Computing convergence with the human mind

 

 

At what point did the human mind converge with the machine? No doubt, much has been written about this topic. Some of it good, some of it insane and some of it crap. So what I am proposing is that convergence with information technology began in the 1940s with the Manhattan Project. We moved on to Alan Turing and the Turing machine that cracked the Enigma Code during World War II. We then had enormous 'supercomputers' like the one used to land man on the moon that filled the size of a room, then eventually the personal computer in the 1970s with the rise of Apple, IBM, Amstrad, Commodore, Atari and the list goes on, then the mobile phone with basic software, then the smartphone, and the continual miniaturisation of the PC in the form of laptops, hobby computers, credit card sized computers, tablets, 2 in 1, smaller and more powerful desktops, tiny smartphones, tiny game consoles, modern retro-gaming consoles, connected homes, connected cars, connected grids, Augmented Reality (AR) with smartphones and glasses, virtual reality (VR), and the big one, Artificial Intelligence (AI). We now have companies eyeing off convergence between the human brain and IT hardware. Elon Musk has started a company to investigate and commercialise this just like Mark Zuckerberg has done a similar thing.

Then there's software. This is a massive topic, just like hardware, but probably much larger. There is the topic of programming languages as there is the topic of Operating Systems (OSs). I think five OS classes have survived to date. Microsoft Windows, macOS, iOS, Linux and Android. I have used all the stated OSs over the years and I think at this point Android is the winner for smartphones and tablets and Linux is the winner for desktops - but only just. It also depends largely on what you want to do i.e. the application. I've seen Android, based on a Google stack, go from basic smartphone software to a fully fledged mobile/desktop OS using Sentio. For certain Samsung Android devices, DeX can also be used to interface mobile with desktop on a monitor/TV screen with HDMI (just add bluetooth keyboard and mouse). Now there's no need to have a separate pieces of hardware, like a desktop, laptop, tablet, computer monitor, to your smartphone unless you are needing specific applications that run on other OSs. Less e-Waste too - there's way too much of it and most of it goes to landfill. For example,  it's very difficult to remove Cobalt and Lithium from the environment, found in most Lithium ion batteries. Water filtration with biochar to remove heavy metals and phytoremediation (possibly bamboo) is key here.  To continue,  I still use Windows OS for my music studio because all of my software works in this OS but there is an increasing number of options for music production on Android eg. Remixlive, Audio Evolution Mobile etc. Many creative professionals swear by Apple for their production software but it's not cheap hardware and often underspecced compared to PC hardware for the same price. You're also locked into the Apple ecosystem :( I've researched business applications and I'm convinced that it's possible now to run a business on your smartphone! Then there are all the possible uses for controlling smart devices using small, cheap and open source computers such as Raspberry Pi and Arduino.

Does all this technology make our lives easier or more complicated?

 

I would argue that it does both. The main annoyance I have with using computers is all the software updating required and all the charging required of the devices. This all takes time and data however with most OSs now, updating can occur in the background while you are working. What if you could build a computer that powered itself and didn't need updating, like the human brain? Probably not going to happen. The closest I think we'll get is Graphene or Shwarzite storage technology in batteries that can be charged very quickly and support many charging cycles compared to Lithium ion. If you don't need to go online on a device, then use it offline. Maybe every 6 months you can connect it online and update it. The problem with Android OS is all the app updates. It seems every time I charge my smartphone, there's loads of updates. I think it's largely feature bloat. The problem with updating is that you might break your apps with new bugs. At this stage, there's no way of downgrading the apps if they are buggy as fuck. The only way to do this in Linux is to Timeshift it or Time Machine in macOS. But, it means that if you restore your OS to a previous point, you've lost any data you have added since that time. I think sandboxing apps in the future might be the best option. Chrome OS is now sandboxing both Android apps and Linux apps but I'm not sure if this will actually allow you to downgrade the app if it's buggy but at least the app won't break your OS if it fails. Maybe a 6.5" Chrome OS/Fuchsia OS/Sailfish OS smartphone, with inbuilt ruggedness to last 10 years with a graphene oxide/Carbon ion battery and desktop convergence could be the best of all worlds in the future. So, back to the question. I think all this tech has begun a convergence with the human mind. Many of us have become dependent on it for our thinking as this becomes Kraftwerk's 'Man and Machine'. So given that tech is becoming more complicated so will our minds or, at least, our minds will work differently to before we were inundated with tech. Long-term memory will probably decline as will our ability to navigate without aids, have a deep intellectual conversation and remember song words to old songs. Needs we never had before now need to be satisfied with our tech.  It seems complexity and simplicity are interdependent.

Does it make us more powerful and less human?

