Category Archives: biotech

Future materials: Variable grip

variable grip

 

Another simple idea for the future. Variable grip under electronic control.

Shape changing materials are springing up regularly now. There are shape memory metal alloys, proteins, polymer gel muscle fibers and even string (changes shape when it gets wet or dries again). It occurred to me that if you make a triangle out of carbon fibre or indeed anything hard, with a polymer gel base, and pull the base together, either the base moves down or the tip will move up. If tiny components this shape are embedded throughout a 3D structure such as a tire (tyre is the English spelling, the rest of this text just uses tire because most of the blog readers are Americans), then tiny spikes could be made to poke through the surface by contracting the polymer gel that forms the base. All you have to do is apply an electric field across it, and that makes the tire surface just another part of the car electronics along with the engine management system and suspension.

Tires that can vary their grip and wear according to road surface conditions might be attractive, especially in car racing, but also on the street. Emergency braking improvement would save lives, as would reduce skidding in rain or ice, and allowing the components to retract when not in use would greatly reduce their rate of wear. In racing, grip could be optimized for cornering and braking and wear could be optimized for the straights.

Fashion

Although I haven’t bothered yet to draw pretty pictures to illustrate, clothes could use variable grip too. Shoes and gloves would both benefit. Since both can have easy contact with skin (shoes can use socks as a relay), the active components could pick up electrical signals associated with muscle control or even thinking. Even stress is detectable via skin resistance measurement. Having gloves or shoes that change grip just by you thinking it would be like a cat with claws that push out when it wants to climb a fence or attack something. You could even be a micro-scale version of Wolverine. Climbers might want to vary the grip for different kinds of rock, extruding different spikes for different conditions.

Other clothes could use different materials for the components and still use the same basic techniques to push them out, creating a wide variety of electronically controllable fabric textures. Anything from smooth and shiny through to soft and fluffy could be made with a single adaptable fabric garment. Shoes, hosiery, underwear and outerwear can all benefit. Fun!

Switching people off

A very interesting development has been reported in the discovery of how consciousness works, where neuroscientists stimulating a particular brain region were able to switch a woman’s state of awareness on and off. They said: “We describe a region in the human brain where electrical stimulation reproducibly disrupted consciousness…”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329762.700-consciousness-onoff-switch-discovered-deep-in-brain.html.

The region of the brain concerned was the claustrum, and apparently nobody had tried stimulating it before, although Francis Crick and Christof Koch had suggested the region would likely be important in achieving consciousness. Apparently, the woman involved in this discovery was also missing some of her hippocampus, and that may be a key factor, but they don’t know for sure yet.

Mohamed Koubeissi and his the team at the George Washington university in Washington DC were investigating her epilepsy and stimulated her claustrum area with high frequency electrical impulses. When they did so, the woman lost consciousness, no longer responding to any audio or visual stimuli, just staring blankly into space. They verified that she was not having any epileptic activity signs at the time, and repeated the experiment with similar results over two days.

The team urges caution and recommends not jumping to too many conclusions. They did observe the obvious potential advantages as an anesthesia substitute if it can be made generally usable.

As a futurologist, it is my job to look as far down the road as I can see, and imagine as much as I can. Then I filter out all the stuff that is nonsensical, or doesn’t have a decent potential social or business case or as in this case, where research teams suggest that it is too early to draw conclusions. I make exceptions where it seems that researchers are being over-cautious or covering their asses or being PC or unimaginative, but I have no evidence of that in this case. However, the other good case for making exceptions is where it is good fun to jump to conclusions. Anyway, it is Saturday, I’m off work, so in the great words of Dr Emmett Brown in ‘Back to the future’:  “Well, I figured, what the hell.”

OK, IF it works for everyone without removing parts of the brain, what will we do with it and how?

First, it is reasonable to assume that we can produce electrical stimulation at specific points in the brain by using external kit. Trans-cranial magnetic stimulation might work, or perhaps implants may be possible using injection of tiny particles that migrate to the right place rather than needing significant surgery. Failing those, a tiny implant or two via a fine needle into the right place ought to do the trick. Powering via induction should work. So we will be able to produce the stimulation, once the sucker victim subject has the device implanted.

I guess that could happen voluntarily, or via a court ordered protective device, as a condition of employment or immigration, or conditional release from prison, or a supervision order, or as a violent act or in war.

Imagine if government demands a legal right to access it, for security purposes and to ensure your comfort and safety, of course.

If you think 1984 has already gone too far, imagine a government or police officer that can switch you off if you are saying or thinking the wrong thing. Automated censorship devices could ensure that nobody discusses prohibited topics.

Imagine if people on the street were routinely switched off as a VIP passes to avoid any trouble for them.

Imagine a future carbon-reduction law where people are immobilized for an hour or two each day during certain periods. There might be a quota for how long you are allowed to be conscious each week to limit your environmental footprint.

In war, captives could have devices implanted to make them easy to control, simply turned off for packing and transport to a prison camp. A perimeter fence could be replaced by a line in the sand. If a prisoner tries to cross it, they are rendered unconscious automatically and put back where they belong.

Imagine a higher class of mugger that doesn’t like violence much and prefers to switch victims off before stealing their valuables.

Imagine being able to switch off for a few hours to pass the time on a long haul flight. Airlines could give discounts to passengers willing to be disabled and therefore less demanding of attention.

Imagine  a couple or a group of friends, or a fetish club, where people can turn each other off at will. Once off, other people can do anything they please with them – use them as dolls, as living statues or as mannequins, posing them, dressing them up. This is not an adult blog so just use your imagination – it’s pretty obvious what people will do and what sorts of clubs will emerge if an off-switch is feasible, making people into temporary toys.

Imagine if you got an illegal hacking app and could freeze the other people in your vicinity. What would you do?

Imagine if your off-switch is networked and someone else has a remote control or hacks into it.

Imagine if an AI manages to get control of such a system.

Having an off-switch installed could open a new world of fun, but it could also open up a whole new world for control by the authorities, crime control, censorship or abuse by terrorists and thieves and even pranksters.

 

 

Your most likely cause of death is being switched off

This one’s short and sweet.

The majority of you reading this blog live in the USA, UK, Canada or Australia. More than half of you are under 40.

That means your natural life expectancy is over 85, so statistically, your body will probably live until after 2060.

By then, electronic mind enhancement will probably mean that most of your mind runs on external electronics, not in your brain, so that your mind won’t die when your body does. You’ll just need to find a new body, probably an android, for those times you aren’t content being on the net. Most of us identify ourselves mainly as our mind, and would still think of ourselves as still alive if our mind carries on as if nothing much has happened, which is likely.

Electronic immortality is not true immortality though. Your mind can only survive on the net as long as it is supported by the infrastructure. That will be controlled by others. Future technology will likely be able to defend against asteroid strikes, power surges cause by solar storms and so on, so accidental death seems unlikely for hundreds of years. However, since minds supported on it need energy to continue running and electronics to be provided and maintained, and will want to make trips into the ‘real’ world, or even live there a lot of the time, they will have a significant resource footprint. They will probably not be considered as valuable as other people whose bodies are still alive. In fact they might be considered as competition – for jobs, resources, space, housing, energy… They may even be seen as easy targets for future cyber-terrorists.

So, it seems quite likely, maybe even inevitable, that life limits will be imposed on the vast majority of you. At some point you will simply be switched off. There might be some prioritization, competitions, lotteries or other selection mechanism, but only some will benefit from it.

Since you are unlikely to die when your body ceases to work, your most likely cause of death is therefore to be switched off. Sorry to break that to you.

Future human evolution

I’ve done patches of work on this topic frequently over the last 20 years. It usually features in my books at some point too, but it’s always good to look afresh at anything. Sometimes you see something you didn’t see last time.

Some of the potential future is pretty obvious. I use the word potential, because there are usually choices to be made, regulations that may or may not get in the way, or many other reasons we could divert from the main road or even get blocked completely.

We’ve been learning genetics now for a long time, with a few key breakthroughs. It is certain that our understanding will increase, less certain how far people will be permitted to exploit the potential here in any given time frame. But let’s take a good example to learn a key message first. In IVF, we can filter out embryos that have the ‘wrong’ genes, and use their sibling embryos instead. Few people have a problem with that. At the same time, pregnant women may choose an abortion if they don’t want a child when they discover it is the wrong gender, but in the UK at least, that is illegal. The moral and ethical values of our society are on a random walk though, changing direction frequently. The social assignment of right and wrong can reverse completely in just 30 years. In this example, we saw a complete reversal of attitudes to abortion itself within 30 years, so who is to say we won’t see reversal on the attitude to abortion due to gender? It is unwise to expect that future generations will have the same value sets. In fact, it is highly unlikely that they will.

That lesson likely applies to many technology developments and quite a lot of social ones – such as euthanasia and assisted suicide, both already well into their attitude reversal. At some point, even if something is distasteful to current attitudes, it is pretty likely to be legalized eventually, and hard to ban once the door is opened. There will always be another special case that opens the door a little further. So we should assume that we may eventually use genetics to its full capability, even if it is temporarily blocked for a few decades along the way. The same goes for other biotech, nanotech, IT, AI and any other transhuman enhancements that might come down the road.

So, where can we go in the future? What sorts of splits can we expect in the future human evolution path? It certainly won’t remain as just plain old homo sapiens.

I drew this evolution path a long time ago in the mid 1990s:

human evolution 1

It was clear even then that we could connect external IT to the nervous system, eventually the brain, and this would lead to IT-enhanced senses, memory, processing, higher intelligence, hence homo cyberneticus. (No point in having had to suffer Latin at school if you aren’t allowed to get your own back on it later). Meanwhile, genetic enhancement and optimization of selected features would lead to homo optimus. Converging these two – why should you have to choose, why not have a perfect body and an enhanced mind? – you get homo hybridus. Meanwhile, in the robots and AI world, machine intelligence is increasing and we eventually we get the first self-aware AI/robot (it makes little sense to separate the two since networked AI can easily be connected to a machine such as a robot) and this has its own evolution path towards a rich diversity of different kinds of AI and robots, robotus multitudinus. Since both the AI world and the human world could be networked to the same network, it is then easy to see how they could converge, to give homo machinus. This future transhuman would have any of the abilities of humans and machines at its disposal. and eventually the ability to network minds into a shared consciousness. A lot of ordinary conventional humans would remain, but with safe upgrades available, I called them homo sapiens ludditus. As they watch their neighbors getting all the best jobs, winning at all the sports, buying everything, and getting the hottest dates too, many would be tempted to accept the upgrades and homo sapiens might gradually fizzle out.

My future evolution timeline stayed like that for several years. Then in the early 2000s I updated it to include later ideas:

human evolution 2

I realized that we could still add AI into computer games long after it becomes comparable with human intelligence, so games like EA’s The Sims might evolve to allow entire civilizations living within a computer game, each aware of their existence, each running just as real a life as you and I. It is perhaps unlikely that we would allow children any time soon to control fully sentient people within a computer game, acting as some sort of a god to them, but who knows, future people will argue that they’re not really real people so it’s OK. Anyway, you could employ them in the game to do real knowledge work, and make money, like slaves. But since you’re nice, you might do an incentive program for them that lets them buy their freedom if they do well, letting them migrate into an android. They could even carry on living in their Sims home and still wander round in our world too.

Emigration from computer games into our world could be high, but the reverse is also possible. If the mind is connected well enough, and enhanced so far by external IT that almost all of it runs on the IT instead of in the brain, then when your body dies, your mind would carry on living. It could live in any world, real or fantasy, or move freely between them. (As I explained in my last blog, it would also be able to travel in time, subject to certain very expensive infrastructural requirements.) As well as migrants coming via electronic immortality route, it would be likely that some people that are unhappy in the real world might prefer to end it all and migrate their minds into a virtual world where they might be happy. As an alternative to suicide, I can imagine that would be a popular route. If they feel better later, they could even come back, using an android.  So we’d have an interesting future with lots of variants of people, AI and computer game and fantasy characters migrating among various real and imaginary worlds.

But it doesn’t stop there. Meanwhile, back in the biotech labs, progress is continuing to harness bacteria to make components of electronic circuits (after which the bacteria are dissolved to leave the electronics). Bacteria can also have genes added to emit light or electrical signals. They could later be enhanced so that as well as being able to fabricate electronic components, they could power them too. We might add various other features too, but eventually, we’re likely to end up with bacteria that contain electronics and can connect to other bacteria nearby that contain other electronics to make sophisticated circuits. We could obviously harness self-assembly and self-organisation, which are also progressing nicely. The result is that we will get smart bacteria, collectively making sophisticated, intelligent, conscious entities of a wide variety, with lots of sensory capability distributed over a wide range. Bacteria Sapiens.

