rashbre central: April 2023

Friday 28 April 2023

Artificial: C15 Cafe Zmittag

The week passed and I heard that Matt had been testing the Cyclone helmet. He was using the Cyclone 2 variant. On Friday, I spotted him at Zmittag in the Brant cafe and thought I would ask him about it.


"Hey, Matt, I see you are into the Swiss lunches! What's that?"


"Hey, Oliver! Yes it's Rösti mit Wurst. More like an Irish meal than a full Swiss. It's so confusing here calling lunch Zmittag but then serving daily French dishes!"


"That's an outrider, then?"


"Yes, I'm all Tartifletted out! The Swiss like their cheese, don't they? I see you have the Papet Vadois. Looks good?


Yes, its leeks and potatoes with a hint of sausage - it reminds me, bizarrely, of Colcannon."


"I can see how you'd make that connection."


We both smile and then I ask him.


"So tell me about your week. I hear you have been under the Cyclone?" 


He looks around but we are in a quiet corner.


"It was trippy. I was given the Cyclone - the Cyclone 2, actually. I'm not sure now how they persuaded me to wear it, but Juliette had hinted that there were many other human testers. I've also got form with brain stimulation. I used it for a time to help me concentrate at Uni. But that really is another story.


"The helmet fitted me surprisingly well and I was given a controller as a kind of safety thing to help me turn it off. You know how on trains they have 'fail-safe' speed controllers? The same idea only it looked like a Scalextric toy car racing set controller."


He squinted and I was aware he was trying to recount the experience accurately.


"They wanted me to attempt to converse with a live rat or maybe even operate it. I guess I was the guinea pig! I pressed the plunger and a small dial shot around into the green. My mind, via the Cyclone, was now connected via cables to the rat's central nervous system. To begin with, nothing else happened. The rat continued rooting around in its cage and I couldn't feel anything different."


He pauses and there is an intensity as I see his eyes widen.


"Then suddenly, I was over an abyss. My brain had emptied, and I had no thoughts - probably the first time that my inner monologue had stopped. I felt drained. 


"The rat was now motionless. I tried to lift my left leg, and I saw the rat do the same. Then the right. My entire brain was given over to controlling a small rodent. 


"Then the rat jumped." 


I jumped in my seat in the canteen as he said it, causing the table items to rattle noisily.


"I was overcome with a flood of emotion. Food. The rat could see a small food container placed in the experiment area. A big Mac. I felt myself being operated on and dragged to where the food was. The rat ate the corner of the burger. I felt good."


He pauses again, then picks up, "Another adrenaline rush. A second rat, larger than the first one, was now in the experiment area and had seen the food. It was going to fight me to secure the food for itself."


"More adrenaline. I gripped the controller harder, ready for the fight. It didn't come. I'd overloaded, and the system had thrown me out. I could feel my own natural thoughts returning and also saw Juliette lifting the second rat from the experimental area and placing it in a separate cage. We checked my heartbeat afterwards and it was running at 220 bpm."


"Intense," I say, "Hardcore thrash metal speed."


"Too right. But my entire worldview was reduced to that of the rat."


"What about your own 'self' - were you aware of it?" I ask.


Matt replies, "No - after I'd adjusted to the headgear - or the headgear had adjusted to me - I felt my whole conscious drawing away. I literally had no thoughts. I was running on reflex. When the rat looked still and I moved it by moving my left and right legs - it used my entire thought capacity. 


"But then, when food appeared, the rat could drive itself, but after it had eaten some, I felt good. And then I felt agitated when the second rat appeared like I was ready to fight for the burger. It got too intense, I pressed the button too far involuntarily and the system ejected me."


"They say that it was far more than they had expected to get from the first session."


I ask, "So it looks as if the system was operating 'two-way'?"


"Most definitely, although when the rat's instinct for the food took over I was unable to override it. Maybe it is because I was surprised by the whole experience."


"What about the rat afterwards?" I ask.


"It just went back to its normal behaviour, no doubt pleased to have acquired a Big Mac in the process."


He pauses, I notice his eyes flickering. "I was thinking about how much spare brain capacity there is which could be used for something gainful."


"You mean like the insertion of AI into the 'gap'?'


