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Weekend Topsight, August 11/12, 2007

brains.jpg"Hey, Jamais, what's up with the lack of blogging? You turning into a slacker or something?"

I wish. I could use the sleep.

Four big projects for IFTF. Continuation of the Open University project (from home, this time). Prep for my Singularity Summit talk. Prep for a talk at Swiss Re. Article for Metropolis magazine, courtesy of Pope-Emperor Bruce (thank you, my friend!). And one more project I can't yet talk about, other than to say it's one of the coolest things I've ever been asked to work on. All now underway.

Good thing I have a short vacation coming up -- I'll be able to get some blogging done in between the stress attacks.

In the meantime...

• Neurocognitive Engineering Project #1: A 2004 research project on decision-making (PDF) is getting a fair bit of play lately (BoingBoing, Salon, Long Now, etc.) because of the correlation made by Science Blog "The Frontal Cortex" made to the accelerating mortgage crisis in the U.S.. But what jumped out at me was the identification of the section of the brain involved with long-term, rational thinking.

Our analysis shows that the δ areas, which are activated uniformly during all decision epochs, are associated with lateral prefrontal and parietal areas commonly implicated in higher level deliberative processes and cognitive control, including numerical computation. Such processes are likely to be engaged by the quantitative analysis of economic options and the valuation of future opportunities for reward. The degree of engagement of the δ areas predicts deferral of gratification, consistent with a key role in future planning.

I wonder: what would it take to stimulate this region? If the survival of human civilization this century requires greater use of long-term thinking, is there any way to make this region of the brain more active?

• For All of You With Home Chip Fabs: Sun just announced its latest UltraSPARC processor, super-fast (89.6 GHz), super-efficient, etc., etc., but what makes it particularly notable is that Sun has put the blueprints for the core design under the GPL free/open source license. Oh, sure, sure, this will be handy for developers who want to work as close as possible to the hardware to maximize performance, but part of the value of free/open source is the ability to make your own copy -- not just read the code, but compile it for yourself to make sure that what you're working with is exactly what the code says. Kind of hard to do when the "compiler" costs millions of dollars.

(via Make)

• "We got computers, we're tapping phone-lines, we know that that ain't allowed": Add one more item to my list: putting together a proposal for the Technology in Wartime conference being put on this January by the organization Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.

This conference will explore how computer technology is used during war -- both for the purposes of combat/defense, as well as for human rights interventions into war-torn regions. Topics will range from high tech weapons systems and internet surveillance, to privacy-enhancing technologies that aid human rights workers documenting conditions in war-torn countries and help soldiers communicate their experiences in blogs and e-mail. We are also interested in the history of computer-aided weapons systems. Our goal will be to consider the ethical implications of wartime technologies and how these technologies are likely to affect civilization in years to come. Ultimately we want to engage a pressing question of our time: What should socially-responsible computer professionals do in a time of high tech warfare?

This sounds like a terrific conference topic -- kudos to CPSR Board President Annalee Newitz.


Okay. The "Open University" link doesn't really discuss the project. How about another link discussing the "continuation" of the "next part"? Gracias.

Aren't those areas of the brain that meditation affects?

csven, sorry, I was posting late at night (close to 1am) and not as clearly as I'd like. As it happens, however, none of the posts I've done that have mentioned OU have actually explained what the project is. In short, it's a project to help the Open University think through its options for building a more substantial and meaningful online presence.

Daniel, I believe you are correct. So what we need is meditation in a pill.

Hi Jamais
not sure if you've seen this one, re computer monitoring software.


Would like to learn more regarding OU's future direction. As it happens, I've been working on putting together a personal curriculum using the OCW offerings and created a Ning network recently for people to share their own curricula/resources.

Only thing lacking is the diploma... for those who care. For the most part, I don't. However, I can imagine a business plan that would let me do what I'm doing know *and* get me a diploma. That OU and/or others hasn't started down that path (to my knowledge) is a bit of a surprise. Unless of course something like that is what you're advising them to pursue.

The sun chip is 1.4 Ghz. The 89Ghz number seems to multiplying the 64 threads times the Ghz rate which is an unusual (non-standard) way of stating a chips capability.

"If the survival of human civilization this century requires greater use of long-term thinking, is there any way to make this region of the brain more active?"

If we could, would anybody do it in any significant numbers? If the rewards of long term thinking are indeed long term, what short-term incentives would people have for doing so?



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