I often talk about smart yogurt using such an approach as a key future computing solution. If it were to stay in a yogurt pot, it would be easy to control. But it won’t. A collective bacterial intelligence such as this could gain a global presence, and could exist in land, sea and air, maybe even in space. Allowing lots of different biological properties could allow colonization of every niche. In fact, the first few generations of bacteria sapiens might be smart enough to design their own offspring. They could probably buy or gain access to equipment to fabricate them and release them to multiply. It might be impossible for humans to stop this once it gets to a certain point. Accidents happen, as do rogue regimes, terrorism and general mad-scientist type mischief.

And meanwhile, we’ll also be modifying nature. We’ll be genetically enhancing a wide range of organisms, bringing some back from extinction, creating new ones, adding new features, changing even some of the basic mechanism by which nature works in some cases. We might even create new kinds of DNA or develop substitutes with enhanced capability. We may change nature’s evolution hugely. With a mix of old and new and modified, nature evolves nicely into Gaia Sapiens.

We’re not finished with the evolution chart though. Here is the next one:

human evolution 3

Just one thing is added. Homo zombius. I realized eventually that the sci-fi ideas of zombies being created by viruses could be entirely feasible. A few viruses, bacteria and other parasites can affect the brains of the victims and change their behaviour to harness them for their own life cycle.

See http://io9.com/12-real-parasites-that-control-the-lives-of-their-hosts-461313366 for fun.

Bacteria sapiens could be highly versatile. It could make virus variants if need be. It could evolve itself to be able to live in our bodies, maybe penetrate our brains. Bacteria sapiens could make tiny components that connect to brain cells and intercept signals within our brains, or put signals back in. It could read our thoughts, and then control our thoughts. It could essentially convert people into remote controlled robots, or zombies as we usually call them. They could even control muscles directly to a point, so even if the zombie is decapitated, it could carry on for a short while. I used that as part of my storyline in Space Anchor. If future humans have widespread availability of cordless electricity, as they might, then it is far fetched but possible that headless zombies could wander around for ages, using the bacterial sensors to navigate. Homo zombius would be mankind enslaved by bacteria. Hopefully just a few people, but it could be everyone if we lose the battle. Think how difficult a war against bacteria would be, especially if they can penetrate anyone’s brain and intercept thoughts. The Terminator films looks a lot less scary when you compare the Terminator with the real potential of smart yogurt.

Bacteria sapiens might also need to be consulted when humans plan any transhuman upgrades. If they don’t consent, we might not be able to do other transhuman stuff. Transhumans might only be possible if transbacteria allow it.

Not done yet. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about fairies. I suggested fairies are entirely feasible future variants that would be ideally suited to space travel.

http://timeguide.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/fairies-will-dominate-space-travel/

They’d also have lots of environmental advantages as well as most other things from the transhuman library. So I think they’re inevitable. So we should add fairies to the future timeline. We need a revised timeline and they certainly deserve their own branch. But I haven’t drawn it yet, hence this blog as an excuse. Before I do and finish this, what else needs to go on it?

Well, time travel in cyberspace is feasible and attractive beyond 2075. It’s not the proper real world time travel that isn’t permitted by physics, but it could feel just like that to those involved, and it could go further than you might think. It certainly will have some effects in the real world, because some of the active members of the society beyond 2075 might be involved in it. It certainly changes the future evolution timeline if people can essentially migrate from one era to another (there are some very strong caveats applicable here that I tried to explain in the blog, so please don’t misquote me as a nutter – I haven’t forgotten basic physics and logic, I’m just suggesting a feasible implementation of cyberspace that would allow time travel within it. It is really a cyberspace bubble that intersects with the real world at the real time front so doesn’t cause any physics problems, but at that intersection, its users can interact fully with the real world and their cultural experiences of time travel are therefore significant to others outside it.)

What else? OK, well there is a very significant community (many millions of people) that engages in all sorts of fantasy in shared on-line worlds, chat rooms and other forums. Fairies, elves, assorted spirits, assorted gods, dwarves, vampires, werewolves, assorted furry animals, assorted aliens, dolls,  living statues, mannequins, remote controlled people, assorted inanimate but living objects, plants and of course assorted robot/android variants are just some of those that already exist in principle; I’m sure I’ve forgotten some here and anyway, many more are invented every year so an exhaustive list would quickly become out of date. In most cases, many people already role play these with a great deal of conviction and imagination, not just in standalone games, but in communities, with rich cultures, back-stories and story-lines. So we know there is a strong demand, so we’re only waiting for their implementation once technology catches up, and it certainly will.

Biotech can do a lot, and nanotech and IT can add greatly to that. If you can design any kind of body with almost any kind of properties and constraints and abilities, and add any kind of IT and sensing and networking and sharing and external links for control and access and duplication, we will have an extremely rich diversity of future forms with an infinite variety of subcultures, cross-fertilization, migration and transformation. In fact, I can’t add just a few branches to my timeline. I need millions. So instead I will just lump all these extras into a huge collected category that allows almost anything, called Homo Whateverus.

So, here is the future of human (and associates) evolution, for the next 150 years. A few possible cross-links are omitted for clarity

evolution

I won’t be around to watch it all happen. But a lot of you will.

 

Time – The final frontier. Maybe

It is very risky naming the final frontier. A frontier is just the far edge of where we’ve got to.

Technology has a habit of opening new doors to new frontiers so it is a fast way of losing face. When Star Trek named space as the final frontier, it was thought to be so. We’d go off into space and keep discovering new worlds, new civilizations, long after we’ve mapped the ocean floor. Space will keep us busy for a while. In thousands of years we may have gone beyond even our own galaxy if we’ve developed faster than light travel somehow, but that just takes us to more space. It’s big, and maybe we’ll never ever get to explore all of it, but it is just a physical space with physical things in it. We can imagine more than just physical things. That means there is stuff to explore beyond space, so space isn’t the final frontier.

So… not space. Not black holes or other galaxies.

Certainly not the ocean floor, however fashionable that might be to claim. We’ll have mapped that in details long before the rest of space. Not the centre of the Earth, for the same reason.

How about cyberspace? Cyberspace physically includes all the memory in all our computers, but also the imaginary spaces that are represented in it. The entire physical universe could be simulated as just a tiny bit of cyberspace, since it only needs to be rendered when someone looks at it. All the computer game environments and virtual shops are part of it too. The cyberspace tree doesn’t have to make a sound unless someone is there to hear it, but it could. The memory in computers is limited, but the cyberspace limits come from imagination of those building or exploring it. It is sort of infinite, but really its outer limits are just a function of our minds.

Games? Dreams? Human Imagination? Love? All very new agey and sickly sweet, but no. Just like cyberspace, these are also all just different products of the human mind, so all of these can be replaced by ‘the human mind’ as a frontier. I’m still not convinced that is the final one though. Even if we extend that to greatly AI-enhanced future human mind, it still won’t be the final frontier. When we AI-enhance ourselves, and connect to the smart AIs too, we have a sort of global consciousness, linking everyone’s minds together as far as each allows. That’s a bigger frontier, since the individual minds and AIs add up to more cooperative capability than they can achieve individually. The frontier is getting bigger and more interesting. You could explore other people directly, share and meld with them. Fun, but still not the final frontier.

Time adds another dimension. We can’t do physical time travel, and even if we can do so in physics labs with tiny particles for tiny time periods, that won’t necessarily translate into a practical time machine to travel in the physical world. We can time travel in cyberspace though, as I explained in

http://timeguide.wordpress.com/2012/10/25/the-future-of-time-travel-cheat/

and when our minds are fully networked and everything is recorded, you’ll be able to travel back in time and genuinely interact with people in the past, back to the point where the recording started. You would also be able to travel forwards in time as far as the recording stops and future laws allow (I didn’t fully realise that when I wrote my time travel blog, so I ought to update it, soon). You’d be able to inhabit other peoples’ bodies, share their minds, share consciousness and feelings and emotions and thoughts. The frontier suddenly jumps out a lot once we start that recording, because you can go into the future as far as is continuously permitted. Going into that future allows you to get hold of all the future technologies and bring them back home, short circuiting the future, as long as time police don’t stop you. No, I’m not nuts – if you record everyone’s minds continuously, you can time travel into the future using cyberspace, and the effects extend beyond cyberspace into the real world you inhabit, so although it is certainly a cheat, it is effectively real time travel, backwards and forwards. It needs some security sorted out on warfare, banking and investments, procreation, gambling and so on, as well as lot of other causality issues, but to quote from Back to the Future: ‘What the hell?’ [IMPORTANT EDIT: in my following blog, I revise this a bit and conclude that although time travel to the future in this system lets you do pretty much what you want outside the system, time travel to the past only lets you interact with people and other things supported within the system platform, not the physical universe outside it. This does limit the scope for mischief.]

So, time travel in fully networked fully AI-enhanced cosmically-connected cyberspace/dream-space/imagination/love/games would be a bigger and later frontier. It lets you travel far into the future and so it notionally includes any frontiers invented and included by then. Is it the final one though? Well, there could be some frontiers discovered after the time travel windows are closed. They’d be even finaller, so I won’t bet on it.

 

 

Fairies will dominate space travel

The future sometimes looks ridiculous. I have occasionally written about smart yogurt and zombies and other things that sound silly but have a real place in the future. I am well used to being laughed at, ever since I invented text messaging and the active contact lens, but I am also well used to saying I told you so later. So: Fairies will play a big role in space travel, probably even dominate it. Yes, those little people with wings, and magic wands, that kind. Laugh all you like, but I am right.

To avoid misrepresentation and being accused of being away with the fairies, let’s be absolutely clear: I don’t believe fairies exist. They never have, except in fairy tales of course. Anyone who thinks they have seen one probably just has poor eyesight or an overactive imagination and maybe saw a dragonfly or was on drugs or was otherwise hallucinating, or whatever. But we will have fairies soon. In 50 or 60 years.

In the second half of this century, we will be able to link and extend our minds into the machine world so well that we will effectively have electronic immortality. You won’t have to die to benefit, you will easily do so while remaining fully alive, extending your mind into the machine world, into any enabled object. Some of those objects will be robots or androids, some might well be organic.

Think of the film Avatar, a story based on yesterday’s ideas. Real science and technology will be far more exciting. You could have an avatar like in the film, but that is just the tip of the iceberg when you consider the social networking implications once the mind-linking technology is commoditised and ubiquitous part of everyday life. There won’t be just one or two avatars used for military purposes like in the film, but millions of people doing that sort of thing all the time.

If an animal’s mind is networked, a human might be able to make some sort of link to it too, again like in Avatar, where the Navii link to their dragon-like creatures. You could have remote presence in the animal. That maybe won’t be as fulfilling as being in a human because the animal has limited functionality, but it might have some purpose. Now let’s leave Avatar behind.

You could link AI to an animal to make it comparable with humans so that your experience could be better, and the animal might have a more interesting life too. Imagine chatting to a pet cat or dog and it chatting back properly.

If your mind is networked as well as we think it could be, you could link your mind to other people’s minds, share consciousness, be a part-time Borg if you want. You could share someone else’s sensations, share their body. You could exchange bodies with someone, or rent yours out and live in the net for a while, or hire a different one. That sounds a lot of fun already. But it gets better.

In the same timeframe, we will have mastered genetics. We will be able to design new kinds of organisms with whatever properties chemistry and physics permits. We’ll have new proteins, new DNA bases, maybe some new bases that don’t use DNA. We’ll also have strong AI, conscious machines. We’ll also be able to link electronics routinely to our organic nervous systems, and we’ll also have a wide range of cybernetic implants to increase sensory capability, memory, IQ, networking and so on.