"Kinda, but we would also need to restore the normal function of the 'human' end of the Cyclone."


"I see. Instead of using the system to interface to a rat, make the same 'two-way' communications capable of connecting to an AI device?"


"Yes. Now it turns out that the lab can already do that using the Levi Spillmann operating system, but it all runs too slowly. I've asked my buddy from England to come over to take a look. I think Spillmann 'slugged' the system.


"Slugged it - what deliberately make it go slow?" I ask.


"Yes, but I've been looking at it and think there's a digital key to unlock fast processing. Heck - we are running this on an Exascale computer."


"Something else," says Matt, "I think the rush of adrenaline I experienced is important. I suspect that the Cyclone can trip different sensations. If it can trip Seratonin - for mood management and Dopamine for 'feel good', Oxytocin for the  'warm and fuzzies/loved-up', and Adrenaline - for self-preservation, then we have a complete in-built rewards system.


"Who have you told?" I ask, "I suspect this needs to be handled carefully."


"Yeah, that's what I thought too. Look, I trust Juliette Häberli and have explained it to her. Between just us two - I've become a 'rather good friend' of Juliette."


"Your secret is safe; does anyone else at the lab know?"


"No one."


"What about Simon?"


"No. I think Simon asks too many questions. Also remember he is close to Bérénice Charbonnier, who is something of a news hound."


"I don't think she would like to be referred to that way," I chuckle.


"No, I mean she will hunt down any good stories, so my advice is to be careful around both Simon and Bérénice."

Monday 24 April 2023

Artificial: C14 I meet Matt at the bus stop.

Monday and I'm waiting at the bus stop. I'd been told that the crowds of tourists thinned in September, but I can see little evidence of it. I spot Simon and who I take to be Matt Nicholson coming forward. 

"Hey Oliver meet Matt and vice-versa," says Simon stepping back to let us greet one another.


"You are both newbies here and have travelled from the same town in Ireland," I can see Simon is enjoying this. The bus arrives and together with around a dozen or so others we file on and take seats. Simon joins Matt and I sit in a third seat across the gangway from the two of them. The noise of the bus makes conversation across the gangway difficult, so I settle down to read whilst the other two chat animatedly. I can see Matt has the same wonder that I exhibited all of a week ago when I joined Brant.


We soon enter the Brant campus and then Simon bids his farewells as he gets off at an earlier stop. I cross over the gangway to sit next to Matt and we carry on toward the Research block. 


"You'll be held up there," I explain, "It will probably take a couple of hours to process you and then someone will collect you from the entrance area, probably Amy van der Leiden. She's the boss of our team and protects us from the wilder excesses of Brant Corporate," I explain.


Matt smiles, "The corporate electromagnet can be switched on at any time." 


I laugh, "Yes we are all ruled by spreadsheets and corporate magnets."


There is a hiss as the driver pulls up and opens the doors at the front and middle of the bus. 


"Good luck!" I whisper to Matt.


"Thanks," he replies, pulling a small day sack from the overhead space on our bus.


Weirdly, I didn't see him again until the next morning, when he looks the worse for wear. He'd been out on his first evening with Schmiddi and Rolf and had maybe tried a little too hard with the local beers. Simon found some tablets to give him, for what must have been a monster headache.


I spent Tuesday with Rolf, working out some new sensor designs, whilst Matt spent the day with Juliette Häberli. They seemed to spend a lot of time talking about cats. Matt's evening extended into one with Juliette and I noticed how quickly they had become good friends.


I could tell that Matt was quickly comfortable with the Geneva life. I'd had to have some me-time at the end of the first week, but Matt seemed to be ready for whatever came his way. 


But at the end of the week, he completely disappeared.  From Saturday morning until Monday. Simon was uncontactable and I wondered whether Simon and Matt were somehow involved in something together. 


The next Monday we had a big team meeting in the Research Lab to compare notes about last week and then to begin to prepare a series of experiments for the new week. I was somewhat dismayed to hear everyone in the lab discussing the defective components in the makeup of the Cyclone helmet. 


Amy cut in, "Yes; that is the difficulty. Kjeld Nikolajsen wants us to push to get the Human to Computer link designed and is not prepared to listen to arguments about parts of the system being defective. He thinks that any kinks can be ironed out later in the design and marketing process."


