“For many people the mind is the last refuge of mystery

against the encroaching spread of science…

the last bit of  terra incognita.”

-Herb Simon

Dozens of tornadoes started to touch down while storm clouds gathered overhead.  Frantically looking around, I saw no one.  The entire neighborhood had been abandoned.  One long stride and then another, I picked up speed, and my body left the ground.  I flew over the tops of houses, looking for- what- survivors?  In my gut, I knew it was futile.  The tempest was raging, the tornadoes gathering strength…

This is but one dream I’ve wished could be visually documented- taken from its ephemeral prison, from the confines of R.E.M. sleep.  A machine capable of recording dreams and playing them back, like a movie, would be optimal.  Amazingly, this machine’s predecessor has already been built and is currently being tested in Japan as a mind-reading device.  Using MRI machines, participant’s brains are scanned while staring at black and white images.  These images are then reconfigured on a computer, allowing researchers to observe shapes seen by those involved in the study.  Granted, the “Dream Machine” is still in its infancy, but future applications are far reaching.

Recording dreams is certainly a goal of the machine’s creators, but so is literal mind-reading.  Currently, only images physically shown to participants are able to be seen via software.  The next step is gaining access to images conjured only by the imagination.  Peering into someone’s mind is sure to bring with it issues of ethics and privacy.  Not only will the “Dream Machine” be used in the domestic sphere, but it also has implications for judiciary proceedings and military use.  If, in the future, the machine can discern between dreams and actual memories, devices currently in use (such as lie detectors) will no longer be needed, as a more effective means of gaining more accurate information will be available.  For the same reason, wartime handling of suspects may also change as the mind containing valuable information can be infiltrated.       

The mind’s unsolvable code, once thought to be an impenetrable landscape, is about to be cracked.   

See the start of the “Dream Machine”:

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WoodsworthI am a librarian, sir.  That is my occupation.  That is my profession.  If you people choose to call that obsolete…
Chancellor:  A librarian.  Having to do with books.
WoodsworthYes, sir.
Chancellor:  And since there are no more books, there are no more libraries.  Therefore, it follows there would be little use for the services of a librarian.  Case in point, a minister would say his profession is preaching the word of God.  And, of course, since the state has proven that there is no God, that would make the function of a minister somewhat academic as well…  You are obsolete, Mr. Woodsworth.
WoodsworthA lie.  No man is obsolete.
Chancellor:  You have no function, Mr. Woodsworth. You’re an anachronism. Like a ghost from another time.

                                          –The Obsolete Man.  The Twilight Zone (2.29)

Robots are ubiquitous in human culture; not only have they been conceived in the minds of modern scientists, but within the imaginations of humankind’s greatest inventors, philosophers and teachers.  Greek mythology gave us the story of Pygmalion, in which a sculptor fashions a beautiful, female figure and begs Aphrodite to make her into real flesh and blood.  Leonardo da Vinci drew sketches in the 15th century of what is arguably the first conception of a humanoid robot.  The 1930’s brought Elektro, the first walking, talking and smoking robot which was introduced to a large audience.  We’ve come quite a way from 1495 C.E.

Now, engineers have been creating machines capable of performing duties too dangerous or too full of drudgery, freeing people from such tasks.  For perilous feats such as storming into a burning house, a mobile robot could prove invaluable, performing surveillance of the home’s interior before sending in firemen and limiting human casualties.  But what of the jobs that require no valor, no education, no specialized set of skills?  Within a couple decades, we will see robots who cook and serve food, dispense tissue paper to those ill or experiencing emotional distress, fulfill our sexual desires, and maybe even watch over our children.  For developed nations, this means an evolutionary bottleneck and a restructuring of society, for priorities will inevitably change.  Initially, robotics will be placed in enviornments where sterility is necessity, speed and accuracy is mandatory, and labor costs can be cut.  Food preparation, janitorial services, factory work on conveyor lines, all are markets in which robotic labor would become more efficient for companies.  But, these machines are not all merely pieces of metal with bolts and wires; some will have, at the very least, a modicum of autonomy.  As these machines perform such duties, they will inevitably move to other sectors of society, taking their own position in the workforce, while they become more intelligent, and improve their efficacy.                         

Watch a daring (demo) rescue by humanoid robot, Nexi: 

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“Any sufficiently advanced technology is

indistinguishable from magic.”