We will be able to make improved versions of the brain that work and feel pretty much the same as the original, but are far, far smaller. Using synthetic electronics instead of organic cells, signals will travel between neurons at light speed, instead of 200m/s, that’s more than a million times faster. But they won’t have to go so far, because we can also make neurons physically far smaller, hundreds of times smaller, so that’s a couple more zeros to play with. And we can use light to interconnect them, using millions of wavelengths, so they could have millions of connections instead of thousands and those connections will be a billion times faster. And the neurons will switch at terahertz speeds, not hundreds of hertz, that’s also billions of times faster. So even if we keep the same general architecture and feel as the Mk1 brain, we could make it a millimetre across and it could work billions of times faster than the original human brain. But with a lot more connectivity and sensory capability, greater memory, higher processing speed, it would actually be vastly superhuman, even as it retains broadly the same basic human nature.

And guess what? It will easily fit in a fairy.

So, around the time that space industry is really taking off, and we’re doing asteroid mining, and populating bases on Mars and Europa, and thinking of going further, and routinely designing new organisms, we will be able to make highly miniaturized people with brains vastly more capable than conventional humans. Since they are small, it will be quite easy to make them with fully functional wings, exactly the sort of advantage you want in a space ship where gravity is in short supply and you want to make full use of a 3D space. Exactly the sort of thing you want when size and mass is a big issue. Exactly the sort of thing you want when food is in short supply. A custom-designed electronic, fully networked brain is exactly the sort of thing you want when you need a custom-designed organism that can hibernate instantly. Fairies would be ideally suited to space travel. We could even design the brains with lots of circuit redundancy, so that radiation-induced faults can be error-corrected and repaired by newly designed proteins.

Wands are easy too. Linking the mind to a stick, and harnessing the millions of years of recent evolution that has taught us how to use sticks is a pretty good idea too. Waving a wand and just thinking what they want to happen at the target is all the interface a space-fairy needs.

This is a rich seam and I will explore it again some time. But for now, you get the idea.

Space-farers will mostly be space fairies.

 

 

 

 

The future of biometric identification and authentication

If you work in IT security, the first part of this will not be news to you, skip to the section on the future. Otherwise, the first sections look at the current state of biometrics and some of what we already know about their security limitations.

Introduction

I just read an article on fingerprint recognition. Biometrics has been hailed by some as a wonderful way of determining someone’s identity, and by others as a security mechanism that is far too easy to spoof. I generally fall in the second category. I don’t mind using it for simple unimportant things like turning on my tablet, on which I keep nothing sensitive, but so far I would never trust it as part of any system that gives access to my money or sensitive files.

My own history is that voice recognition still doesn’t work for me, fingerprints don’t work for me, and face recognition doesn’t work for me. Iris scan recognition does, but I don’t trust that either. Let’s take a quick look at conventional biometrics today and the near future.

Conventional biometrics

Fingerprint recognition.

I use a Google Nexus, made by Samsung. Samsung is in the news today because their Galaxy S5 fingerprint sensor was hacked by SRLabs minutes after release, not the most promising endorsement of their security competence.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/samsung/10769478/Galaxy-S5-fingerprint-scanner-hacked.html

This article says the sensor is used in the user authentication to access Paypal. That is really not good. I expect quite a few engineers at Samsung are working very hard indeed today. I expect they thought they had tested it thoroughly, and their engineers know a thing or two about security. Every engineer knows you can photograph a fingerprint and print a replica in silicone or glue or whatever. It’s the first topic of discussion at any Biometrics 101 meeting. I would assume they tested for that. I assume they would not release something they expected to bring instant embarrassment on their company, especially something failing by that classic mechanism. Yet according to this article, that seems to be the case. Given that Samsung is one of the most advanced technology companies out there, and that they can be assumed to have made reasonable effort to get it right, that doesn’t offer much hope for fingerprint recognition. If they don’t do it right, who will?

My own experience with fingerprint recognition history is having to join a special queue every day at Universal Studios because their fingerprint recognition entry system never once recognised me or my child. So I have never liked it because of false negatives. For those people for whom it does work, their fingerprints are all over the place, some in high quality, and can easily be obtained and replicated.

As just one token in multi-factor authentication, it may yet have some potential, but as a primary access key, not a chance. It will probably remain be a weak authenticator.

Face recognition

There are many ways of recognizing faces – visible light, infrared or UV, bone structure, face shapes, skin texture patterns, lip-prints, facial gesture sequences… These could be combined in simultaneous multi-factor authentication. The technology isn’t there yet, but it offers more hope than fingerprint recognition. Using the face alone is no good though. You can make masks from high-resolution photographs of people, and photos could be made using the same spectrum known to be used in recognition systems. Adding gestures is a nice idea, but in a world where cameras are becoming ubiquitous, it wouldn’t be too hard to capture the sequence you use. Pretending that a mask is alive by adding sensing and then using video to detect any inspection for pulse or blood flows or gesture requests and then to provide appropriate response is entirely feasible, though it would deter casual entry. So I am not encouraged to believe it would be secure unless and until some cleverer innovation occurs.

What I do know is that I set my tablet up to recognize me and it works about one time in five. The rest of the time I have to wait till it fails and then type in a PIN. So on average, it actually slows entry down. False negative again. Giving lots of false negatives without the reward of avoiding false positives is not a good combination.

Iris scans

I was a subject in one of the early trials for iris recognition. It seemed very promising. It always recognized me and never confused me with someone else. That was a very small scale trial though so I’d need a lot more convincing before I let it near my bank account. I saw the problem of replication an iris using a high quality printer and was assured that that couldn’t work because the system checks for the eye being alive by watching for jitter and shining a light and watching for pupil contraction. Call me too suspicious but I didn’t and don’t find that at all reassuring. It won’t be too long before we can make a thin sheet high-res polymer display layered onto a polymer gel underlayer that contracts under electric field, with light sensors built in and some software analysis for real time response. You could even do it as part of a mask with the rest of the face also faithfully mimicking all the textures, real-time responses, blood flow mimicking, gesture sequences and so on. If the prize is valuable enough to justify the effort, every aspect of the eyes, face and fingerprints could be mimicked. It may be more Mission Impossible than casual high street robbery but I can’t yet have any confidence that any part of the face or gestures would offer good security.

DNA

We hear frequently that DNA is a superbly secure authenticator. Every one of your cells can identify you. You almost certainly leave a few cells at the scene of a crime so can be caught, and because your DNA is unique, it must have been you that did it. Perfect, yes? And because it is such a perfect authenticator, it could be used confidently to police entry to secure systems.

No! First, even for a criminal trial, only a few parts of your DNA are checked, they don’t do an entire genome match. That already brings the chances of a match down to millions rather than billions. A chance of millions to one sounds impressive to a jury until you look at the figure from the other direction. If you have 1 in 70 million chance of a match, a prosecution barrister might try to present that as a 70 million to 1 chance that you’re guilty and a juror may well be taken in. The other side of that is that 100 people of the 7 billion would have that same 1 in 70 million match. So your competent defense barrister should  present that as only a 1 in 100 chance that it was you. Not quite so impressive.

I doubt a DNA system used commercially for security systems would be as sophisticated as one used in forensic labs. It will be many years before an instant response using large parts of your genome could be made economic. But what then? Still no. You leave DNA everywhere you go, all day, every day. I find it amazing that it is permitted as evidence in trials, because it is so easy to get hold of someone’s hairs or skin flakes. You could gather hairs or skin flakes from any bus seat or hotel bathroom or bed. Any maid in a big hotel or any airline cabin attendant could gather packets of tissue and hair samples and in many cases could even attach a name to them.  Your DNA could be found at the scene of any crime having been planted there by someone who simply wanted to deflect attention from themselves and get someone else convicted instead of them. They don’t even need to know who you are. And the police can tick the crime solved box as long as someone gets convicted. It doesn’t have to be the culprit. Think you have nothing to fear if you have done nothing wrong? Think again.

If someone wants to get access to an account, but doesn’t mind whose, perhaps a DNA-based entry system would offer good potential, because people perceive it as secure, whereas it simply isn’t. So it might not be paired with other secure factors. Going back to the maid or cabin attendant. Both are low paid. A few might welcome some black market bonuses if they can collect good quality samples with a name attached, especially a name of someone staying in a posh suite, probably with a nice account or two, or privy to valuable information. Especially if they also gather their fingerprints at the same time. Knowing who they are, getting a high res pic of their face and eyes off the net, along with some voice samples from videos, then making a mask, iris replica, fingerprint and if you’re lucky also buying video of their gesture patterns from the black market, you could make an almost perfect multi-factor biometric spoof.

It also becomes quickly obvious that the people who are the most valuable or important are also the people who are most vulnerable to such high quality spoofing.

So I am not impressed with biometric authentication. It sounds good at first, but biometrics are too easy to access and mimic. Other security vulnerabilities apply in sequence too. If your biometric is being measured and sent across a network for authentication, all the other usual IT vulnerabilities still apply. The signal could be intercepted and stored, replicated another time, and you can’t change your body much, so once your iris has been photographed or your fingerprint stored and hacked, it is useless for ever. The same goes for the other biometrics.

Dynamic biometrics

Signatures, gestures and facial expressions offer at least the chance to change them. If you signature has been used, you could start using a new one. You could sign different phrases each time, as a personal one-time key. You could invent new gesture sequences. These are really just an equivalent to passwords. You have to remember them and which one you use for which system. You don’t want a street seller using your signature to verify a tiny transaction and then risk the seller using the same signature to get right into your account.

Summary of status quo

This all brings us back to the most basic of security practice. You can only use static biometrics safely as a small part of a multi-factor system, and you have to use different dynamic biometrics such as gestures or signatures on a one time basis for each system, just as you do with passwords. At best, they provide a simple alternative to a simple password. At worst, they pair low actual security with the illusion of high security, and that is a very bad combination indeed.

So without major progress, biometrics in its conventional meaning doesn’t seem to have much of a future. If it is not much more than a novelty or a toy, and can only be used safely in conjunction with some proper security system, why bother at all?

The future

You can’t easily change your eyes or your DNA or you skin, but you can add things to your body that are similar to biometrics or interact with it but offer the flexibility and replaceability of electronics.

I have written frequently about active skin, using the skin as a platform for electronics, and I believe the various layers of it offer the best potential for security technology.

Long ago, RFID chips implants became commonplace in pets and some people even had them inserted too. RFID variants could easily be printed on a membrane and stuck onto the skin surface. They could be used for one time keys too, changing each time they are used. Adding accelerometers, magnetometers, pressure sensors or even location sensors could all offer ways of enhancing security options. Active skin allows easy combination of fingerprints with other factors.

 

Ultra-thin and uninvasive security patches could be stuck onto the skin, and could not be removed without damaging them, so would offer a potentially valuable platform. Pretty much any kinds and combinations of electronics could be used in them. They could easily be made to have a certain lifetime. Very thin ones could wash off after a few days so could be useful for theme park entry during holidays or for short term contractors. Banks could offer stick on electronic patches that change fundamentally how they work every month, making it very hard to hack them.

Active skin can go inside the skin too, not just on the surface. You could for example have an electronic circuit or an array of micro-scale magnets embedded among the skin cells in your fingertip. Your fingerprint alone could easily be copied and spoofed, but not the accompanying electronic interactivity from the active skin that can be interrogated at the same time. Active skin could measure all sorts of properties of the body too, so personal body chemistry at a particular time could be used. In fact, medical monitoring is the first key development area for active skin, so we’re likely to have a lot of body data available that could make new biometrics. The key advantage here is that skin cells are very large compared to electronic feature sizes. A decent processor or memory can be made around the size of one skin cell and many could be combined using infrared optics within the skin. Temperature or chemical gradients between inner and outer skin layers could be used to power devices too.

If you are signing something, the signature could be accompanied by a signal from the fingertip, sufficiently close to the surface being signed to be useful. A ring on a finger could also offer a voluminous security electronics platform to house any number of sensors, memory and processors.

Skin itself offers a reasonable communications route, able to carry a few Mbit’s of data stream, so touching something could allow a lot of data transfer very quickly. A smart watch or any other piece of digital jewelry or active skin security patch could use your fingertip to send an authentication sequence. The watch would know who you are by constant proximity and via its own authentication tools. It could easily be unauthorized instantly when detached or via a remote command.

Active makeup offer a novel mechanism too. Makeup will soon exist that uses particles that can change color or alignment under electronic control, potentially allowing video rate pattern changes. While that makes for fun makeup, it also allows for sophisticated visual authentication sequences using one-time keys. Makeup doesn’t have to be confined only to the face of course, and security makeup could maybe be used on the forearm or hands. Combining with static biometrics, many-factor authentication could be implemented.

