Temporary tattoo tech

Charles Q. Choi, writing at Txchnologist and republished by io9, has written an article about an incredible new experimental technology -- temporary tattoos that can translate the product of thought into useful digital signal.

Choi writes:

Commanding machines using the brain is no longer the stuff of science fiction. In recent years, brain implants have enabled people to control robotics using only their minds, raising the prospect that one day patients could overcome disabilities using bionic limbs or mechanical exoskeletons.

But brain implants are invasive technologies, probably of use only to people in medical need of them. Instead, Coleman and his team are developing wireless flexible electronics one can apply on the forehead just like temporary tattoos to read brain activity.

"We want something we can use in the coffee shop to have fun," Coleman says.


In past studies, Coleman's team found that volunteers could use caps studded with electrodes to remotely control airplanes and flew an unmanned aerial vehicle over cornfields in Illinois. Although the electronic tattoos currently cannot be used to pilot planes, "we're actively working on that," Coleman says.

These devices can also be put on other parts of the body, such as the throat. When people think about talking, their throat muscles move even if they do not speak, a phenomenon known as subvocalization. Electronic tattoos placed on the throat could therefore behave as subvocal microphones through which people could communicate silently and wirelessly.

"We've demonstrated our sensors can pick up the electrical signals of muscle movements in the throat so that people can communicate just with thought," Coleman says. Electronic tattoos placed over the throat could also pick up signals that would help smartphones with speech recognition, he added.

This stuff is really cool, and, being right around the corner, renders quite a lot of my standing sci fi assumptions useless.  (One of my Clarion application stories makes roughly no sense given a world with this technology.  Not that there's no way to patch that.)

Also, it seems to me a short step from telepathy-enabling temporary tattoos to telepathy-enabling permanent tattoos.  Which I want.  Very much.


Today's the first full day at Readercon, so this post is coming to you from the mysterious past, and ANYTHING could have happened since I wrote this post.  There could have been a super-volcano.  Causality might have stopped working.  Another cookie company's flagship product might have come out of the closet. I'm back from the first evening of Readercon, though, so I can tell you what happened on Thursday night.

The first panel I went to was about portrayals of medicine in SF -- mostly, about their absence.  Through that panel, I discovered the Spoon Theory, a method for explaining what it's like to have Lupus, or any other chronic illness without obvious signs.

Most people start the day with unlimited amount of possibilities, and energy to do whatever they desire, especially young people. For the most part, they do not need to worry about the effects of their actions. So for my explanation, I used spoons to convey this point. I wanted something for her to actually hold, for me to then take away, since most people who get sick feel a “loss” of a life they once knew. If I was in control of taking away the spoons, then she would know what it feels like to have someone or something else, in this case Lupus, being in control.


I asked her to count her spoons. [...] She counted out 12 spoons. She laughed and said she wanted more. I said no, and I knew right away that this little game would work, when she looked disappointed, and we hadn’t even started yet. I’ve wanted more “spoons” for years and haven’t found a way yet to get more, why should she? I also told her to always be conscious of how many she had, and not to drop them because she can never forget she has Lupus.

I also got referred back to an article by Elizabeth Bear on Charles Stross's blog, that I read in 2011 and had mostly forgotten about.

The more research I do into human neurology--and writing Dust and the other two Jacob's Ladder books required more about brains than I ever wanted to know--the more convinced I become that we, human we, are not divorceable from our meat. In one of the Jenny Casey books, I have a artificial intelligence researcher protest to her creation that he's nothing but piezoelectrical patterns in crystal; he retorts that she is, likewise, piezoelectrical patterns in meat. And while that remains true... the shape of the circuitry, and the neurochemical baths that wash it, have a hell of a lot of influence over who we are.

I'm not sure this was the specific feminist critique of the singularity that she mentioned in the panel, but it quotes a large chunk of an earlier piece.

The second session was about the utility of realistic fiction, which was fascinating, but didn't give me a huge amount of stuff to link to.  (They referenced a blog post I haven't yet been able to find, but it's in my notes.)

I'll be taking careful notes over the course of the weekend, and will be coming back on Monday with a lot of stuff to talk about.  For the remainder of the weekend, Mike has a book review that's going up today, and an "Ask A Star Wars Geek" installment for Saturday.

Vernor Vinge at Google

Today is a good day for good video.  Jane McGonigal released a new TED talk, John Green put up his first video on Fahrenheit 451, which I can't watch yet because I haven't gotten around to reading the first section of the book[EDIT: I caved, and am watching it now.  I guess It'll just inform my reading when I get around to it.], and Vernor Vinge's Author Talk at Google went up. I've been meaning to start catching up on Vernor Vinge's thinking and writing for a while now, because he's one of the popular names in the Singularity conversation -- he's the guy who came up with that name.  Personally, my opinion on the Singularity went back and forth for a while, and has now settled into a comfortable state of "I have no ████ing clue what's going on, but I don't think things are going to be the way they are now, this time next year."

This Google Talk turned out to be a pretty nice way to start to dip my toes in -- I found I could follow all of it, which was a plus, and I liked that it explored more Vinge's portrayals of the Singularity in fiction, rather than his beliefs about it in real life -- which seem, largely, to be:  He thinks it will happen, but accepts the possibility it won't, and doesn't have the remotest clue what it will entail.

Here's the talk, also embedded below:

And if you're not familiar with Google Author Talks, it's a channel all on its own, and generally features a few talks a week, mostly around an hour long.  I watch all but the ones that seem really, really boring.  There are probably at least some that would interest you.