MSP30: Scary Monsters & Super Creeps

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Scary Monster & Super Creeps

Remote control cockroaches, DNA tracking and cloud incarceration. The future is a strange place to visit. It’s time to Mattsplain.


After a week away, could it be that Kulturpop’s Matt Armitage has been energised by the mood of optimism sweeping Malaysia? You might as well ask a fish to run a marathon. We’re diving back into the murky depths of Matt’s minds, as he takes a look at some of the darker discoveries on the horizon. It’s time to Mattsplain. 

Couldn’t you have done a bit more of the happy happy joy joy stuff? Just for one week?

·      Hey, I have done my best to be upbeat and uplifting over the past few weeks.

·      It’s not my fault that you were away on holiday and missed it all.

·      I've been talking about empowerment, and how we don't need to be in thrall to powerful institutions like technology companies.

·      And I think it must have rubbed off. Look at the election result.


I can confidently say that had nothing at all to do with you.

·      And rightly so. I wouldn’t have wanted it to have anything to do with me.

·      If it had, you would all be being ruled by a feline artificial intelligence called King Jafar.

·      Which would be good for me, as Instagroom Governing Services, my latest company, would have controlled most government expenditure, and I would probably have built an enormous skate park based on the shape of my belly.

·      And Despite The topic of today’s show, it’s not about negativity and doom and gloom. At least, I don’t think so.

·      I wanted to have a look at some of the weirder and more bizarre Technologies that have been announced recently.


A fun Friday at last?

·      I don’t want to write checks that my mouth can’t cash, so I’m not going to give you any guarantees.

·      But I intend to have fun.


[Jeff makes grumbling type noise and negative comment]

·      One of the things I’ve had a lots of feedback about from the shows over the past few weeks was the idea of putting chips in your head.

·      I think that people found the idea of sharing their consciousness with a sentient machine a little bit alarming.

·      I can understand that. Weird as it seems this type of enhancement and biohacking is going to become increasingly commonplace over the next few decades.

·      And this week I watched a movie called Anon, written and directed by Andrew Nichol, the man behind Gattaca, In Time, Truman Show and a bunch of other dystopian movies.

·      Without giving too much away, it’s about a society without anonymity. Where your eyesight is essentially CCTV, everything is recorded and uploaded to the cloud, where it can be accessed by Govt officials.

·      Access to that cloud also enables all citizens to see information about every person they meet.

·      Your eyesight becomes an augmented reality layer. Even the electronic billboards on buildings are virtual.

·      And I realized that this dovetails quite nicely with what I’ve been talking about the last few weeks.


That it’s a really bad idea?

·      No. More that it’s a really good idea that could have really bad consequences.

·      One of the aspects that is becoming increasingly apparent when we talk about biohacking and DNA tweaking and what are terrifyingly called smart babies,

·      Interestingly, a smart baby is still less useful than a smart toaster

·      One of the aspects is the potential to create tiered societies.

·      Or rather, even more tiered societies.

·      Creating in a sense what you might call superhumans, who would be able to continue to advance themselves or those like them at the expense of the vast majority of people who can’t afford these enhancements.

·      In the movie Anon, everyone seems to have these enhancements equally. Which is good.

·      Those enhancements are used for surveillance, which is bad, obviously.


Let’s stick with this enhancement angle. We’ve talked a few times now about DNA projects, where governments are trying to harvest the DNA of all their citizens and sequence it in the name of public health.

·      That’s right. On the face of it this is a really good idea.

·      Medical technology allows us to live longer, one of the downsides of that from cost perspective is that we stay alive while our bodies slowly fall to pieces.

·      See. I’m being cheerful.

·      That kind of DNA sequencing would show what types of illnesses or cancers or conditions we might be susceptible to.

·      It’s certainly not a foolproof system. You can’t tell with any degree of certainty what illnesses are person will get any more than you can guarantee that they will not get something else.


But it does mean that you can be monitored and tested for certain conditions and treated early.

·      Yes. And this is a growing trend. There are a couple of stories in the Press this week about women who are opting for voluntary mastectomies at Quite a young age because they have a much higher than average chance of going on to develop breast cancer.

·      So this trend is very much already upon us. This kind of preventive medical treatment is going to be much more common until we can simply edit these genes out of our DNA, which is also something that is on the horizon.

·      As I’ve said in previous shows, there are both quality-of-life and cost aspects to this kind of medical approach.

·       Have a population that is healthier and can work productively for longer, which means they contribute taxes to the government and they help to increased national wealth.

·      At the other end of the spectrum, that means that they are incurring fewer medical costs on society, especially in terms of chronic or long-term conditions that require extensive and expensive treatment.

·      So, it’s a win-win for society.


