Monday, June 30, 2008

Adaptive BCI interface

There's a story making the rounds about University of Florida researcher creating an adaptive BCI that is getting misinterpreted on every site I've seen it on, including a few science-ish sites/blogs. There are just some real schlock sites out there.

Here's the real scoop. Adaptive BCIs are not new, but the implementation of this one is interesting for a number of reasons, the most notable of which is that it uses agents to evaluate the reward and output, updating each as performance improves. This requires some knowledge of the reward condition, which is a whole ball of wax we won't go into detail about because it means that reward conditions are defined and recognized prior to any attempt to learn. Though reinforcement learning does not require prior knowledge of the reward (you do something, and if you get a reward, that was what you want to do), the practical application of the system require a significant amount of knowledge about the environment.

This would be very useful for tasks such as computer control, where the environment has a limited number of components and those components can be explicitly defined and communicated. I think it is obvious by now that the first generation of truly useful BCIs will require a number of techniques working synergistically to operate in an open environment, and this 'dueling banjos' agent could very likely be one of them.

What this is NOT doing, and anyone that even glanced at the abstract should be able to tell, is alter the implant itself. It does not adjust the electrodes physically, filter the signal differently, stimulate the same or other electrodes. They are talking about a relatively standard AI learning algorithm in an interesting configuration put into action.

Don't get me wrong, it is a very interesting experiment and worth thinking about, but come on folks. At least read the abstract.

The paper.

I would link to the source sites, but they were all rubbish reporting.

Update: Okay, Medgadget did a good job, though they just posted two sentences and linked to the press release.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Firefox 3 working pretty well

So far I've had a few crashes (around 4 between 2 PCs), but I like it. I have to admit that it doesn't seem too different, perhaps a little zippier and less memory intensive.

Note that I did not force compatibility and just redownloaded most of these or got them from the dev's site.

My working add-ons:
Google bar
Facebook bar
GMail space
Download statusbar
IE Tab
PDF Download
Pic lens
Adblock Plus
Fire Gestures

Not working:
Cache viewer

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

You know what day it is...

Download Day - English

Aw yeah. Get it when it goes live, and register your 'Pledge' to download (does not require any info, other than checking a box).

Word on the street is that the final version is on the FTP servers, but those downloads won't count toward the record, so wait until they post it here. Besides, half your plug ins won't work anyways.

To install Firefox 3 along side Firefox 2, there are several options. My favorite, and by far the easiest, is wait until a "portable" version is released, probably later today. These are the builds that don't 'install' anything and are meant for USB flash drives. You can install add-ons and such with the only real limitation being that you can't run one while the other is open. The fancier methods get around this (though, it is really just a matter of adding a switch to the shortcut).

You can try to force Firefox 3 to use Firefox 2 add-ons, instructions below, or you can check out the developers' direct websites for beta builds. I think I might mess with it and post which of my add-ons work, which can be forced, which have updates/betas, and which are lost to the sands of time.

Forcing compatibility:
1) Enter address "about:config" in the address bar
2) Right-click anywhere in the lower pane and choose New, then Boolean.
3) Name the variable extensions.checkCompatibility
4) Set that variable value equal to false
5) Repeat for extensions.checkUpdateSecurity (also false).
6) Restart Firefox.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Throwing this out there

I keep seeing, and posting, all these nifty little collaboration, Web 2.0, and research related items, but never actually enact any of them on a larger scale basis. I use most of them, but the real benefit comes when many people use them.

So, anyone interested in setting up a mini-collaboration-type network for discussion, link exchanges, messaging, etc? Email me directneuralinterface((at))gmail((dot))com.

I don't know exactly what I have in mind, and there might even be some type of waiver signing involved if I add admin positions, but for now I just want to convene a group of like-minded folks to determine a set of desired features and get a skeleton laid out. The first 'meeting' will be sometime next week. Might be voice conference (Skype) but more likely an IM session. If you are unable to make it, feel free to pass along your thoughts via email and I will share them. If, somehow, this whole thing explodes into anything beyond a little social group and becomes "something" (ie-makes money), I will divide everything based on this initial group and the relative efforts/implemented ideas fairly. There will be a simple point system in place, which will not be publicly available, unless problems develop. (One thing I learned from my business jobs and the various startup companies is that the rules should be set long before any real progress is made. It avoids conflicts, lawsuits, and wasted time trying to backtrack through each person's influence.)

Updates a-comin'

I know, I've been bad. Updates coming this week, along with a monolithic SPF. I've been alternating between out-of-town and stressed beyond my gourd the last two weeks.