-Arthur C. Clarke

Students at MIT have invented a world-changing device:  the Sixth Sense.  Their invention harnesses inorganic digital information and connects it to people in a more organic way, making computerized information completely accessible anywhere at any time.  Less than a foot in length and light-weight, the instrument allows its user to digitally paint on walls, scan grocery items to find the most eco-friendly options (by displaying a red, yellow, or green light on said potential purchase), scan books at the bookstore to read online reviews or search for other pertinent information on the tome), take pictures (saving them to later be reframed/resized on any surface), turning paper-based newspapers into video media, the list of applications goes on and on.  Without hyperbole, this is revolutionary:





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“There is something that makes men attracted to women, but it doesn’t have to be a real woman.  Men are turned on by something, and most often they are turned on by real women, and so they think that is because they are beautiful.  In fact, men are turned on by signs.  It’s not that women are pretty.  There are pent up feelings that make men feel they are pretty.  Why is that?  Thinking about that question is one of my motivations when I’m making dolls.”

-Gentaro Araki, famed Japanese artist specializing in sex dolls

For years, professionals from the fields of psychology and anthropology have been studying the science of falling in love:  Why do our hearts race and palms sweat when we merely see the object of our affection?  How and why are long-term attachments formed?  Why do our hearts feel as though they’re breaking when our partner leaves?

Chemicals are seen as the driving force for such aspects of what we call love.  Oxytocin aids in establishing bonds (and strengthening these bonds each time we tear up the sheets), dopamine gives us the feeling of butterflies flittering about in our stomachs and the highest of emotional highs, adrenaline produces our feelings of anxiety helping our hearts beat rapidly, and serotonin, one of the most popular neurotransmitters, keeps us feeling happy.  Thus far, on our evolutionary timeline, only other humans had the capacity to produce such responses and create pair bonds.  But, that was before the age of soft, flesh-like silicone.

Companies worldwide are perfecting the male and female form: crafting them out of life-like materials and allowing customers to be involved in their creation.  With a menu of faces, hair and eye color, breast  or penis size, and ethnicity, the customer is king.  Although the concept of lovin’ on a doll is still on the periphery, doll lovers are coming out of the woodwork and in the next few years will be less of a niche market and garner more mainstream acceptance.  Currently, these human-like dolls are lifeless hunks of meat, but within a couple decades, they will have the ability to move and speak, changing the context of human interaction and sexual competition.    


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Death is very dreary, dull affair, and my advice to you

is to have nothing whatever to do with it.

-W. Somerset Maugham

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been a fan of Death.  For years I’ve amused myself with (what I thought to be) the completely unattainable goal of defeating senescence and downloading my consciousness into a silicon body or drinking some magic fluid and stopping the aging process in its tracks.  Apparently, I wasn’t too far off.

Aubrey de Grey, a biogerontologist at Cambridge University, believes science will unlock the secret to eternal youth and maintained health… and this can happen in the near future.  Building on the premise that growing old is a disease, he is determined in learning how to combat the key features of the body’s self-destructive linear path and stave off the infamous Last Nap.  


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An Introduction

Surely, these will be strange days.  The 21st century promises to hearken in a new age, one that not only has the potential to revolutionize our lives in dramatic, unprecedented ways, but also has the potential to change what it means to be human.

Evolving into bipeds, developing tools and language, we have enjoyed being at the top of the heap, beating any competitors to retain our place in the game of life.  For the past 200,000 years, we have developed from archaic versions of ourselves and have become even more efficient and streamlined, learning how to adapt and change with our environment.  The future will be no different.  What will be different is the context in which we will be placed.  Technological progress is quickly making the once impossible achievable, and it would be a grave error to constrict such advancements to limited realms of society.  Indeed, it will be such innovation that will force us to confront our deeply rooted concepts of humanness and force us to examine our place in the universe and our interactions with one another. 

Robotic limb prosthetics for the paralyzed or amputated, retinal implants to restore sight in the blind, mind-controlled video games, designer babies, space travel, nanotechnology, all are but a few examples of what is in store for us in the not-so-distant future.  Although it may be decades before such technologies are viable and marketable, it is not too soon to encourage Kurzweilian discussions of what such a future can hold and how we will need to meet the demands of our rapidly changing, dynamic environment.  In order to overcome the obstacles presented to us in the 21st century, we will be confronted by the limitations of our physical selves.  Long-term space travel, defeating senescence, abolishing age old diseases, all have already spurred research into developing answers for such problems.  But with this impending bottleneck fast approaching, what is lacking is serious discussion of its implications outside of academic circles.  Although science touches every aspect of modern life, there is a chasm between those who discover and create and those who passively benefit.  And so…

Human, meet the Future.

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