web superheroes + the rise of techno-altruism

land for farming? Meet the ‘freight farm’: a reused freight container that
grows all sorts of veg in a tiny space. Or check out Mosaic, which hooks small-time investors to clean energy projects, a bit like a facebook for solar panels. Or Bina, where Big Data is put
to work to find a cure for cancer.

A lot of these are crowd-funded, or germinated in an internetty-type environment. They beg the question: why the rise in world-saving? What's with all the online do-gooding?


Well, you
could make a vague link between techno-altruism and the ascent of
Silicon Valley, which always seemed to be at the nicer end of American capitalism
(see, for example, Google’s famous ‘Don’t be Evil’ policy).

Or you could point out that the web is all about helping people link up with other people. Webby projects might just have a tendency to altruism built in to them if they're gestated in an amniotic soup of connectivity, rather than, say, warfare

Maybe its simpler. Increasing connections with other like-minded types makes it easier for nice people to realise nice
ideas. Food for thought, especially in the wake of TED and SXSW. 


(Thoughts courtesy of Planning Placement newbie James.)


the secret life of the meme

Memes. They are ubiquitous. We’ve all seen
them. This is a meme from early 2012, the breadcat:

Once safely contained within the confines of the
interwebz, memes filter into the mainstream faster and faster every day. But
they have a history unto themselves. In the spirit of greater meme awareness, allow me to take you on cursory stroll through basic memetics 101.

‘Meme’ is shorthand for a catchy idea. A
thing that people copy or repeat over and over. The term is a play on the word
‘gene’ and can be traced to Richard Dawkins’ classic bit of thinking about
evolution, The Selfish Gene (1976).

His spin on it is quite fun. People copy
what they think is awesome or useful. If we repeat the idea then it survives.
If we don’t repeat it then it dies off, like the Dodo. Simple, really.Bread-cat-07

This would make human culture actually
something like an ecosystem inhabited by a wholly different kind of life-form –
ideas – that are replicated like genes are replicated in cells.

People repeat small ideas or actions, like shaking hands or calling a friend 'mate'. These join
up into clusters of ideas and behaviours (a ‘memeplex’). Some memeplexes eat other ones and absorb them into their structure. They might even join
up into grander and more complex things, like religion or classical music or Welshness.

In short: evolution but with bits of culture
instead of dinosaurs and monkeys.  So
what does that tell us? Only that we might be vessels for a whole
other world of creatures. And that they use us to replicate themselves. And we don't even know it.


Well, maybe. Whether or not memes qualify as 'life', it's certainly something to think about as thousands plan how to pull off the Harlem Shake without getting fired.


(Thoughts courtesy of Planning Placement newbie James.)

Update from Neil: See below for an example of what happens when memes collide. Is this a 'memeplex'?

the Apple iWatch: when sci-fi invades reality


The iWatch. No-one
knows much. It’s an Apple product rumoured to be in development, made of curved
glass designed to fit around the wrist.

It sounds cool in a
Napoleon Dynamite sort of way; chic and geek in equal measure. Central to chatter on the subject is the
pervasive question of whether it will actually be made; Apple’s continued silence on
the issue of the iWatch has driven various tech-bloggers giddy with the sweet
smell of conspiracy

What's more interesting is its direct link to Science
. Watch out, it gets a bit nerdy from here on out.
The device will apparently name and describe objects at which it is pointed.
This is a tricorder, not a timepiece.


You could look at the iWatch as part of a slow trickle of technology conceived at the
final frontiers of space-y genre lit. Similar examples abound. Another supposed
Apple product in the pipeline – the iGlasses
– purports to record what you see, edit out the bad stuff, and replay it, see
Minority Report and the Matrix for more details. There’s even a nifty working prototype of a
hover-car flying about
out there.

The fields of
fantasy-technology and real-technology seem destined for cross-pollination. This
piece takes the position that Science actually uses sci-fi to test out ideas,
as a kind of virtual lab. Simpler is the notion that a few kids watch Star Wars
and grow up into product developers with a burning desire to make a robot-hand
that actually
feels things

Its interesting to think of sci-fi as ‘the manual of the possible’. That the genre has a kind of mapping function –
sketching the contours of the land, the limits of what we can think up – which then challenges us fill in the gaps with actual
stuff. It’s cool and it lends credibility to a big swathe of nerd culture
that is too-easily overlooked.


(Thoughts courtesy of Planning Placement newbie James.)

My brain hurts

Stuart Smith writes:

Yesterday, I went to The Science Museum to see an exhibition called Neurobiotics… The Future Of Thinking


Contrary to the above image, it’s not an exhibition that really concerns itself with the morality of neuroscience.  It’s much more about some of the pioneering techniques that are being used to stimulate brain creativity (such as cranial electro magnetism):



They had a game (sort of slow motion air hockey) that allows you control a ball’s movement with your brain.  The more relaxed you are, the more alpha and theta waves produced by your brain.  These waves are picked up and a sensors in a cap you wear, and then, in turn, move the ball towards your opponent:


And there was also a secion on how brain implants and such are being used to make you able to control computer cursors by thought alone.  Loads of practical applications in the future, not least for people with disabilities.  Here’s a short film about it:

Download MOV00149.3GP

It’s not a big exhibition at all, but it’s free and fairly interesting, so worth popping in if you’re nearby and have half an hour to spare.