I believe active skin, using membranes added or printed onto and even within the skin, together with the use of capsules, electronic jewelry, and even active makeup offers the future potential to implement extremely secure personal authentication systems. This pseudo-biometric authentication offers infinitely more flexibility and changeability than the body itself, but because it is attached to the body, offers much the same ease of use and constant presence as other biometrics.

Biometrics may be pretty useless as it is, but the field does certainly have a future. We just need to add some bits. The endless potential variety of those bits and their combinations makes the available creativity space vast.

 

 

WMDs for mad AIs

We think sometimes about mad scientists and what they might do. It’s fun, makes nice films occasionally, and highlights threats years before they become feasible. That then allows scientists and engineers to think through how they might defend against such scenarios, hopefully making sure they don’t happen.

You’ll be aware that a lot more talk of AI is going on again now. It does seem to be picking up progress finally. If it succeeds well enough, a lot more future science and engineering will be done by AI than by people. If genuinely conscious, self-aware AI, with proper emotions etc becomes feasible, as I think it will, then we really ought to think about what happens when it goes wrong. (Sci-fi computer games producers already do think that stuff through sometimes – my personal favorite is Mass Effect). We will one day have some insane AIs. In Mass Effect, the concept of AI being shackled is embedded in the culture, thereby attempting to limit the damage it could presumably do. On the other hand, we have had Asimov’s laws of robotics for decades, but they are sometimes being ignored when it comes to making autonomous defense systems. That doesn’t bode well. So, assuming that Mass Effect’s writers don’t get to be in charge of the world, and instead we have ideological descendants of our current leaders, what sort of things could an advanced AI do in terms of its chosen weaponry?

Advanced AI

An ultra-powerful AI is a potential threat in itself. There is no reason to expect that an advanced AI will be malign, but there is also no reason to assume it won’t be. High level AI could have at least the range of personality that we associate with people, with a potentially greater  range of emotions or motivations, so we’d have the super-helpful smart scientist type AIs but also perhaps the evil super-villain and terrorist ones.

An AI doesn’t have to intend harm to be harmful. If it wants to do something and we are in the way, even if it has no malicious intent, we could still become casualties, like ants on a building site.

I have often blogged about achieving conscious computers using techniques such as gel computing and how we could end up in a terminator scenario, favored by sci-fi. This could be deliberate act of innocent research, military development or terrorism.

Terminator scenarios are diverse but often rely on AI taking control of human weapons systems. I won’t major on that here because that threat has already been analysed in-depth by many people.

Conscious botnets could arrive by accident too – a student prank harnessing millions of bots even with an inefficient algorithm might gain enough power to achieve high level of AI. 

Smart bacteriaBacterial DNA could be modified so that bacteria can make electronics inside their cell, and power it. Linking to other bacteria, massive AI could be achieved.

Zombies

Adding the ability to enter a human nervous system or disrupt or capture control of a human brain could enable enslavement, giving us zombies. Having been enslaved, zombies could easily be linked across the net. The zombie films we watch tend to miss this feature. Zombies in films and games tend to move in herds, but not generally under control or in a much coordinated way. We should assume that real ones will be full networked, liable to remote control, and able to share sensory systems. They’d be rather smarter and more capable than what we’re generally used to. Shooting them in the head might not work so well as people expect either, as their nervous systems don’t really need a local controller, and could just as easily be controlled by a collective intelligence, though blood loss would eventually cause them to die. To stop a herd of real zombies, you’d basically have to dismember them. More Dead Space than Dawn of the Dead.

Zombie viruses could be made other ways too. It isn’t necessary to use smart bacteria. Genetic modification of viruses, or a suspension of nanoparticles are traditional favorites because they could work. Sadly, we are likely to see zombies result from deliberate human acts, likely this century.

From Zombies, it is a short hop to full evolution of the Borg from Star Trek, along with emergence of characters from computer games to take over the zombified bodies.

Terraforming

Using strong external AI to make collective adaptability so that smart bacteria can colonize many niches, bacterial-based AI or AI using bacteria could engage in terraforming. Attacking many niches that are important to humans or other life would be very destructive. Terraforming a planet you live on is not generally a good idea, but if an organism can inhabit land, sea or air and even space, there is plenty of scope to avoid self destruction. Fighting bacteria engaged on such a pursuit might be hard. Smart bacteria could spread immunity to toxins or biological threats almost instantly through a population.

Correlated traffic

Information waves and other correlated traffic, network resonance attacks are another way of using networks to collapse economies by taking advantage of the physical properties of the links and protocols rather than using more traditional viruses or denial or service attacks. AIs using smart dust or bacteria could launch signals in perfect coordination from any points on any networks simultaneously. This could push any network into resonant overloads that would likely crash them, and certainly act to deprive other traffic of bandwidth.

Decryption

Conscious botnets could be used to make decryption engines to wreck security and finance systems. Imagine how much more so a worldwide collection of trillions of AI-harnessed organisms or devices. Invisibly small smart dust and networked bacteria could also pick up most signals well before they are encrypted anyway, since they could be resident on keyboards or the components and wires within. They could even pick up electrical signals from a person’s scalp and engage in thought recognition, intercepting passwords well before a person’s fingers even move to type them.

Space guns

Solar wind deflector guns are feasible, ionizing some of the ionosphere to make a reflective surface to deflect some of the incoming solar wind to make an even bigger reflector, then again, thus ending up with an ionospheric lens or reflector that can steer perhaps 1% of the solar wind onto a city. That could generate a high enough energy density to ignite and even melt a large area of city within minutes.

This wouldn’t be as easy as using space based solar farms, and using energy direction from them. Space solar is being seriously considered but it presents an extremely attractive target for capture because of its potential as a directed energy weapon. Their intended use is to use microwave beams directed to rectenna arrays on the ground, but it would take good design to prevent a takeover possibility.

Drone armies

Drones are already becoming common at an alarming rate, and the sizes of drones are increasing in range from large insects to medium sized planes. The next generation is likely to include permanently airborne drones and swarms of insect-sized drones. The swarms offer interesting potential for WMDs. They can be dispersed and come together on command, making them hard to attack most of the time.

Individual insect-sized drones could build up an electrical charge by a wide variety of means, and could collectively attack individuals, electrocuting or disabling them, as well as overload or short-circuit electrical appliances.

Larger drones such as the ones I discussed in

http://carbonweapons.com/2013/06/27/free-floating-combat-drones/ would be capable of much greater damage, and collectively, virtually indestructible since each can be broken to pieces by an attack and automatically reassembled without losing capability using self organisation principles. A mixture of large and small drones, possibly also using bacteria and smart dust, could present an extremely formidable coordinated attack.

I also recently blogged about the storm router

http://carbonweapons.com/2014/03/17/stormrouter-making-wmds-from-hurricanes-or-thunderstorms/ that would harness hurricanes, tornados or electrical storms and divert their energy onto chosen targets.

In my Space Anchor novel, my superheroes have to fight against a formidable AI army that appears as just a global collection of tiny clouds. They do some of the things I highlighted above and come close to threatening human existence. It’s a fun story but it is based on potential engineering.

Well, I think that’s enough threats to worry about for today. Maybe given the timing of release, you’re expecting me to hint that this is an April Fool blog. Not this time. All these threats are feasible.

The future of mining

I did an interview recently on future mining, so I thought I’d blog my thoughts on the subject while they’re all stuck together coherently.

Very briefly, increasing population and wealth will generate higher resource need until the resources needed per person starts to fall at a higher rate, and it will. That almost certainly means a few decades of increasing demand for many resources, with a few exceptions where substitution will impact at a higher rate. Eventually, demand will peak and fall for most resources. Meanwhile, the mining industry can prosper.

Robotics

Robots are already used a lot in mining, but their uses will evolve. Robots have a greater potential range of senses than humans, able to detect whatever sensors are equipped for. That means they can see into rock and analyse composition better than our eyes. AI will improve their decisions. Of course, we’ll still have the self drive vehicles, diggers and the other automation we already expect to see.

If a mine can be fully automated, it may reduce deaths and costs significantly. Robots can also have a rapid speed of reaction as well as AI and advanced sensing, and could detect accidents before they happen. Apart from saving on wages, robots also don’t need expensive health and safety, so that may see lower costs, but at the expense of greater risks with occasional flat robots in an automated mine. The costs of robots can be kept low if most of their intelligence is remote rather than on board. Saving human lives is a benefit that can’t easily be costed. Far better to buy a new machine than to comfort a bereaved family.

Robots in many other mixed mines will need to be maintained, so maybe people’s main role will often be just looking after the machines, and we would still need to ensure safety in that case. That creates a big incentive to make machines that can be maintained by other machines so that full automation can be achieved.

With use of penetrating positioning systems, specialist wanderer bots could tunnel around at will, following a seam, extracting and concentrating useful materials and leave markers for collector bots to gather the concentrates.

NBIC

With ongoing convergence of biotech, nanotech and IT, we should expect a lot of development of various types of bacterial or mechanical microbots, that can get into new places and reduce the costs of recovery, maybe even reopening some otherwise uneconomic mines. Development of bacteria that can transmute materials has already begun, and we should expect that some future mines will depend mainly on a few bucketfuls of bacterial soup to convert and concentrate resources into more easily extracted reserves. Such advanced technology will greatly increase the reserves of material that can economically be extracted. Obviously the higher the price, the more that can be justified on extraction, so advanced technologies will develop faster when we need them, as any shortages start to appear.

Deep Sea

Deep sea mines would provide access to far greater resource pools, limited mainly by the market price for the material. Re-opening other mines as technology improves recovery potential will also help.

Asteroid Mining

Moving away from the Earth, a lot of hype has appeared about asteroid mining and some analyses seem to think that it will impact enormously on the price of scarce materials here on Earth. I think that is oversold as a possibility.  Yes, it will be possible to bring stuff back to Earth, but the costs of landing materials safely would be high and only justified for those with extreme prices.  For traditionally expensive gold or diamonds, actual uses are relatively low and generally have good cheaper substitutes, so if large quantities were shipped back to Earth, prices would still be managed as they already are, with slow trickling onto the market to avoid price collapse. That greatly limits the potential wealth from doing so.

I think it is far more likely that asteroid mining will be focused on producing stuff for needed for construction, travel and living in space, such as space stations, ships, energy collection, habitation, outposts etc. In that case, many of the things mined from asteroids would be things that are cheap here, such as water and iron and other everyday materials. Their value in space might be far higher simply because of the expense of moving them. This last factor suggests that there may be a lot of interest in technologies to move asteroids or change their orbits so the resources end up closer to where they are needed. An asteroid could be mined at great length, with the materials extracted and left on its surface, then waiting until the asteroid is close to the required destination before the materials are collected and dispatched. The alternative that we routinely see in sci-fi, with vast mining ships, is possible, and there will undoubtedly be times they are needed, but surely can’t compete on cost with steering an entire asteroid so it delivers the materials itself.

Population growth and resource need

As human population increases, we’ll eventually also see robot and android population increase, and they might also need resources for their activities. We should certainly factor that into future demand estimates. However, there are also future factors that will reduce the resources needed.

Smarter Construction

More advanced construction techniques, development of smarter materials and use of reactive architecture all mean that less resource is needed for a given amount of building. Exotic materials such as graphene  and carbon nanotubes, boron derivatives, and possibly even plasma in some applications, will all impact on construction and other industries and reduce demand for lots of resources. The carbon derivatives are a double win, since carbon can usefully be extracted from the products of fossil fuel energy production, making cleaner energy at the same time as providing building and fabrication materials. The new carbon materials are a lot stronger than steel, so we may build much higher buildings, making a lower environmental footprint for cities. They are also perfect for making self-driving cars as well as their energy storage, power supply and supporting infrastructure.

IT efficiency v the Greens

Miniaturisation of electronics and IT will continue for decades more. A few cubic millimetres of electronics could easily replace all the electronics owned by a typical family today. Perversely, Greens are trying hard to force a slower obsolescence cycle, not understanding that the faster we get to minimal resource use, the lower the overall environmental impact will be. By prolonging high-resource-use gadgets, even as people get wealthier and can afford to buy more, the demands will increase far beyond what is really necessary of they hadn’t interfered. It is far better for 10 billion people to use a few cubic millimetres each than a few litres. Greens also often want to introduce restrictions on development of other advanced technology, greatly overusing the precautionary principle. Their distrust of science and technology is amazing considering how much it can obviously benefit the environment.

