of fun and you only have to pay once.
The ability of certain games to eat people has reached disturbing levels around the world. A recent BBC Storyville programme entitled 'Web Junkies - China's addicted teens' documented teenage Chinese men who have been placed into a detoxing camp by their parents to try to end their compulsive gaming addictions. These young men were playing immersive on-line action games in cyber-cafes for hours every day, in some cases all through the night. Watching the programme is both a fascinating and saddening experience.
1) 80 Days is an iPad game in which the player travels around the world as fast as they can in order to try and get back to London in 80 days or less, just as Phileas Fogg tried to do in 'Around the world in 80 days'. '80 days' has a wonderful visual style, mixing late victorian empire and steampunk and is cleverly balanced. It gives the player many different possible routes to take around the world. Players need to plan ahead, buying and selling items on the way that can either help them on their journeys or increase their wealth so that they can take more expensive but quicker forms of transport. Eventually, you learn enough about the routes to travel around the world within the time limit and often with a lot more money than you started, but that's okay because reaching that goal was lots of fun. As you can see from the image below, the artwork is excellent too.
2) Rymdkapsel means 'space capsule'. In this game, your job in this game is to develop a space station by moving resources around using your little rectangle people. Periodically, arrow things visit the space station and fire at your rectangle people. You need to protect your rectangle people against these attacks, but balance that protection with developing the station. I really enjoyed the sparse beauty of the station and the challenge of putting the place together while fending off the arrow threats. Again, like '80 days', the game comes to a natural end in that there is a main goal and once you achieve it, you're done.
3) Monument Valley is a puzzle game where you move a princess around perspective-defying buildings inspired by the works of M.C.Escher. The game has been flawlessly executed with an enjoyable score, elegantly simply controls and the visual fun of manoeuvering around impossible architecture. The game only has ten levels and you'll probably complete the whole game in a few hours, but I enjoyed every minute of it.
All three of these games, for me, are like a wonderful meal. You sit down with them and you look at them and you know that they've been lovingly made by people who are highly skilled and dedicated to producing something with mouthwatering contents, visual appeal and happy satisfaction. You tuck into them and enjoy the sensations, the feelings but you know that the experience won't last. After a few hours, it'll be finished and you'll have to get up, step away from the table and get on with your life but that's okay because you spent those few hours in happy enjoyment.
In that way, I think these games, the games that we eat, enrich our lives. They're short games that end, which means there are gaps between them, but this leaves room for anticipation, which can be more exciting than actually playing the game or eating the meal. Speaking of which, Wired magazine says that new levels of Monument Valley will be out soon. Yum yum! :-)