 

I would say yes and no. I can be speaking in real-time with people from all over the world in loads of different languages (if I knew them all). I can be peering at icebergs in Antarctica or playing chess with a Grandmaster. I could be listening to radio, podcasts or songs from all over the world and accessing databases of plants at the same time. The possibilities are as endless as the imaginations of the programmers that build software and the sensors available to us. We may have superhuman abilities to organise information now making our complicated lives simpler to navigate but ultimately why do we need so much of it? We an use tech to isolate our selves by working remotely and use videoconferencing or connect to people like in 'Meetup'. Customised engagement with the real and virtual worlds.

-So, what will be the next step in convergence?

 

I imagine it will be something like the Razr phone/laptop hybrid. Similar to the Andromium ‘Superbook’ (which has had production delays and I’m not even sure if you can buy one), but more integrated. The advantage of the Superbook is that you can keep on upgrading your phone and it will still work with the laptop shell that it is and run Sentio desktop app. I tried screen mirroring on my PC but there was a time lag and it seemed to need access to everything on my phone so I don’t trust it and I had to install some dodgy software on my desktop. I also tried a Chromecast dongle clone but the resolution was only 1080p and Chromecast apps only allowed me to use specific services rather than a screen mirror which is what I wanted. Most of the screen mirrors I tried were buggy and had lots of ads. I’ll keep looking for ‘the one’ screen mirror app. I made a mistake buying my Samsung phone because I can’t use DeX on it or even use a USB-C/HDMI connector. Gutted. Now I’m using Sentio desktop in landscape mode with a keyboard and mouse. Seems to work well! It would be nice if the screen was a tad bigger though, maybe 7 inches.

-Renewable Energy?

Battery power is always a consideration so having a smaller screen will save power. I can also charge my phone off a 20W solar panel with an integrated power bank that has a USB-C output. It won’t be fast charging but will do the job OK albeit a bit slow. The USB-C hub I am using works like a treat. The 4k HDMI output doesn’t work at all but the USB-C port is fine for connecting to the solar panel and the SD card reader (useful for my DSLR) and USB-A inputs all work. I’m using a bluetooth mouse and dedicated USB-A keyboard which is more reliable and secure than bluetooth and doesn’t need charging (no backlit but who cares). Another option is if your phone supports Quick Charge 3.0/4.0 which it should if it has a Qualcomm processor, you could get a dedicated power bank that also supports QC. The power bank could be useful if you don’t have an integrated power bank on a solar panel. The power bank should also be chargeable from a solar panel with a microUSB input or USB-C input. Ideally you could buy a large capacity graphene power bank which will charge in minutes from a mains supply but at this stage I can only find low capacity ones eg.6000mAh and they’re bloody expensive.

 

 

-Reverse engineering

There have been some attempts to make small 6” phones with inbuilt keyboards, either sliding ones or clamshell configurations like the 'Cosmo Communicator'. A number of mainly Chinese companies are producing 8” and 9” mini laptops. These are pretty cool devices but low-powered although I just read that One Netbook may be using a 10th gen Intel ‘Ice lake’ or 'Comet Lake' processor in a 9” mini laptop called the 'One Mix X' due for release in the last quarter of 2019. It will not be cheap. Maybe cost AUD1k with only modest RAM and disk space. I reckon just reverse engineer a laptop in the configuration I have outlined. Cheapest option, not the prettiest, but works like a treat!

 

-What about Linux on Android?

 

I tried a few different apps to install Linux on top of the Android OS and it was hopeless. Either buggy, too difficult or simply didn’t work. Why you can’t just install a baked version of Linux without a rooted Android OS eg. Ubuntu or Mint is beyond me. Most of the apps required installation of a Linux container then required some terminal hacking to install the graphics environment. I used Termux to run a linux Command line, which seemed to work OK but at one point needed access to everything on your phone which didn’t seem very secure. You have the option of rooting your phone then installing a baked version of Linux from a bootloader but you have to lose the Android OS. Maybe someone’s worked out a way to dual boot Linux and Android on a phone but not ideal. It would be good if you could run some Linux app containers on top of Android like you can with Chrome OS. I’m still searching for the right software. The reality is that Linux sucks for most phone functions although Purism OS on the Librem 5 could work well but I would much rather have native Android than a locked down phone with average quality and low quantity of apps although over time they may get support from many developers to add more apps to the pool. I’m very interested to try Sailfish OS which can be found on the 'Cosmo Communicator' and on selected Sony 'Xperia' phones. I’m waiting to get a version that will work on all phones. I’m not sure at this stage if you can run Android apps on Sailfish OS but that would be a great feature to have with the best of both worlds - a secure user-friendly environment with access to the Google Play store but lets face it, many apps nowadays require a ridiculous number of permissions to work and probably won’t work well in containers. I think the reailty is that if you have an Android phone it will probably never be secure but very useful nevertheless!

 

 CONCLUSIONS

I think ultimately tech can improve people's lives and complicate it more. We can use it for good or for evil depending on your perspective of good and evil.

There's no substitute for physical intelligence though which I've previously blogged about. We need to sleep, eat and find happiness (which might be a computer game). Tech can take us only so far on our journey of life. The world is our oyster but there's no tech substitute for eating oysters.