A lot of things can be done virtually too, with no resource use at all, especially displays and interfaces, all of which could share a single common display such as a 0.2 gram active contact lens. A lot of IT can be centralised with greater utilisation, while some can achieve better efficiency by decentralising. We need to apply intelligence to the problem, looking at each bit as part of an overall system instead of in isolation, and looking at the full life cycle as well as the full system.

Substitution will reduce demand for copper, neodymium, lithium

Recycling of some elements will provide more than is needed by a future market because of material substitution, so prices of some could fall, such as copper. Copper in plumbing is already being substituted heavily by plastic. In communications, fibre and mobile are already heavily replacing it. In power cables, it will eventually be substituted by graphene. Similar substitution is likely in many other materials. The primary use of neodymium is in wind turbines and high speed motors. As wind turbines are abandoned and recycled in favour of better energy production techniques, as future wind power can even be based on plastic capacitors that need hardly any metal at all, and as permanent magnets in motors are substituted by superconducting magnets, there may not be much demand for neodymium. Similarly, lithium is in great demand for batteries, but super-capacitors, again possibly using carbon derivatives such as graphene, will substitute greatly for them. Inductive power coupling from inductive mats in a road surface could easily replace most of the required capacity for a car battery, especially as self driving cars will be lighter and closer together, reducing energy demand. Self-driving cars even reduce the number of cars needed as they deter private ownership. So it is a win-win-win for everyone except the mining industry. A small battery or super-cap bank might have little need for lithium. Recycled lithium could be all we need. Recycling will continue to improve through better practice and better tech, and also some rubbish tips could even be mined if we’re desperate. With fewer cars needed, and plastic instead of steel, that also impacts on steel need.

The Greens are the best friends of the mining industry

So provided we can limit Green interference and get on with developing advanced technology quickly, the fall in demand per person (or android) may offset resource need at a higher rate than the population increases. We could use less material in the far future than we do today, even with a far higher average standard of living. After population peaks and starts falling, there could be a rapid price fall as a glut of recycled material appears. That would be a bleak outcome for the mining sector of course. In that case, by delaying that to the best of their ability, it turns out that the Greens are the mining industry’s best friends, useful idiots, ensuring that the markets remain as large as possible for as long as possible, with the maximum environmental impact.

It certainly takes a special restriction of mind to let someone do so much harm to the environment while still believing they occupy the moral high ground!

Carbon industry

Meanwhile, carbon sequestration could easily evolve into a carbon materials industry, in direct competition with the traditional resources sector, with carbon building materials, cables, wires, batteries, capacitors, inductors, electronics, fabrics…..a million uses. Plastics will improve in parallel, often incorporating particles of electronics, sensors, and electronic muscles, making a huge variety of potential smart materials for any kind of building, furniture of gadget. The requirement for concrete, steel, aluminium, copper, and many other materials will eventually drop, even as population and wealth grows.

To conclude, although population increase and wealth increase will generate increasing demand in the short to medium term, and mining will develop rapidly along many avenues, in the longer term, the future will rely far more on recycling and advanced manufacturing techniques, so the demand for raw materials will eventually peak and fall.

I wrote at far greater length about achieving a system-wide sustainable future in my book Total Sustainability, which avoids the usual socialist baggage.

Active Skin part 3 – key fields and inventions

This entry only makes sense if you read the previous two parts!

http://timeguide.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/active-skin-an-old-idea-whose-time-is-coming/

and

http://timeguide.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/active-skin-part-2-initial-applications/

if you have looked at them, time to read this one. Remember, this is onl;y a list of the ideas we had way back in 2001, I haven’t listed any we invented since.

Key active skin technology fields

Many of our original ideas had similarities, so I analysed them and produced a set of basic platforms that could be developed. The following platform components are obvious:

  1. A multilevel device architecture with some of the layers in or on the body, working in conjunction.

Tattoo layer

  1. Sub-surface imprints that monitor various body state parameters, such as chemical, electrical, temperature, and signal this information to higher layer devices.
  2. Permanently imprinted ID circuitry or patterns
  3. Permanently imprinted display components
  4. Permanently imprinted circuitry to link to nerves
  5. Imprinted devices that use chemical energy from the body to power external devices, e.g. ATP

Mid-term layer

  1. Similar technology to tattoo layer but higher in skin so therefore degradable over time
  2. Soluble or body-degradable circuitry
  3. photodegradable circuitry
  4. transparent circuitry using transparent conducting polymers
  5. inconspicuous positioning systems
  6. devices that transfer body material such as DNA or body fluids to external devices
  7. imprinted data storage devices with I/O, or permanent dumb storage
  8. imprinted sensors and recorders for radiation, magnetic fields, electrical or mechanical variation
  9. imprinted signalling devices for communication between body devices and external world
  10. smart monitoring and alarm technology that integrates body or surface events or position to external behaviours such as control systems, or surveillance systems
  11. synthetic sense systems based on synthetic sensing and translation to biological sense and possibly direct nerve stimuli
  12. smart teeth with sampling and analysis functions with signalling and storage capability
  13. imprinted actuators using piezoelectric, memory metal or ‘muscle wire’ technology, interacting with external monitoring to use as interface or feedback devices
  14. infection monitor and control devices
  15. devices that make electrical or magnetic stimuli to assist wound healing or control pain
  16. semi-permanent tags for visitors, contractors, criminals and babies, location and context dependent
  17. medical tags that directly interact with hospital equipment to control errors, hold medical records etc
  18. links to nervous system by connecting to nerves in the skin and to outside by radio

Mid-term & Transfer Layers – Smart cosmetics

  1. semi-permanent self organising displays for applications such as smart nail varnish and smart cosmetics
  2. context sensitive cosmetics, reacting to time, location, person, emotions, temperature
  3. electrically sensitive chemicals that interact with imprinted electronic circuits
  4. semi-permanent underlay for smart overlays to assist self-organisation
  5. smart sunscreens with sensors and electro-active filters
  6. colour sensitive or exposure sensitive sun-blocks
  7. cosmetics with actuators in suspension controlled by embedded electronics
  8. Active jewellery, active Bindies etc , e.g. Led optical control linked to thought recognition system
  9. Smart perfumes that respond to context, temperature, location etc

Transfer Layer

This layer has by far the most opportunities since it is not restricted to materials that can be tolerated in the body, and can also use a factory pre-printed membrane that can be transferred onto the skin. It can encompass a wide range of devices that can be miniaturised sufficiently to fit in a thin flexible package. Many currently wearable devices such as phones and computers could end up in this layer in a few years.

Most of the mid-term and some of the tattoo layer devices are also appropriate at this layer.

  1. Smart fingerprints encompass range of ID, pressure detection, interfacing and powering devices
  2. Use of vibrating membranes as signalling, e.g. ring tone, alarms, synthetic senses etc, allows personal signalling. Possible use for insect repellent if ultrasonic vibration
  3. Use of ultrasound to communicate with outside or to constantly monitor foetus
  4. Use of touch or proximity sensitive membranes to allow typing or drawing on body surface, use of skin as part of input device, may use in conjunction with smart fingerprints for keypad-free dialling etc
  5. Palm of hand can be used as computer in conjunction with smart fingerprints
  6. Use of strain gauges in smart skin allows force measurement for interfaces, force feedback, policing child abuse etc
  7. Actuators built into membrane, allows program interface and force feedback systems, drug dosing, skin tensioning etc, use for training and games, sports, immersive environments etc.
  8. Use of combinations of such devices that measure distance between them, allowing training and monitoring functions
  9. Transfer on eye allows retinal display, ultraviolet vision, eye tracking, visual interface
  10. Transfer based phones and computers
  11. Electronic jewellery
  12. Direct link between body and avatars based on variety of sensors around body and force feedback devices, connection to nervous system via midterm layer devices
  13. Thermal membranes that change conductivity on demand to control heating or cooling, also use as alarm and signalling
  14. Electronic muscles based on contracting gels, muscle wires etc, used as temporary training devices for people in recovery or physiotherapy, or for sports training
  15. Electronic stimulation devices allowing electro-acupuncture, electrolysis, itching control etc
  16. Printed aerials worn on body
  17. Permanent EEG patches for use in thought recognition and control systems
  18. Emotionally sensitive electronics, for badges, displays, context sensitivity etc
  19. Olfactory sensors for environmental monitoring linked to tongue to enhance sense of smell or taste, or for warning purposes. Olfactory data could be recorded as part of experience for memory assistance later
  20. Power supplies using induction
  21. Frequency translation in ear patch to allow supersonic hearing
  22. Devices for pets to assist in training and health monitoring, control nerves directly, police virtual electric fences for cats
  23. Fingertip mouse and 3d interface
  24. E-cash on the skin, use simply by touching a terminal

Smart drug delivery

  1. Allowing variable hole membranes for drug dosing. Body properties used with ID patch to control drug dose via smart membrane. May communicate with hospital. Off  the shelf drug containers can then be used
  2. Control of pain by linking measurement of nerve activity and emotional cues to dispensing device

Fully removable layer

This layer is occupied by relatively conventional devices. There are no obviously lucrative technologies suggested for this layer.

Key Specific inventions

Taking another angle of view, the above applications and platforms yield 28 very promising inventions. In most cases, although humans are assumed to be the users, other animals, plants, inorganic objects such as robots or other machines, and even simple dumb objects may be targets in some cases.

*Asterixes indicate reference to another area from this set.

1         Sub-skin-surface imprints and implants

Sub-skin-surface imprints and implants that monitor various body state parameters, such as chemical, electrical, temperature, and signal this information to higher layer devices.

  • Circuitry is imprinted into the skin using ink-jet technology or high pressure diffusion. e.g. a hand may be inserted into a print chamber, or a print device may be held in contact with the required area.
  • Passive components such as ink patterns may be imprinted, which may function as part of a system such as a positioning system
  • Other small encapsulated components such as skin capsules* may be injected using high pressure air bursts.
  • Some of the circuit components assembled in situ may require high temperatures for a short time, but this would cause only momentary pain.
  • Deeper implants may be injected directly into the required position using needles or intravenous injection, allowing later transport to the required location in the blood flow.
  • The implants may anchor themselves in position by mechanical or magnetic means, their positioning determined in co-operation with higher layer devices.
  • Components may be imprinted higher in the skin to be capable or wearing away, or lower in the skin to ensure relative permanence, or to give greater contact with the body
  • Circuitry may be designed to be transparent to visible light by using transparent polymers, but may be visible under UV or infrared
  • Patterns implanted may be used as part of an external system. An ink-based pattern could be used as an identifier, for holding data, or as a means of positioning. They may be used as part of a, which would effectively be enhanced biometric security system.
  • Other identifiers may be permanently imprinted, which may be active or passive such as inductive loops, bar-codes, digital paper, snowflakes etc. Intra-skin power supplies* may be used to power more sophisticated tags that can be imprinted or injected
  • Circuitry or patterns may be harmlessly biodegradable so that it would vanish over time, or may be permanent.
  • they may be made photo-degradable so that it breaks down under external light of appropriate intensity and frequency, e.g. UV
  • Inks may be used that are rewritable, e.g. they change their colour when exposed to UV or a magnetic field, so data may be modified, and these devices are therefore dynamic data storage devices. They need not operate in the visible spectrum, since external sensors are not limited by human characteristics.
  • Baby tags may be inserted to prevent babies from being abducted

2         Skin conduits

Devices may be implanted that are able to act as a conduit to lower skin layers.

  • This may facilitate drug delivery, monitoring or nerve connection.
  • Probes of various types may be inserted through the conduits for a variety of medical or interface reasons.
  • Even body fluids and DNA samples may be extracted via these conduits.
  • This may provide a means of blood transfer for transfusion or blood cleaning, and a replacement for drips
  • Conduits would be sealed to prevent bacterial or viral entry except when actively in use.
  • The conduits can be implemented in several ways: tubes may be implanted that have muscle wires arranged so that when they contract the holes flatten and thus close; the walls of the tube may be comprised of magnetic materials so can be closed magnetically; the default position may be closed and magnetic repulsion is used to stretch the holes open; similarly, muscle wire may be used to open the holes by rounding a previously flattened hole; the open or closed states can be provided by elongating or shortening a tube; heat may be used to cause expansion or contraction; synthesised muscle tissue may be used to stretch the area and make holes open; shape change and memory metals or plastics may be used. Other techniques may be possible.

