Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Future of Mind-Reading

When is the Time to Wind Down? Handelsblatt

'I Can't Breathe': An Excerpt From Matt Taibbi's New Book on the Eric ...
Matt Taibbi's new book, 'I Can't Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street," is out ... He sold tax-free cigarettes there, and he was good at it
“…The billionaires on Forbes’ 2017 ranking of the 400 richest people in America, (“The Forbes 400” p. 86 of the November 14, 2017 Special Issue of Forbes magazine), have a record-breaking, combined total net worth of $2.7 trillion, up from $2.4 trillion in 2016. The minimum net worth now required to be counted among the very richest Americans hit a record high of $2 billion, up from $1.7 billion in 2015 and 2016. There were 169 billionaires who did not make the cut.  However, even at these new heights, there were 22 - I'm rich - newcomers to this year’s list. The average net worth of a Forbes 400 member hit $6.7 billion, also a record high, up from $6 billion last year. “America’s richest are richer than ever. The minimum net worth to make the Forbes list of 400 wealthiest Americans is now a record $2 billion,” said Luisa Kroll and Kerry Dolan, assistant managing editors of wealth at Forbes Media. “But even at these new heights, entrepreneurs are breaking into the ranks for the first time as they mint fortunes in everything from Netflix and telecom to cold river vodka and fishing.”

by Dan

The Future of Mind-Reading

Almost everyone has an internal monologue -- that little voice inside your head which puts thoughts into words, but words that only you can “hear.” And it’s probably better that no one else can hear these often passing thoughts, as we tend to self-censor before those ideas become words which fly out of or out mouths or pens. Or, in other words: We can’t read each other’s minds -- and that’s probably a good thing.

But it may change. Somewhat.

When we think in words, our bodies get ready to speak. At times -- particularly when we’re reading, although hardly limited to that event -- this manifests itself in something called “subvocalization.” This mental prep manifests in our throats; as the Guardian notes, “inner speech is accompanied by tiny muscular movements in the larynx.” Those muscle movements are the first steps toward turning some of our thoughts into words, and importantly, they happen even if those thoughts are never carried further. If you can hear the words in your head, someone else can also see those very same words in your throat.

This isn’t a new discovery; we’ve known about this for a bit more than a century. Practically, though, there isn’t a lot we can do with these teeny-tiny movements. They’re hardly visible to the naked eye, and monitoring these movements requires that you have all sorts of sensors and doodads placed on your throat. Further, the tiny tremors created in one’s larynx by subvocalization aren’t complete sounds; it would require a lot of data to map these movements to comprehendible words or thoughts.

At least for now. Just ask NASA.

In 2004, the American space agency issued a press release describing their efforts to turn tiny throat movements into recognizable words. First, the space agency created “small, button-sized sensors” to be placed on the necks and under the chins of a willing group of participants. (Here's a picture.) Then, the test subjects were asked to say, to themselves and only in their minds, a handful of words: "stop," "go," "left," "right," "alpha" and "omega," and the numbers "zero" through "nine." The NASA software recorded the throat movements as those words were thought, creating a database 

against which it could track future movements. It worked; per the press release, "initial word recognition results were an average of 92 percent accurate."
The translations are, for the most part, basic, but that is something that further trials should be able to improve upon -- you just need to spend more time mapping more and more sounds. The larger leap, for now, is whether we can gather that information from a distance, without having to put sensors on the throats of those whose subvocalizations we aim to detect. NASA, per the same press release, was "testing new, 'noncontact' sensors that can read muscle signals even through a layer of clothing." To date, those haven't been successful -- and that may be for the better.

Bonus fact: One occupation which could benefit from translating subvocalizations into communications? Actors, at least if you take the advice of Brian Cranston. Cranston -- best known for his roles as Walter White in Breaking Bad and Hal (the dad) in Malcolm in the Middle -- also played Lyndon B. Johnson in the Broadway production of All the Way. In order to protect his voice, he took the advice of another Broadway actor, Audra McDonald. He explained that advice to NPR:

[McDonald] was starting to feel the strain on her vocal chords, and her ear, nose and throat doctor said I recommend strongly, in fact I'm telling you, to shut down on your one day off. Don't talk at all. And so she incorporated Mondays as her silent day. And I thought as a pre-emptive strike, I'm going to do the same.

Instead, one day a week, Cranston carried "little notepads and a whiteboard" with him, writing notes instead of speaking. (And yes, one of the notepads had a pre-written explanation as to why he was doing this.)

From the Archives: Alone in the Ocean: What if no one else could hear you speak? That's the fate of one unique whale, which speaks at a frequency well above the normal range of its species.

CRS report via FAS – U.S. Periods of War and Dates of Recent Conflicts, Barbara Salazar Torreon, Senior Research Librarian. October 11, 2017.
“Many wars or conflicts in U.S. history have federally designated “periods of war,” dates marking their beginning and ending. These dates are important for qualification for certain veterans’ pension or disability benefits. Confusion can occur because beginning and ending dates for “periods of war” in many nonofficial sources are often different from those given in treaties and other official sources of information, and armistice dates can be confused with termination dates. This report lists the beginning and ending dates for “periods of war” found in Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations, dealing with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). It also lists and differentiates other beginning dates given in declarations of war, as well as termination of hostilities dates and armistice and ending dates given in proclamations, laws, or treaties. The dates for the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are included along with the official end date for Operation New Dawn in Iraq on December 15, 2011, and Operation Enduring Freedom on Afghanistan on December 28, 2014. This report will be updated when events warrant.”