Schmiddi spoke again, "I was looking at the reports from Selexor. They seem to have a good PR firm. Harry Stensen, Selexor’s chief technology officer, said that the criticism of Createl is uninformed and that most AI researchers have a limited understanding of the psychology behind how workers think and behave."


Schmiddi continued, "Stensen compared the Createl algorithms’ ability to boost hiring outcomes with medicine’s improvement of health outcomes and said the science backed him up. The system, he argued, is still more objective than the flawed metrics used by human recruiters, whose thinking he called the 'ultimate black box.'"


We all watched Schmiddi reading his report on his laptop, “ 'People are rejected all the time based on how they look, their shoes, how they tucked in their shirts and how ‘hot’ they are,' Stensen told The Washington Post. 'Algorithms eliminate most of that in a way that hasn’t been possible before. The AI doesn’t explain its decisions or give candidates their assessment scores, which Stensen called 'not relevant.' 


Rolf asked, "Wasn't Stensen the man who said, 'When 1,000 people apply for one job, 999 people are going to get rejected, whether a company uses AI or not.' ?"


Juliette added, "Yes, in the literature for my psychology work I see increasingly regular quotes that these inscrutable algorithms have forced job seekers to confront a new interview anxiety.


"An example, from right here at Brant: Lilja Jussila, a University of Connecticut senior studying math and economics said she researched Selexor and did her best to dazzle the job-interview machine. Lilja answered confidently and in the time allotted. She used positive keywords. She smiled, often and wide."


Juliette continued, "But when she didn’t get the job, she couldn’t see how the computer had rated her or ask how she could improve, and she agonised over what she had missed. Had she not looked friendly enough? Did she talk too loudly? What did the AI hiring system believe she had gotten wrong?"


"So what were the reasons?" I asked.


Juliette remembered, “Lilja said that maybe one of the reasons she didn’t get it was that she spoke a little too naturally. She didn't use enough big, fancy words. It's like not 'playing the game'.”


"I remember the case," said Amy, "It made it to the top because we were really desperate to hire someone with Lilja's skill-set. My theory was that it was simply her international Finnish-sounding name that threw her out."


Schmiddi added, "Selexor said its system dissects the tiniest details of candidates’ responses — their facial expressions, their eye contact and perceived “enthusiasm” — and compiles reports companies can use in deciding whom to hire or disregard."


He was still reading from the laptop report, "Job candidates aren’t told their score or what little things they got wrong, and they can’t ask the machine what they could do better. It's claimed that it would be the first stage of gaming the system. Human hiring managers can use other factors, beyond the Selexor score, to decide which candidates pass the first-round test."


Rolf added, "The advertising says that Selexor employs superhuman precision and impartiality to zero in on an ideal employee, picking up on tell-tale clues a recruiter might miss. Here:"


He handed out a flyer advertising Selexor. It was a photocopy of a page from Winners magazine:




Selexor’s prospects have cemented it as the leading player in the brave new world of semi-automated corporate recruiting. It can save employers a fortune on in-person interviews and quickly cull applicants deemed below the standard. Selexor says it also allows companies to see candidates from an expanded hiring pool: Anyone with a phone and Internet connection can apply. 


Armanis Winterhall, Selexor’s chief industrial-organisational psychologist, told Winners magazine the standard 30-minute Selexor assessment includes half a dozen questions but can yield up to 500,000 data points, all of which become ingredients in the person’s calculated score.


The employer decides the written questions, which Selexor’s system then shows the candidate while recording and analysing their responses. The AI assesses how a person’s face moves to determine, for instance, how excited someone seems about a certain work task or how they would behave around angry customers. 


Those 'Raw Response Units,' Winterhall said, can make up around a third of a person’s score; the words they say and the 'audio features' of their voice, like their tone, make up the rest.


'Humans are inconsistent by nature. They inject their subjectivity into the evaluations,' Winterhall said. 'But AI can data analyse what the human processes in an interview, without bias. And humans are now believing in machine decisions over human feedback.' 


Now we were getting somewhere. Coming into my specialism. Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality.

Thursday 20 April 2023

Review of David Tennant in 'Good'

We attended the NFT play 'Good' with David Tennant. 

I thought it was both fascinating and revolting in equal measure (!) 