In the meantime, enjoy these bits:
- Multimodal image analysis on iPhones. (You ARE getting a 3G iPhone, right? Sweeeet.)
- Coffee is so powerful that just the scent can kick start genes.
- The latest computing speed barrier was broken. That's news to neuroscientists because it is being used to simulate the visual system. The program is called PetaVision, which sounds way too close to a name an international 'video' network worthy of heavy UN sanctions might have.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Neural Impulse Actuator shipping

OCZ's Neural Impulse Actuator, is supposedly shipping. This is the headband of dry electrodes that's being marketed for gamers, with claims that it uses "brain signals" to control your standard PC games. I'm on the waiting list, so we'll see...

Here's a link of the first review of it (directly to the video/testimonial page).

Hallelujah transhumanism!

Alright, I like pontificating on the future as much as other people, but really, tranhumanist types, the singularity stuff is getting too much attention and damaging legitimate attempts at more 'humble' science. I got thinking about this after reading the title of this Neurophilosophy post ("The Technological Rapture"). Isn't that what it is? Just another substitute for religion, but with nanobots and bytes instead of angels and miracles?

Yeah, it is, just with a more physical/material slant. Technology/God will come and sweep away the chosen ones that embrace it/him! Into a land of pure energy/spirit and knowledge/love! Those that choose to ignore progress/the lord will be left behind as the Earth is destroyed by man made disaster/demons or catastrophic solar event/rivers of blood and whatever!

What separates the two is the semi-feasibility of approaching a 'singularity' point where knowledge progresses faster than we can perceive it. Problem is... that happens NOW. 20% of the US has never sent an email. You have to pull your head out of math and science, and submerge it into sociology and philosophy a little here, kids. Or, if you need an equation/variable as a mental speed bump, how about this: Progress requires that the perceiver/creator both acquire knowledge and act on it (whether thinking/building/etc) in order to influence other perceivers/creators. Evolution dictates that organisms will act to increase fitness, therefore use of the aforementioned knowledge will be used to aid the individual with it. If speed of advancement is infinite, then the population instantaneously is cleaved to a single person/creator/etc with infinite lifespan (that kookie 'god moment' type thing). Any semi-intelligent person, say Mr #2 to Mr #1 above, would realize this and destroy Mr#1 in order to stay alive, as Mr#3 would gank Mr#2. The whole process converges to a "Mediocrilarity" where advancement cannot be faster than acting on it because the 'progressors' are held at some type of equilibrium point others can comprehend. Tada! Stalemate.

So, stop talking about brain implants like they'll be used to control planet-seized sentient robots that can time travel and fight angels with dark matter. It makes getting funding harder when everyone with a normal 9-5 job thinks you're wacko.

(Here are those recent articles on this. (shame on IEEE Spectrum for hosting this.))

Monday, June 2, 2008

PDFs get a major upgrade

So, let's say you write a Letter to Nature, and you slip up and forget that a video in a previous paper causes you to accidentally make a false claim. You know, fantasy/science fiction scenario, but stick with me here.

Well, Adobe has added the ability to embed Flash-based movies into Acrobat 9's file format. If you thought Acrobat was a resource hog now, wait until the video junk gets added (also makes it more complex for those faster third party options to implement)! Still, great idea, and a very smart move. I think Adobe is on the verge of a renaissance with this, the upcoming major tweaks that will be fully implemented by CS5, and their AIR platform.

But, PLEASE Adobe, if there is any chance an employee working there reads this blog, PLEASE rewrite Acrobat completely from the ground up. It is bar none the single worst application everyone is forced to use. Yes, we will still use it if you don't change a thing, but you literally have an entire install base that, should a viable substitute reach market, would leave you in a second. That is a bad place to be, and it is bad customer relations.


With their mention of the Schwartz Nature Letter, DVICE posted the below image. Sweet awesomeness of Radicalville!

And their report on visual science research leading to visual prosthesis? That's below, too.

Store yer bits

Why do I love storage so much? No idea. Maybe it's because you can never have enough. 3 things in the news recently...

1) Seagate says they will have 2TB drives (traditional magnetic spinner types) by next year. The last major advance was the second generation perpendicular recording which gave us that quick jump from 500GB to 750GB to 1TB, where things have remained stagnant. I have not heard much on the research front to indicate that things are lined up for anything above 2TB, but I have no idea what allowed the doubling this time.

2) Intel is hopping happy about their new 32GB NAND flash chips. Current max is 16GB, so flash drives will be doubling in capacity within the next 6 months, if not sooner.

3) Lastly, if you are looking for a super easy, no fuss 4-drive disk array, the Drobo's price has been slashed by a good chunk. It was waaay overpriced before, and is now reasonable. I'm a control freak and like to know everything that goes on, but if you like technology magic, the Drobo is a nice option. A little add-on dock allows you to turn it into a NAS device, too.