3         Implanted or imprinted links to nerves

  • Permanently imprinted circuitry to link to nerves would comprise electrical connections to nerves nearby, by means of conducting wires between nerves and the devices.
  • The devices meanwhile would be in communication with the higher layers.
  • They would signal impulses to higher layers and capable of producing impulses in various patterns into the nerves.
  • The connections would be made using specialised skin capsules* or directly injected wires.
  • These devices would encapsulate very thin wires that propagate out from the device on request until they make electrical contact with a suitable nerve. They may be wound in a spiral pattern inside the capsules and unwound to form radiating wires.
  • These wires may be made of metal today or carbon fullerene ‘buckytubes’ in due course
  • They may be connected by wire, radio or optical links to the external world
  • Being able to stimulate nerves directly implies that body movement could be directly controlled by an external system
  • It would be possible to implant control devices in people or animals in order to remotely control them
  • Although primarily a military technology, this would enable pets to be sent on a predetermined walk, to prevent children from stepping out in front of a car, to prohibit many crimes that are detectable by electronic means and a wide range of other ethically dubious activities
  • Nerve stimulation can be linked extensively into other electronic systems
  • Email or other communications could include instructions that translate into nerve stimuli in the recipient. This may link to emotional stimulation too. A very rich form of intimate communication could thus be achieved.
  • It would be possible to send an orgasm by email
  • Filters can easily prevent abuse of such a system, since the user would be able to block unauthorised nerve stimulation
  • For some purposes, this choice to block stimuli could be removed by a suitable authority or similar, for policing, military and control purposes

4         Sensory enhancement and translation technique

A range of sensors may be implanted that are sensitive to various forms of radiation, EM, magnetic fields, electrical fields, nuclear radiation or heat. These would form part of an augmented sensory system.

  • Conventional technology based radiation monitors worn on a detachable layer may monitor cumulative radiation dose, or record intensity over time.
  • Other conventional technology sensors may also be worn at the detachable layer, some my be imprinted or implanted.
  • They may be connected systemically with the nervous system using implanted or imprinted nerve links* to create nerve stimuli related to sensor activity.
  • An array of synthetic senses may thus be created that would facilitate operation in a range of environments and applications. A primary market would be for sexual use, where sexual stimulation can be produced remotely directly into the nervous system.
  • Nerve stimuli could be amplified to increase sensory sensitivity.
  • Alternatively, stimuli could be translated into vibration, heat, pain, other tactile stimulus, or audio that would be picked up by the body more easily than the original form.
  • Such sensory enhancement may be used to link stimuli in different people, or to link people with real or virtual objects.
  • When connected to deep implants in the brain, this could perhaps eventually be used to implement crude telepathic communication via a network.
  • Remote control of robotics or other external machinery may be facilitated by means of linking sensory stimuli directly to machine operations or sensors. The communication would be via implanted or imprinted antennae.
  • Active teeth* may be used as part of such a system
  • Frequency shifters in the ear would permit hearing outside of normal human capability
  • Ditto visual spectrum
  • People would be able to interact fully with virtual objects using such virtual sensory stimulation

5         Alarm systems

  • Sensors in or on the skin may be used to initiate external alarms or to initiate corrective action. For example, an old person taking a shower may not realise the water temperature is too high, but the sensors could detect this and signal to the shower control system.
  • The most useful implementation of this would be one or more thermocouples or infrared sensors implanted in the skin at or near areas most likely to be exposed first to hot water such as hands or feet.
  • Thermal membranes that change conductivity according to temperature could be used as a transfer layer device.
  • Such membranes may form a part of an external alarm or control system of signal the body by other senses that a problem exists
  • As well as signalling to external systems, these sensors will use implanted or imprinted nerve links* to initiate direct local sensory stimulation by means of vibration* or pain enhancement, or produce audible warnings.
  • Alarms may also be triggered by the position of the person. A warning may be set up by interaction of the implant and external devices. A circuit in the skin can be detected by an external monitor, and warn that the person is moving into a particular area. This may be used to set off an alarm or alert either secretly or to the knowledge of the either only the person or only the external system. This can obviously be used to police criminals on parole in much the same way as existing tags, except that the technology would be less visible, and could potentially cause a sensation or even pain directly in the criminal. A virtual prison could be thus set up, with it being painful to leave the confines set by the authorities.
  • This would permit the creation of virtual electric fences for animal confinement
  • Sensors may measure force applied to the skin. This would enable policing of child care, preventing physical abuse for example. Alerts could be sent to authorities if the child is abused.

6         Skin based displays

  • Permanently imprinted display components may be developed that use the energy produced in this way to produce light or dark or even colours.
  • These may emit light but may be simply patches of colour beneath the skin surface, which would be clearly visible under normal lighting.
  • Small ink capsules that deform under pressure,
  • electrostatic or magnetic liquids, liquid crystals or light emitting or colour changing polymers would all be good candidates

7         Intra-skin power supply

  • Inductive loops and capacitors may be used to power active components that can be imprinted or injected. Inductive loops can pick up electromagnetic energy from an external transmitter that may be in the vicinity or even worn as a detachable device. Such energy can be stored in capacitors.
  • Detachable devices such as battery based power supplies may be worn that are electrically connected to devices at lower layers, either by thin wires or induction.
  • Optical power supply may be adequate and appropriate for some devices, and this again can be provided by a detachable supply via the skin, which is reasonable transparent across a wide frequency range
  • Devices that use chemical energy from the body to power external devices, e.g. ATP
  • Thermal energy may be obtained by using temperature difference between the body and the external environment. The temperature gradient within the skin itself may be insufficient for a thermocouple to produce enough voltage, so probes may be pushed further into body tissue to connect to tissue at the full body temperature. The probes would be thin wires inserted either directly through the surface, or by skin capsules*.
  • Mechanical energy may also be used, harnessing body movement using conventional kinetic power production such as used in digital watches. Devices on the feet may also be used, but may be less desirable than other conventional alternatives.
  • Thin batteries such as polymer batteries may be worn on the detachable layer
  • Solar cells may be worn on the detachable layer

8         Antennas and communicators in or on the skin

  • Some of the many devices in the layered active skin systems require communication with the outside world. Many of these require only very short distance communication, to a detachable device in contact with the skin, but others need to transmit some distance away from the body. Various implementations of communication device are possible for these purposes.
  • A vertical wire may be implemented by direct insertion into the skin, or it may be injected
  • It may be printed using conductive inks in a column through the skin
  • It may be simply inserted into a skin conduit
  • Skin capsules* may eject a length of wire
  • Wires from skin capsules may join together to make a larger aerial of variable architecture
  • This may be one, two or three dimensional
  • Skin capsules may co-operate and co-ordinate their wires so that they link together more easily in optimal designs
  • Self organising algorithms may be used to determine which of an array of skin capsules are used for this purpose.
  • Optical transmitters such as LEDs may be used to communicate in conjunction with photodiodes, CCDs or other optical signal detectors
  • Vibration may be used to communicate between devices
  • Ultrasonic transducers and detectors may be used
  • Printed aerials may be worn as transfers or detachable devices. They may be electrically connected to devices directly or via high frequency transmission across the skin, or by local radio to other smaller aerials.

9         Smart teeth & breast implants

·         Various sampling, analysis, monitoring, processing, storage, and communication facilities may be added to an artificial tooth that may be inserted in place of a crown, filling, or false tooth. Powering may be by piezoelectric means using normal chewing as a power source, or for some purposes, small batteries may be used.

·         Infection monitoring may be implemented by monitoring chemical composition locally.

·         Conventional olfactory sensing may be used

  • Breath may be monitored for chemical presence that may indicate a range of medical or hygiene conditions, including bad breath or diabetes
  • Data may be stored in the tooth that allows interaction with external devices and systems. This could be a discrete security component, or it may hold personal medical records or a personal profile for an external system.
  • Significant processing capability could be built into the volume of a tooth, so it could act as a processor for other personal electronics
  • Small cameras could be built into the tooth
  • Piezoelectric speakers could be used to make the tooth capable of audio-synthesis. This could allow some trivial novelty uses, but could later more usefully be used in conjunction with though recognition systems to allow people to talk who have lost their voice for medical reasons. Having the voice originate from the mouth would be a much more natural interface.
  • Some of these functions could be implemented in breast implants, especially data storage – mammary memory! Very significant processing capability could also be implanted easily in the volume of a breast implant. MP3 players that can be reprogrammed by radio such as bluetooth and communicate with headphones also via bluetooth. Power in batteries can be recharged using induction
  • the terms ‘mammary memory’, and ‘nipple nibbles’ (a nibble is half a byte, i.e. 4 bits) see appropriate
  • breast implant electronics may be the heart of a body IT centre
  • taste and smell sensors in the tooth may be used as part of a sensory stimulation system whereby a sense of taste or smell could be synthetically recreated in someone who has lost this sense An active skin implant in the tongue, nose or a deeper implant in the appropriate brain region may be required to recreate the sense
  • this could be used to augment the range of taste or smell for normally sensed people in order to give them a wider experience or allow them to detect potentially dangerous gases or other agents, which may be physical or virtual
  • smart teeth may also make use of light emission to enhance a smile

10     Healing assistance devices and medical tags

 

  • Medical tags or semi-permanent tags* such as inductive loops can be imprinted that allow identification and store medical records. They may interact directly with equipment. This could be used for example to prevent operation errors. More sophisticated tags could be installed using skin conduits*
  • Active skin components may be used to apply an electric field across a wound, which has been shown to accelerate healing. These would be imprinted or implanted at a health centre during treatment. Voltage can be produced by external battery or power supply, by solar cells at the detachable layer, or by thermocouples that have probes at different body depths as described above.
  • Infection monitors can be implemented using chemical analysis of the area and by measuring the electrical properties and temperature of the region
  • The infection may be controlled by emission of electrical impulses and by secreting drugs or antibiotics into the area. This may be in conjunction with a detachable drug storage device, which can inject the drugs through skin conduits*.
  • Pain can be controlled to a point by means of electrical impulses that can be provided by the implants
  • The monitors may be in communication with a health centre.
  • Electrical impulses can be used to alleviate itching, and these could be produced by active skin components
  • Electronic acupuncture can be easily implemented using active skin, with implants at various acupuncture points precisely located by a skilled practitioner, and later stimulated according to a programmed routine
  • Electrolysis to prevent hair growth may be achieved by the same means

11     Semi-permanent tags

  • Semi-permanent tags or ID patterns may be implanted in upper skin layers to allow short term electronically facilitated access to buildings. The tags are not easily removable in the short term, but will vanish over a period of time depending on the depth of penetration. They may photo-degrade, biodegrade or simply wear away with the skin over time.
  • They may communicate electronically or optically with external systems
  • They may interact as part of alarm systems*
  • They may be aware of their position by means of detecting electronic signals such as GPS, wireless LANs
  • They may be used to give accurate positioning of devices on the skin surface or deeper, thus assisting automatic operations of medical equipment, in surgery, irradiation or drug dispensing
  • Babies can be secured against mistaken identification in hospital and their tags can interact with security systems to prevent their abduction. Proximity alerts could be activated when an unauthorised person approached them.