It was a chilling yet brilliant study of the corruption of Germany by the Nazis, with a stealthy creeping backdrop. The absorbed Professor (Halder?) seemed to have other things closer to the foreground, with his poor demented Mother and then the rather typical mid-life crisis of a man with a spare woman/wife. That he could betray his best Jewish friend Maurice so thoroughly and convince himself that he was acting correctly just added to the tension.

I didn't know anything about CP Taylor until this show, but seeing him and watching his own intensity of movement illustrated someone with a lot going on inside. I said I found the first half constructed like a complex mechanical clock.

For me, it was a masterclass in the subconscious, with Taylor editing all the individual tracks together, including 4th wall breaks when needed.

The casting (Tennant and the woman - Sharon Small) was excellent and the hallucinations of the story drifting through characters were difficult to pull off yet well executed. The lighting brought a Riefenstahl drama to the bunker where the play appeared to be set. Stripes of red lights etc (Triumph of the Will etc.).

I thought, even from the outset, that the set proposed the inside of gas chambers, but maybe I was wrong about that. What was plain though was the incremental matter-of-factness of the march toward the terrible Holocaust. Tennant's character didn't believe in anything by the end. Just what was good for himself.

Artificial : C13 SImon Gray tells me about Matt

Sunday. 10 in the morning. I'm in the apartment making coffee when there is a knock on the door.


"Hey Man!" it is Simon Gray. "We missed you yesterday!"


"Oh, Simon, come on in, I'm making some coffee."


"Yes - we celebrated jeûne genevois yesterday, which translates to 'Genevan Fast' in English. It was around at Bradley Floyd and Jennifer Hansen's apartment. I was with Bérénice Charbonnier and we met Matt Nicholson, the new guy who will be working in your lab."


"Yes, he was also recruited in Cork and was actually hired a few days before me," I answer.


Simon says, "I'm showing him to the bus tomorrow morning. His first week will be like your, full of indiction processes. I doubt you'll see much of him until after the process is complete."


My coffee brewing is complete and I pour the coffee and we chink mugs together.


"So any new news?" I ask.


"Not really, we all had a fun day and could talk about you behind your back. Lucky for you that Matt arrived after you; the main topic of the evening was more about him than about you! Oh, I've asked him to join us on the bus on Monday, by the way. Hair of the dog, by any chance?"


He looks at me and pulls a small, discreet hip flask from his jacket. Then, he tips a splash into his coffee and offers to do the same for me.


"You know, I'm good," I say and smile across to him.


"Okay, message received," he smiles and puts the silver flask away, "Schladere - Himbeergeist - probably a bit rich for this time of day."


"I'll be having vodka on my cornflakes next," I quip back.


He chuckles then asks, "So what do you make of your first week at Brant?"


"It's that old expression about drinking at the firehose," I answer.


"Yes, the people are pretty intense and seem to know an awful lot," answers Simon, "Plus the politics. I know I work in the pharma part of Brant, but I still get to hear things. Amy van der Leiden is a great operator for you. By all accounts she protects your team from the difficult questions that Brant Head Office asks. Bob Ranzino is a man on a mission. Someone is apply ing the screws to him, speaking of which you'll also have noticed that there's action between him and Jasmine Summers."


"Is her name real?" I ask, "Only..."


"I know, she sounds like a porn star or something," says Simon, "but its her real name, all right."


"I feel as if I need a morality transplant to work on my current project," I say, "It is so - er - dark."


"You must be working with those Cyclone helmets? The future of warfare etc."


"Deeply scary," I say, "No wonder they pay so well."


"They want to monetise everything," explains Simon, "That's how Kjeld Nikolajsen operates. He knows that he needs to feed something back to HQ every quarter. The Numbers are everything at Brant."


"SO is he running some other projects too?" I ask, "Only I can't see the Cyclone being a quick enough Return on Investment?"


I'm mildly surprised how much Simon seems to know about my department, considering he doesn't even work in my building.


"The office telegraph says that Kjeld is a wily operator. He even split the Cyclone into three sub-projects so that he can talk about each one separately. He's running a few other projects too. Some of them are more like cash cows - the surveillance drones for example. His team use commercial drones and upgrade their batteries and motors so that they can carry heavier payloads. It's simple work but once it has been badged Brant, they can charge profitably for what has been done. NLEs, they call them. Nice Little Earners."


