When I got on Twitter in 2007, I fell in love with the way it formed a kind of cloud consciousness for my community.
It reminded me of being a graffiti writer in New York in 1980 and getting on a subway car that had just been tagged by someone I knew. In the wet ink I could see the traces of my friend’s presence, the knowledge that they had probably gotten off just one stop before I got on. I could feel the network of the subway system brachiating out through the city, feel my awareness of my community spreading across it, leaving marks of our passage for each other. There was a signal going out into the world, openly visible and yet you needed to be part of it to recognize it.
Twitter and Foursquare were an evolution of that community consciousness and communication, a distributed mechanical telepathy. Now, of course, the Twitter signal is mostly noise, except when it’s news, which is a very different thing. But mechanical telepathy is still moving forward, with devices like Google Glass at the forefront.
I want the MMI‘s I saw in 1982 in Larry Niven’s most politically radical book, the Panopticon/ecoterrorism fable Oath of Fealty. In Oath of Fealty, two executives who have Brain-Computer Interfaces with their corporate server essentially IM or email each other through the corporation’s AI-like system.
It’s a very manageable, intentional vision of telepathy- there’s no possibility of accidentally overhearing things you don’t want to hear, or becoming overwhelmed by hearing every mind in the world. You don’t need earworms about Tensors to protect yourself from snooping Espers. In fact, this version of telepathy is most like texting, and one of the reasons I love texting is that it possesses agency, latency and a non-invasive property that the phone call never did. Texting, and the smartwatch bubble, are steps on the way to mechanical telepathy. So is Neurogaming.
The world’s first Neurogaming Conference was just held in SF last week.
Neurogaming tech builds on the current Quantified Self sensormania, ever-improving haptic tech, and the is-VR-finally-here excitement around tools like the Oculus Rift. In the Year of The Cyborg Tipping Point, we’re ready for recreational use of medical and military bio-monitoring tech. We’re ready for AR, not in the locative death scene art-installation sense but in the quotidian sense. But market forces have to justify the R&D. The success of sensor tech like the Kinect and the Wii doesn’t mean guaranteed resources for gaming EEG and invasive-sounding biofeedback tools like sweat tasters.
Medical dollar competition, like prosthetic control and the race for the bionic eye market, may push brain-computer interface development along. The Nurmikko Nanophotonics and Neuroengineering lab at Brown has a research goal of recording signals from primate brains. Then there’s magnetized ink for a haptic tattoo. Nokia has taken out a patent application. Feeling a distinct pattern of pulses when your loved one calls is definitely a form of telepathy.
What about the product actually called Telepathy? Telepathy One, the Glass-type wearable AR device that was demoed at SXSW, sent out a press release about its US launch this week. Telepathy One is focused on media sharing and experience augmentation, and uses earbuds rather than bone conduction, which supposed to make it affordable. The concept is more “reach out and touch someone” than digital upgrade/onboard PA. The tech seems to be at least partially working, but the sleek design has a deadly flaw- the headset looks and apparently is uncomfortable and unstable on people’s heads in a way Glass isn’t. While Telepathy One is supposed to make it to market before Glass, it doesn’t look robust enough to get rapid adoption.
Is mechanical telepathy too creepy?
To people who aren’t me, I mean? One of the things I find most exciting about Google Glass is that you can pipe video of your viewpoint live to someone else’s laptop, the closest we’ve gotten so far to simstim and “accessing” other people’s sensoriums. (Peter Acworth sees application to POV prOn, while I see poignant echoes of Slow Glass.)
Last Friday I went to WearTechCon, the Wearable Tech Meetup at Twitter, and met some folks from Vergence Labs.
Vergence is working on what they call “Social Video” glasses. The glasses are called Epiphany Eyewear and are being developed with IndieGoGo funds, after Kickstarter choked their campaign. Because it was creepy? Or because a similar project had left a bad taste in the mouth of many contributors?
I spoke to CEO Erick Miller and designer David Meisenholder, who’s doing a Product Design Masters at Stanford. (Did you know Stanford had Product Design? I didn’t!) They seemed like extremely smart, talented guys with impressive pedigrees working on a cool project to me. I kind of totally love the engineering equivalent of an artist’s statement Miller has on his LinkedIn, seen below. It’s like a geek version of the Rozz-Tox Manifesto. And he comes from the world of CG TDs, which is a world I know well, having been married to one and worked at a VFX house.
So I don’t think these guys are startup jerks trying to create a product that will enable POV Girls Gone Wild videos.
I think they’re serious people who care about technology’s human future, and not just in a dopey Singularity way. Also, the glasses totally work.
The glasses look like chunky black plastic hipster frames; the hardware is in the earpieces (temples or bows). The temples are scarcely thicker than those on Buddy Holly’s. They look sleek in black, but I loved the slightly-translucent white ones, with their visible components. (I imagined them styled with a Unif Vapor Moto jacket and ombre seapunk hair!) Miller demonstrated the glasses recording his POV and then uploaded it to Vergence Labs’ social platform, YouGen.tv. I was delighted.
Later that weekend, I excitedly told my boyfriend about it. He was horrified.
I was babbling happily about how he could record his experience at events he goes to that I don’t attend, like Chaos Communication Camp and Burning Man. Then I remembered that a) as an online NYM Rights activist, he is violently opposed to mass-disseminated video life-logging and video documentation that could be exploited by facial-recognition software. (See my Google Glass post, “Promise Me You Won’t Wear Them In The House“). B) so are all his hacker friends. And C) Burning Man has had plenty of issues with video and consent.
Ah well- so much for watching the Man burn while sitting on our couch with the cat. I’m still totally in favor of social video glasses, and Epiphany Eyewear is already compatible with prescription lenses, a distinct market advantage over Glass. You can just go to Lenscrafters and have them cut lenses to fit your Epiphany frames. Plus, they’re cheap as hell – looks like they’ll launch at a MSRP of around $300. I asked Miller when they’re shipping, and he said he couldn’t confirm a date yet – so I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled and the blog updated.
Mechanical telepathy, about to be unevenly distributed!