12     Self-organising circuits and displays

  • Self-organisation of circuits has been demonstrated and is known widely.
  • Active skin components with generic re-programmable circuitry may be installed and self-organisation used to configure the devices into useful circuits.
  • Components may be printed, injected or deposited via skin conduits* and may be contained in skin capsules*
  • Organisation can be facilitated or directed by external devices that provide position and orientation information as well as instructions to the embedded components
  • Combinations of display components may be linked by wires radiating out from each component to several other components, for instance by using skin capsules*. A self-organisation algorithm can be used to determine which connections are redundant and they can be withdrawn or severed. The remaining circuitry can be used as part of a control system to convert these individual display components into a co-ordinated display.
  • These display components may alternatively be painted onto skin, lip, eyelid or nail surfaces for example, to provide a multimedia display capability in place of conventional makeup and nail varnish. These displays would be less permanent than implanted circuitry
  • This body adornment could be more functional, with informative displays built in for some medical purpose perhaps. Text warnings and alerts could indicate problems.
  • Varnish would provide a high degree of protection for the components. Varnishes could also be fabricated to chemically assist in the self-organisation, by for example, providing a crystal matrix

13     Active Context-sensitive cosmetics and medicines

  • Cosmetics today are stand-alone combinations of chemicals, dies and aromatic agents. The addition of electronically active components either to the cosmetics themselves or into the underlying skin will permit them to be made intelligent
  • Cosmetics containing active skin components that interact with other layers and the outside world
  • Electrically sensitive chemicals would be useful components for such cosmetics. Many chemicals respond to electric fields and currents by changing their chemical bonding and hence optical properties. Some magnetic fluids are known that can be manipulated by magnetic fields. Active components may also be included that can change shape and hence their appearance, that are known in the field of digital ink.
  • Such chemicals may interact with underlying active skin circuits or components, and may respond to signals from external systems or active skin components or both
  • Cosmetics may use underlying active skin to facilitate precision location and some self-organisation
  • Active actuator components may be able to physically move cosmetics around on the skin surface
  • Characteristics of the appearance may depend on time of day, or location, or on the presence or properties of other environmental characteristics.
  • Sensors detecting UV may activate sunscreen components, releasing them from containers as required
  • Sensors detecting the presence of other cosmetics allow combination effects to be co-ordinated
  • Colours may change according to context, e.g. colour change lipstick and eye shadow
  • Kaleidoscopic or chameleon makeup, that changes colour in patterns regularly
  • Perfumes may be emitted according to context or temperature. This circumvents the problem where little perfume is given off when skin is cool, and much is lost outside in wind or when it is hot. Electronic control would allow more sophisticated evaporation for more consistent effect
  • Perfumes may be constructed with variable display properties that can be put on in variable quantities, with their precise effect controlled automatically by intelligence in the makeup or active skin
  • Make-up effects may be remotely controlled
  • Make-up may include light-emitting chemicals or electronics that are co-ordinated using active skin
  • Medicines may be administered on detection of allergenic agents such as pollen or chemicals
  • Active cosmetics may include actuators to contract the skin. The actuators would be based in small skin capsules* that would send thin wires into the skin to anchor themselves, and other wires to connect to other capsules
  • Intelligence in the cosmetics might be in constant or occasional communication with the manufacturer. This permits control of the effects by the manufacturer, and the capability to offer usage based licenses, making makeup into an ongoing service rather than a single product. This is implemented by adding active skin components that together communicate with nearby network connections
  • Cosmetics may adapt in appearance depending on the presence of signals. These signals may originate from other people’s active skin or from environmental systems. People wearing such cosmetics could thus look different to different people. Also, corporate styles could be implemented , controlled by building signalling systems.
  • Cosmetics may adjust automatically to ambient light conditions and local colours, allowing automated co-ordination with clothing and furnishing
  • Cosmetics may adjust their properties as part of an emotion detection and display system. This can be used to enhance emotional conveyance or to dampen emotional signals. They may also act as part of a psychological feedback loop that permits some emotional control

14     Digital mirror

  • A digital mirror, as described on my web site, has a combination of a camera and display that can show an image that may be the true image as the user, or a modified version of the user’s image. This disclosed concept is part of a wider non-disclosed system
  • Smart cosmetics may be used in conjunction with such a digital mirror
  • The cosmetic manufacturer or a service provider may use such a digital mirror to provide the customer with an enhanced view of themselves with various options, co-ordinating the application of smart make-up by means of ‘make-up by numbers’, and controlling its precise properties after application. Active skin components that are clinic installed could be used to provide the positioning systems and intelligence for the upper layers of removable cosmetics.
  • The customer would apply a quantity of makeup and then watch as various potential makeup effects are illustrated. On selection, that effect would be implemented, though several additional effects and contexts could be selected and assigned, and appropriate context effects implemented during the day. The effects could include the mechanical removal of wrinkles by means of actuators included in smart cosmetics*. Skin-based displays* may also form part of the overall effect.
  • Medicines may be applied in a similar way under control by a clinic.
  • Cosmetics may be controlled under license so that customers do not have unlimited freedom of appearance while wearing them. They may only be seen in a limited range of appearance combinations.

15     Active and emotional jewellery

  • Active Bindies, nose studs or other facial jewellery could be used as relatively deep implants to pick up reasonably good nerve signals from the brain as part of an EEG patch system*. These may be used to control apparatus via a signal recognition system.
  • Bindi would be top layer over active skin sub-layers and could contain much more complex chip than could be implanted in active skin
  • May contain battery and be used as power supply for sub-layers
  • Sub layers pick up clean signals from around scalp and send them to bindi for processing
  • Communication between devices may be radio or at high frequency via scalp
  • Infrared or ultrasound transmitter built into bindi relays the signals directly to external apparatus
  • Processing may recognise and process in-situ, transmitting control signals or data to external apparatus
  • Bindi may change appearance or include a display that reacts according to the signals detected
  • May act as emotion conveyance device
  • Signals from sensors in or on the skin can be used to pick up emotional cues, that are often manifested in changes in blood pressure, pulse rate, blood chemistry, skin resistivity and various muscular activity, some of which is subconsciously activated.
  • Collecting and analysing such data permits a range of electronics that responds to emotional activity. The active bind is just one piece of jewellery that may be useful in this regard, and is limited by culture.
  • Other forms of emotional jewellery may use displays or LEDs to indicate the wearer’s emotional state. Almost any form of jewellery could be used as part of this system, since active skin components that collect the data do not have to be in physical contact with the display devices
  • Active skin displays* may form part of this emotional display system
  • Active jewellery may also display data from other systems such as external computers or communication devices. This communication may be via active skin communication systems
  • Displays around the body may co-ordinate their overall effect via active skin devices
  • Emotions in groups of people may be linked together forming ‘emotilinks’ across the network, linking sensors, actuators, drug delivery systems and nerve stimulation together in emotion management systems. Drug delivery systems may instead dispense hormones
  • These systems may be linked into other electronic systems
  • Emotional messages may be sent that electronically trigger emotions in the recipient according to the intentions or emotions of the sender. Emotional email or voice messaging results. This enhances the capability and reach of communications dramatically.
  • Active jewellery such as a smart signet ring could be used as part of an authentication or security system, that may involve biometrics at any active skin layer as well as conventional electronic components and data that may also be housed in active skin

16     Active fingerprints

  • Active skin in the finger tip would greatly enhance interfacing to security systems and also to computer system interfaces, which can be made much more tactile
  • Smart fingerprints may include chips, passive ID, pressure indication, pressure transducers, vibration devices, interface and powering devices
  • Patterns and circuits built into the fingertips can link directly with external equipment by touch
  • Inductive loop in finger tip makes for simple ID system
  • Electronic signals can be conveyed in each direction for identification or programming or data transfer via contacts in the skin
  • A persons personal profile may be downloaded to an external system from data in the skin via such contacts. A computer can thus adapt instantly to the person using it
  • Data may be similarly ‘sucked up’ into body based storage via such contacts
  • Other devices elsewhere on the skin may be temporarily connected via high frequency transmission through the skin to the external system
  • Patterns visible in infrared or UV regions may be used
  • Ultrasonic vibrations may be used
  • Synthetic textures may be produced by keys by means of producing different vibration patterns than material would normally produce. This would assist greatly in the use of virtual environments to create synthetic objects
  • Actuators based on for example muscle wire can be used to stretch the skin in various directions, which conveys much information to the body on texture and other feedback. This can be by means of a rectangular wire with muscle wire between two opposite corners
  • Heat and cold can be produced as a feedback mechanism
  • Positioning systems incorporating the fingertips by means of inductive loop tracking, motion detectors and dead reckoning systems, allow interaction with virtual objects.
  • People could type in air, and feel physical feedback on interaction with objects, particularly useful in surgery using robotic tools.
  • Active skin with muscle wires implanted or imprinted at finger joints give a force feedback mechanism
  • Links between people may be formed by linking sensors in one person’s joints to actuators in another person’s. This would be useful for training purposes.
  • Vibrating membranes may be used as a signalling device. Vibration can be implemented via muscle wires or piezoelectric crystals in the detachable layer. These would allow personal signalling systems, ringing vibration, and development of synthetic senses*.
  • They may have some use in insect repellence if vibrations are ultrasonic
  • Micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMs) implanted in the fingertips would allow a fingertip to be used as a mouse for a computer, by tracking movement accurately
  • Fingertip sensors could similarly be used to capture textures for re-use in virtual environment applications
  • Textures can be recreated in the fingertips by means of vibration devices
  • Electronic cash could be transferred through active fingerprints which also contain the authentication mechanisms as well as the means to transfer the cash
  • Short term software licenses could be implemented in this way, with the fingertip effectively holding a dongle

17     Ultrasonic monitors

  • An array of active skin devices may be arranged around the abdominal region of a pregnant woman, that would allow easy periodic ultrasonic monitoring of the baby during pregnancy.
  • Some patches of active skin would house ultrasound generators, and others would house ultrasound receivers. The system is therefore capable of bathing the baby in a well defined ultrasound field for monitoring purposes.
  • The patterns of reflections can be analysed by either processors in active skin or by a remote device, either worn or via the network, e.g. at a clinic. This produces images of the baby that can determine whether there is a problem. For instance, heartbeat and baby movements can easily be monitored.
  • Growth of cancers may be monitored in much the same way, with alerts automatically sent to hospital via the network if tumour size or growth rate exceeds a defined limit
  • A simple microphone may be sufficient for just heartbeat monitoring if that is all that is needed.
  • Ultrasonic communication to an external systems or another active skin device nearby.

18     Touch and proximity sensitive membranes

  • A region of active skin on the arm may be used as a data entry device such as a keyboard by means of adding positioning information such as digital paper patterns or other indication of location.
  • A simple circuit completion would suffice that could be implemented by contacts in close proximity that are connected when pressed, or by a sudden change in resistance or capacitance
  • Arm-embedded components can interact with active fingerprint components to enable easy data entry. Data may be transferred between arm and finger components
  • Different components in different fingers increase dramatically the range of combinations available. Different fingers may represent different tools in a drawing package for example
  • Visible patterns on the arm could indicate where the letters or other keys are. This indication could be a simple ink pattern.
  • Alternatively, display components in the skin may be used to create a dynamic keyboard or interface with different inputs according to application
  • Alternatively, a virtual display in a head-up display worn by the user could indicate the position of the appropriate keys without any visible pattern on the skin. Positioning may be by means of image analysis or by means of processing of the inputs from various inbuilt strain gauges
  • With a virtual display, no components at all are actually required in the arm to implement the minimal system (similar systems already exist with purely virtual keyboards).
  • Deeper ink patterns could enable a longer term keyboard
  • Data from the interface can be stored locally in memory implants or relayed at high frequency across the skin to other active skin system components
  • This could be used as a dialling keypad for cellphones
  • It may be used to enter security identification codes
  • A keyboard may be implanted in the palm of the hand as an alternative to the forearm to allow a computer to be effectively a ‘palm computer’, a ‘digital computer’, calculator or
  • interface to any electronic device carried on the person or across the network
  • signals from the interface may be relayed by a radio device elsewhere on the body

19     Use of strain gauges for touch sensitivity

  • A high degree of touch sensitivity is afforded by the body’s own sensory system, so this could act as a very high precision interface for some applications. The amount of pressure, or characteristics of strokes may be easily detected by the wearer to accurately control their input. Detection of this input can be by means of strain or relative position sensors
  • Alternatively, in later generations of the devices, signals may be directly picked up from the nervous system and appropriate analysis used to determine the precise input.
  • Touch or proximity sensors such as capacitors, inductors, piezoelectric strain gauges, movement detectors, or other devices in the arm can detect key-presses or drawing movements and could act as a mousepad
  • Relative movement between active skin components in touch sensitive membranes indicates not only what has been pressed but also by how much
  • Movement may be measured by change of capacitance between components, or change of resistance in conductive polymers attached to the skin, by induction changes, change of skin resistance itself, accumulated mechanical stress measurement or by other means
  • A system comprised of a range of such gauges and position sensors in various parts of the body may be used to gather a great deal of data about the movement of the body.
  • This may be used extensively in training and correction applications by means of force feedback or sensory amplification.
  • Force feedback or other actuator components* would give a signal or apply a force back to the body on detection of various parameter values. Movements may be precisely recorded and recreated via force feedback.
  • An expert recording the correct procedure can use such recording and force feedback to ‘play back’ a correct movement into the student. Repeated practice of the correct movement would enable rapid training
  • Computer games may also make use of this system in a ‘training mode’, where users learn to behave appropriately, thus improving the quality of game play
  • Highly specialised interfaces may be developed using a collection of appropriately configured gauges or sensors, with appropriate force of signal feedback devices
  • Such systems may be used to record the behaviour of people or animals for research, monitoring or policing purposes
  • Signal feedback systems may allow direct correction of such behaviours. See alarm systems.
  • The means to directly associate a movement or behaviour with pain would be a valuable means of training and controlling animals or criminals. Such feedback may also be linked to emotional states to control aggression for example. A combination of movements, position or emotional state may be used to prohibit certain behaviours in certain locations.
  • Strain gauges would be an important component of avatar based communication systems to allow the direct physical interaction of people across a network, whether a handshake or a hug or something more.