We both smile.


"But how can you know so much about what is supposed to be a secret department?" I ask.


"Brant leaks like a sieve," answers Simon,"Give it another week and you'll know all about my department too."

He pauses then asks, "Hey, fancy a walk? I was thinking about going around the lake on one of the boats."


"I'll give it a miss today," I answer, "I did exactly that yesterday."


"Okay, I'll move along then," says Simon holding up his coffee mug by way of a salute, "I may see you later, or else tomorrow at the bus stop."

Monday 17 April 2023

Artificial: C12 Cara Weekend

It was finally the weekend and a chance to decompress after a hectic first week. I was concerned whether I was going to have the bandwidth for this role. Everything seemed to happen so fast, the learning curve was steep and everyone else seemed to be experts on everything.


I'd been invited to a block party at the Rue de la Confédération, where many of the other residents would be attending, yet I felt too drained to go along. It was some kind of special day in Geneva, when they all eat plum tart. Not my scene. A party with French speakers eating plum tart. I'd already politely declined despite Aude Darmshausen and Bérénice Charbonnier's strongest protestations that I should attend. 


I was also told that a new guy, Matt Nicholson, the mystery man from Cork would be along and that it was his first day. Simon Gray had said that I didn't need to worry and that he would take care of showing Matt around.


I shoved a welcome note under Matt's door which introduced myself and thought I'd catch him next week on the bus.


I spend Saturday being a Geneva tourist to hopefully blow away the cobwebs which have formed in my head during the week. I join a tour which takes me into the Old Town, around by the big fountain, a visit to the flower clock, down to the Lake, hop a boat for a Lake Leman cruise. And there was a tram included too, all with a courteous guide named Mr Gabriel. 


On the coach and then on the tram, I am sitting next to Melody, who is from Holland and travelling across Europe by train. Melody is pretty with wild, dark curly hair and wears a black outfit and carries a small rucksack. She explains her black outfit was so she would not get noticed. She has a slightly edgy accent, but very strong English. I think it is how she pronounces TH as a kind of D sound which is how I had picked up on her accent. She tells me she had lived in nort London for tree years. We chat so much our guide, Mr Gabriel, thinks we are lovers and even makes a joke about us  in the commentary.


I joke to Melody that we are meeting like in 'Before Sunrise', the Richard Linklater film and she says it was one of her favourites. We agree to sightsee around Geneva together but not to fall in love like they did in the movie. Melody knew the whole movie plot - which I could hardly remember - and wanted to take me to a cafe where we could drink milkshake, so we could do 'the part about the poem'. When we are at the flower clock she says it is good how the flowers could face either way, following the sun. I don't fully understand but approve of her remark anyway. She says she followed Annie Clark's advice about when in an unfamiliar city to do something real and strange. So here we are on the boat touring the lake at sunset, which is when she said she wanted to kiss me. I'm not sure whether I was part of the real or the strange. I'm sure I was another part of her movie plot.


Melody explains to me - and it wasn't just a brush off - that she has placed herself in what she calls 'deep nun mode'. Single. Focused. 'Completely monastic. Sober, celibate – full nun.' I’m pretty sure she’s joking when she adds, in a slow, funny, unpredictable way, “I mean there are always sex plans. But none for, like, a month.”


We split up late Saturday evening, and agree not to swap any further information. Well, except she admits she told me a false name. She says her real name is Cara. She used Melody from a time when she was in a band. Cara says she'll meet me where we first met on the Quai in another six months - like Céline and Jesse did in that movie.


When I return to Rue de la Confédération, I could hear that the party was still running, but I crept quietly to my room. The cobwebs were gone. 

Friday 14 April 2023

Artificial: C11 Token Need

It was amazing to me how the Brant protocols were set up for each test run of the Cyclone. The next two days were spent running electrical tests and then animal-based tests against the two Cyclone helmets.


I had a couple of Brant's earlier technologies explained to me - Selexor and Createl, which had now been integrated into what was the Cyclone 2 helmet. 