20     Force feedback and other actuators in skin

 

  • A range of actuators may be implanted or injected for various purposes
  • Muscle wires may be used as simple actuators
  • Some polymer gels may be made to respond mechanically to various stimuli. These may be used as synthetic muscles in some systems and membranes composed of these may be key active skin components
  • Membranes with arrays of holes may be used to control drug delivery as part of an active skin system. Such membranes may be dumb, or may contract in response to electronic or thermal stimuli from other components. Obviously holes will contract as the membrane contracts, thereby giving a means of controlling drug dosing
  • Such membranes may provide a convenient means of allowing blood exchange for blood cleaning and processing (e.g. for dialysis)
  • Ultrasonic actuators may be used or signalling between devices
  • Lower frequency may be used to create sensation of texture
  • Stretching, compression and torsion may be used in force feedback and signalling
  • Actuators may be used to open or close holes in the skin or activate skin conduits*
  • These holes may be used usefully as part of drug delivery systems or as a means of implanting devices or other materials
  • They may be used extensively as part of force feedback and interface devices as described above for training, communication, monitoring or corrective purposes
  • Systems using combinations of such force feedback and actuators may be used for medical purposes
  • Holes with actuators mounted across them may be opened or closed on command
  • These work in conjunction with higher layers to allow smart and precise drug delivery in a feedback loop with monitoring systems. Health or nerve signal monitors may allow direct control of such holes and actuators in drug dispensers
  • Actuators may respond directly to skin temperature
  • Actuators may form part of alarm systems
  • Exoskeletal structures based on actuators may be implemented to give physical assistance or support, especially for disabled or frail people. This would require large areas of such actuator membranes
  • Physical appearance may be controlled to a degree by such membranes or implants, that would shape the body, reduce wrinkles, reduce the impact of fat, tone muscles etc
  • They may work in conjunction with electrical stimuli for muscle toning, which currently needs external pads and power supplies

21     Active contact lens

  • Active contact lens has been wholly disclosed in the form of a removable contact lens that acts as a dumb display
  • It could however be differently realised by using active skin instead of a detachable contact lens
  • Active contact lens may include actuator components that stretch or compress the eye to correct vision for all distances
  • Lens components could be implanted in eye surface using above techniques
  • Signals displayed may originate in other active skin components elsewhere on body
  • Processing may be embedded in nearby skin outside the eye
  • Powering could be inductive or ultrasonic
  • Tracking of the eyeball can be in conjunction with other nearby components such as proximity and position detectors
  • Light may be produced externally (e.g. by lasers adjacent to the eyeball) and the lens merely reflects it to its proper destination by means of micromirrors
  • Lens film may contain identification circuitry or data that can be conveyed to an external system by passive recognition or active transmission
  • Images seen by the eye may be processed and recorded by nearby active skin components and relayed to storage or transmitted on a network
  • Appropriate implanted dyes could facilitate ultraviolet vision
  • Appropriate infrared detectors and lasers may be used to enable infrared vision
  • Other sensory data from sensors elsewhere on the skin or fully externally, may be projected in the image produced by the active skin implant

22     Skin-based processing, memory, and consumer electronics

 

  • Miniaturised circuitry will soon allow very small versions of many popular devices.
  • These circuits may fit in a single skin capsule or be distributed across several capsules.
  • These capsules contain means to connect with others and with the outside as well as housing some electronics capability
  • They will be able to produce phones, calculators, computers, storage devices, MP3 players, identifiers, electronic cash, text readers, scanners
  • Some of these would benefit from being implemented in active fingerprint systems
  • Capsules may be directly injected or inserted into a skin conduit, perhaps facilitated by various actuators for positioning and connection
  • They may be easily ejected by the skin conduits if necessary
  • Ingestion or ejection may be by means of peristaltic motion of the skin conduit, facilitated by means of contractible rings
  • A wide range of sensors are now available in watches and other small wearable devices, to monitor parameters such as air and skin temperature, air pressure, direction, blood pressure, pulse, heart beat, walking distance, GPS location and navigation, paging, infrared controls, voice recording and others. Many of these can be sufficiently miniaturised to be embedded in or on one or more active skin layers. The performance of some of the sensors would be improved
  • Membrane based transfers implementing these devices may be easily attached to the skin and easily removed if required. They may co-operate with other permanent or temporary active skin devices
  • Transfer based electronic jewellery* may interact with smart cosmetics* and other inbuilt processing or memory

23     Body-avatar link

  • Avatars will be an important communication tool in the near future. Avatars may be controlled manually or via video image interpretation, which is complex and invasive. Active skin presents an efficient means of accurately controlling avatars.
  • Sensors in skin at key parts of the body, e.g. finger joints, hands, wrists, elbows and face can be used to detect body movement and position.
  • They may also detect emotional state and audio
  • Data from the sensors may be transmitted to a central body transmitter for collation, pre-processing or simply transmission
  • This information is relayed via active skin or other transmitters to a computer, phone or other conferencing device. The phone may itself be an active skin component
  • The body position and movement information is transmitted across the link, and used to control the avatar movements directly
  • Interactions between avatars in virtual space are relayed back to the people involved via force feedback membranes, pressure transducers, smart fingerprints to convey texture, and direct nerve stimulation using nerve links.
  • A highly sensory realistic communications link is thus established between the inhabitants of the virtual environment which is potentially far richer than that which may be obtained without the use of active skin or a full body suit.
  • Inhabitants need not be real people, but may be synthetic entities such as computer game characters or interactive TV avatars
  • Almost all functions of body suits may be replaced by active skin components, which do not interfere with normal clothing and are therefore much less invasive
  • If all the above components are implemented in active skin, it is possible that avatars may be controlled without the knowledge of anyone else present, making a very discrete interface
  • Instead of controlling avatars, the link may be used to directly control a robot. Sensors in the robot could be linked to senses in the human, allowing a high quality implementation of telepresence and teleaction. This would be very useful for surgery or for maintenance in hostile environments. It would also be useful for police or military use to control robots or androids in hostile environments.
  • Surgical applications could be enhanced by filtering and pre-processing the body movements and possible translating them into a appropriate actions for robotic surgical apparatus. For example, large jerky hand movements may be converted into small smoother scalpel movements.
  • Again, such systems may be used extensively for training or correction purposes, or for interaction with computer games
  • Interactive TV may use such avatar links to permit greater participation of remote audience members
  • Visual systems may be linked to such active skin avatar links so that people can interact with avatars on the move rather than just when confined to a conferencing suite or in front of a computer monitor
  • This permits people to interact fully with virtual objects and characters overlaid in the real environment

24     EEG patches

 

  • An array of smart skin patches on the scalp could be arranged to collect electrical signals from the brain.
  • Such devices could make it less invasive for EEG patients who need repeated investigation
  • Devices would signal using high frequency electrical signals or by ultrasound to other sensors or collectors or processors.
  • Signals could be relayed to external apparatus by a single contact point or by means of radio aerials, LEDs or an active bindi.
  • Such signals may be used for conventional medical analysis purposes,
  • or may be used for thought recognition purposes, whereby pattern recognition technology is applied to analysis of the signals from the various sensors.
  • Sensors need not only be on the scalp, but could be anywhere on the body, such as fingertips.
  • Lie detection may be implemented using a combination of data regarding such brain signals and other data regarding emotional state, blood hormone or other chemical content, skin conductivity, temperature, pulse etc All of these data types are liable to address by active skin variants
  • Signals from the scalp may be used to control medical prostheses to assist disabled people. The intention to move an arm could result in the arm moving for example. Nerve signals for such applications may be detected on the scalp, or nearer to the prosthesis.
  • Active skin in the stump could be used for this purpose and also to inject synthetic senses back into the nervous system by way of feedback from the prosthesis
  • Such patches may be used as a component of a policing system for criminals, whereupon certain types of thought pattern result in the creation of pain

25     Use with or in place of active clothing

 

Many of the applications discussed above would work well in harmony with active clothing, most of which is known technology. Active clothing already houses consumer electronics, reacts thermally and optically to the environment, monitors body activity, reports on injuries and casualty location, injects antibiotics, antiseptics and anaesthetics in case of battlefield injury. A wide variety of other ‘smart’ capabilities is also available off the shelf or in prototype.

Some of these clothes require data that can best be obtained by active skin. For example:

  • Active skin can house the identity and personal profile for use by active clothing
  • Active clothing may provide the power supply or communications for active skin
  • Active clothing may contain medical apparatus that is controlled in conjunction with active skin and a remote clinic
  • Active skin may actually replace some clothing in terms of thermal and chemical protection
  • Active skin may act as a final line of defence on a battlefield by filtering out hostile bacteria, viruses or chemicals and in due course act to protect against nanotechnology or micro-technology attack
  • Active skin may physically repair organic skin tissues or augment them with self-organising self-constructing membranes
  • Active skin may contain synthetic hairs that may be extended or contracted to provide variable thermal protection, and also to help filter out bacteria
  • With a high degree of such protection against nature, clothing may be more optional, especially if active inks and other display components are used to change the optical appearance of the body for cultural reasons
  • Key active skin components of this system are displays, actuators, sensors, reservoirs, membranes, processors, signalling and aerials

26     Skin capsules

  • A range of skin capsules for various purposes may be developed, which are capable of being injected into the skin by high pressure air, or inserted through skin conduits
  • Skin conduits themselves may be implanted as a special case of skin capsules. They may start off as a spherical device and then open up into a ‘pore’ once implanted
  • Skin capsules may contain drugs or other chemicals for various purposes
  • They may house substantial quantities of electronics for processing, memory, analysis or sensory purposes
  • They may house MEM devices that are capable of mechanical interaction with surrounding tissues
  • They may house a range of actuator devices or wires
  • They may house wires for the purpose of connection to nearby capsules or devices, for example to make antennas
  • They may house identification devices or data
  • These wires may be metallic, organic polymer, shape memory alloy, memory plastic, or buckminster fullerene tubes
  • Capsules may be made of any materials that is largely inert regarding body tissues. Titanium and its alloys, glass and ceramics, diamond film coated materials, gold, platinum and surgical steel and many plastics, as well as some biodegradable and soluble materials etc would be good for some purposes, but other materials may be better for some purposes

27     Drug delivery system

  • Drugs may be administered under control by means of active skin systems
  • Membranes may be contracted so that the holes shrink and drugs cannot permeate as quickly through the membrane
  • Blood chemistry may be analysed by active skin lower layers to detect the amount of drugs needed in order to control such membranes. They can also monitor the rate of diffusion of the drug into the bloodstream
  • Clinics can communicate via the network with such systems and active skin devices react to such communication to effect drug delivery under remote supervision, while sensors in the body transmit their information via aerials to the clinic
  • Membranes may be made to react to environmental conditions such as pollen content. These can then form part of the sensory array as well as permitting appropriate diffusion of anti-allergy drugs
  • Drugs may be contained in external reservoirs or in skin capsules* or in patches e.g. nicotine patches. The rates of diffusion may be altered by means of active membranes or via skin conduits.

28     Animal husbandry technology

  • Active skin drug delivery systems* may be used extensively on farm livestock to control drugs use on a wide scale
  • Captured wild animals may be tagged and fitted with such systems to control their reproduction or behaviours, or to protect them against diseases
  • Active skin tags may be used to track and monitor the behaviour of such animals
  • Sensory stimulation and translation devices may be used to train animals for certain tasks
  • This may also be used in conjunction with control systems to automatically steer or co-ordinate groups of animals
  • Sensory systems in individual animals may be linked together with others, not necessarily of the same species, to make super-sensory collections of animals with unusual properties
  • Robotic animals may be able to interface with real ones by manipulating their sensory inputs
  • Drug development may be enhanced by gaining extra feedback via active skin technology on the condition of animals being experimented upon