Then, on Friday of my first week, Rolf, Amy, Hermann and Juliette were huddled with me around the Cyclone 3, ready for some tests


Amy explains, "Levi Spillmann knew that the AI component called Createl which he had invented for aerial crop evaluation couldn't be transformed into something that could do image recognition of faces on a large scale. The AI component which Levi's Createl linked to is called Selexor but it is also flawed. It was originally supposed to hire recruitment candidates, but is driven by manually constructed rules, like 'no one over 1.8 metres high' and so on."


"Now Cyclone may look impressive, but it only works at a very slow speed, and requires many wires attached to it."


She looks piercingly at me, "Put the chain together. Selexor (dubious) plus Createl (flawed) plus Cyclone (sluggish) and you can see the current invention doesn't work."


"Okay then, what about Kjeld Nikolajsen?" I ask, "Surely he must suspect something?"


"No, I don't think so," comes Amy's reply, "Have you ever watched how workmen dig holes? They look busy but once they have dug a hole and have a pile of earth, to keep looking busy they will fix the hole with the earth they have dug."


"And there's always some earth left over," I say.


"Yes so they can dig another hole to bury it," chips in Rolf, smiling, "That's us, here, with this project."


"And well funded too," adds Hermann, "It shows that Brant wants to buy time and expects that the Cyclone will emerge as a working prototype one day."


Amy cuts in, "Well, I'm not sure how this fits in, but it looks as if Kjeld has also been making moves toward the Chinese. Some of this will sound like Robocop, but the Chinese are interested in developing soldiers with ‘enhanced capabilities.’ 


Hermann nods,  "China is conducting tests on its army hoping to create biologically enhanced soldiers, according to the Pentagon. John Ratcliffe, who used to be the US director of national intelligence, made the claims in a newspaper editorial, where he warned China poses the greatest threat to America today."


"I saved that article, from the Wall Street Journal," says Rolf, "It was also in the UK Guardian."


Herman nods, "Yes, the reports stated Beijing intends to dominate the US and the rest of the planet economically, militarily and technologically. Many of China’s major public initiatives and prominent companies offer a layer of camouflage to the activities of the Chinese Communist Party.”


Rolf adds, "China has even been conducting human testing on members of the People’s Liberation Army hoping to develop soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities."


Hermann steps forward, "As we say, Wetware isn't Hardware."


Rolf adds, "Now let's look at the Wetware to Hardware interface. As ancient Greeks fantasised about soaring flight, today’s imaginations dream of melding minds and machines as a remedy to the problem of human mortality. Can the mind connect directly with artificial intelligence, robots and other minds through brain-computer interface (BCI) technologies to transcend our human limitations?"


These research scientists had thought this through. I was starting to get the impression that the Cyclone might actually work.


Hermann continued, "Over the last 50 years, researchers at university labs and companies around the world have made progress toward achieving such a mind-meld vision. Brant's Selexor used Createl and other entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk with Neuralink and Bryan Johnson with Kernel have visionary companies that seek to enhance human capabilities through brain-computer interfacing.


Rolf points to a simple diagram, "The difference between the more primitive technologies they are using and our one at Brant is that we don't have to open the skull and run intrusive brain rewiring to make it work. And it's the same whether we use Cyclone 1, or 2 or the hybrid Cyclone 3."


Hermann adds, "But an inductive link will not be as precise nor as powerful as something directly connected to the brain. A bidirectional brain-computer interface (BBCI) can both record signals from the brain and send information back to the brain through stimulation. The most sophisticated BCIs like those developed here in Brant are “bi-directional” BCIs (BBCIs), which can both record from and stimulate the nervous system. 


Herman chose to illustrate it with a simple diagram of a head and a computer chip with arrows between them, pointing in both directions.


He continues, "We’re exploring BBCIs as a rehabilitation tool for stroke and spinal cord injury. We’ve shown that a BBCI can be used to strengthen connections between two brain regions or between the brain and the spinal cord and reroute information around an area of injury to reanimate a paralysed limb.


Rolf adds, "With all these successes to date, you might think a brain-computer interface is poised to be the next must-have consumer gadget."


Rolf continues, "The first demonstration of a non-invasive brain-controlled humanoid robot avatar named Morpheus was in the Neural Systems Laboratory at the University of Washington. The non-invasive BCI infers what object the robot should pick and where to bring it based on the brain’s reflexive response when an image of the desired object or location is flashed."


Hermann adds, "All these demos have been in the laboratory – where the rooms are quiet, the test subjects aren’t distracted, the technical setup is long and methodical, and experiments last only long enough to show that a concept is possible. It’s proved very difficult to make these systems fast and robust enough to be of practical use in the real world. This work is difficult."


Now Rolf speaks again, "Even with implanted electrodes (ie brain surgery) another problem with trying to read minds arises from how our brains are structured. We know that each neuron and their thousands of connected neighbours form an unimaginably large and ever-changing network. What might this mean for neuro-engineers?


Juliette speaks, "Imagine you’re trying to understand a conversation between a big group of friends about a complicated subject, but you’re allowed to listen to only a single person. You might be able to figure out the very rough topic of what the conversation is about, but not all the details and nuances of the entire discussion. That's the challenge. Even our best implants only allow us to listen to a few small patches of the brain at a time. We can do some impressive things, but we’re nowhere near understanding the full conversation."


Juliette continues, "There is also what we think of as a language barrier. Neurons communicate with each other through a complex interaction of electrical signals and chemical reactions. This native electro-chemical language can be interpreted with electrical circuits, but it’s not easy. Similarly, when we speak back to the brain using electrical stimulation, it is with a heavy electrical 'accent.' In other words, we can't yet speak 'Brain Language' very well. This makes it difficult for neurons to understand what the stimulation is trying to convey in the midst of all the other ongoing neural activity."


Hermann added, "Finally, there is the problem of damage. Brain tissue is soft and flexible, while most of our electrically conductive materials – the wires that connect to brain tissue – tend to be very rigid. This means that implanted electronics often cause scarring and immune reactions that mean the implants lose effectiveness over time. Flexible biocompatible fibers and arrays may eventually help in this regard. We were hoping to get some thoughts from our contacts working on the chemistry of neural pathways, and maybe this will follow."


I realise that this was a sideswipe at the non-appearance of Simon Gray, nor of anyone from his lab.


Juliette picks up the latest headgear."We used to call it the ServoCask, from casque de cerveau but then Brant asked us to change it to Cyclone."


Juliette explains, "This Cyclone 2 headgear records brain signals without the need for surgery and can either measure the electromagnetic fields generated by groups of neurons or detect small changes in blood oxygenation, which correlate well to nearby neural activity."


She added, "We are using magnetometers to measure tiny changes in magnetic fields and light pulses through the skull and into the bloodstream in order to measure how much oxygen the blood is carrying at any given time."


Juliette continued, "It's a similar concept to the way that smart watches or oximeters measure blood oxygenation but has a vastly extended coverage. The headgear takes advantage of the relative transparency of the skull and brain tissue to near-infrared light by beaming photons through the skull and measuring their scattering and absorption, allowing inference about blood flow and oxygenation. That's something called haemodynamics."


Hermann added, "This headgear offers the resolution and sensitivity of state-of-the-art haemodynamic systems across the top layers of cortical tissue.


Herman produced an animated diagram, "Traditional 'continuous wave' near-infrared spectroscopy devices apply light to the head continuously, which then scatters throughout and is detected at various locations upon exiting the head. It has a decent level of accuracy but the processing time (we'd call it latency) of the system means it is like having very slow reactions. In fact they are more like the reactions from someone on the other end of a satellite phone call."


Hermann explains, "There is something odd about the software created by Levi Spillmann. Its as if he took Zero Trust to the nth degree. It's as if there is a whole extra layer of software in the Createl design, but I can't work out what it is doing."


Rolf adds, "Yes we'd assumed that the base code of Createl was good and pretty much the way that Levy intended it, but the more we drill into it, the stranger it looks."


Hermann said, "I think Levi built the system with a protective layer around it. It seems to need a key to unlock it and then it will run smoother and many times faster."


I noticed that we were already running on an Exascale computer - which was one of the fastest on the planet.


"You mean it's like a 'diagnostic layer?' I ask, "To help iron out bugs and to prevent viruses?


"That's what we thought first, but I think it is something more subtle. Something which downgrades the software unless a security token is served to it," answers Hermann, "Except we don't have the token nor a means to serve it."