The downside being that the government can track and monitor using your DNA?

·      If Chips and the head are very much like the film Anon then did DNA tracking is rather like Gattaca.

·      Of course, I will likely to have fewer reports on loans being taken out in your name or other kind of identity theft if everything is linked back to DNA samples, do we have any real guarantees how that information you somehow that data will be shared?


So that information could be used to deny us public services?

·      Yes. Using an example I’ve used on the show before, I’m wearing an Apple watch right now.

·      It has a permanent heartrate Sensor which I choose to turn off. I know that there is a current vogue for tracking your BP and heart rate. For a professional hypochondriac like me, that’s just a race to the darkest parts of Google search as I convinced myself I have and I’m probably harbouring 1 or  2 novel ones.

·      But it’s possible to envisage a future where and insurance company my demand that you have a health Tracker monitoring you at all times and that to suspend any part of its operation would invalidate your insurance.

·      Similarly, similarly, an insurance company– and health provider might suspend your coverage if you break their terms.

·      Let’s say you had liver problems and you promised not to drink alcohol. If it was determined that you had to drink, maybe through surveillance or maybe through monitoring of your blood, then you might find yourself having to pay for all your medical treatment in future because no one will be willing to cover you.


What you’re trying to say is that it’s important that we determine how these technologies will be used?

·      Yes. Because there’s potentially an even darker side to how this information might be used.

·      Is the technologies involved to get simpler to use and more affordable, we face the prospect of clutches conducting the kind of science experiments that would have been impossible outside multimillion dollar labs just a few years ago..

·      We’ve covered the biohacking movement a little bit on the show over the years, as we see more tools like 3-D bio printers becoming available, as well as extremely powerful computers that can simulate and model extremely massive datasets, we also run the risk of amateurs messing with genes and viruses in ways that would be impossible short time ago.


You mean bioterrorism?

·      Seems to be relating all of these things back to sci-fi movies, but I guess that’s just because our technology is finally catching up with people’s imagination, yes this is a bit like 12 monkeys.

·      At the moment the screening tools at airports look for explosives and drugs and guns hello the usual kind of prohibited items.

·      In the future we may have to get used to being screened the buyer weapons. Not just in our baggage that’s internally because in this scenario weaponized virus could actually be carried by an individual.

·      The person is the weapon, in more widely the person travels And more people are coming to contact with the wider the dispersal of the weapon.


Can we have some good news?

·      There’s lots of good news. The reports this week that the first effective cure for the common cold, rhinovirus, has been detected.

·      One of the factors to make secure for the cold so elusive is that what we call the common cold is actually hundreds of different viruses, or rather variations of those viruses.

·      We find a cure for one and the virus simply mutates into a form that the vaccine can’t treat.

·      Researchers at Imperial College London profound way to stop the rhino virus replicating.

·      I don’t pretend to understand this properly, they’ve found a way to stop the virus bonding with the enzymes that form a coat around them. This fatty layer is what allows them to Infect other cells.

·      Rather than exterminating the virus, it’s a bit like forming roadblock.

·      And this is much harder for the virus to overcome. Because as far as it’s concerned nothing’s wrong. It isn’t under attack, it is being sprayed with some viral weed killer that it can develop a tolerance to.

·      It simply doesn’t undergo that last stage of mutation that allows it to replicate.


When is this wonder drug going to cure our sniffles?

·      It still in the very early stages. They’ve tested it on human cells in a lab.

·      They’ve yet to do any clinical trials whether with animals and human beings.

·      It’ll be a few years yet, and don’t forget with all that Gene technology, it may only be a few years before we can simply edit out for edit in an immunity to Cold and flu virus at source.

·      Which goes back to the earlier point I made about Technology being made available to people equally to prevent this divide between humans and superhumans.


When we come back. Frightening news about remote controlled cockroaches.




We’re back. You’re listening to Mattsplained. This week Matt’s got scary monsters and super creeps lodged in his brain. And anything he gets infected with, he decides to share with the world.


Remote controlled cockroaches?

·      Despite what it sounds like this is actually a story about drones.

·      Wherever you look their seem to be stories about drones.

·      We have a jetpack story coming in Geeks later which is also part of this tale.

·      The big commercial and military UAVs, flying drones, really just normal aircraft without a Pilot. They have plenty of space for fuel.

·      With the remote-controlled consumer drones that are really popular right now, the main problem is flight time.

·      Flying requires a lot of power and energy. But once you start adding extra battery packs to something that flies it quickly becomes to stay in the air.


So scientists are making insect sized drones instead? Don’t they have the same power issues?

·      You’re on the right track. But more cyborg-y.

·      Researchers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have carried out experiments with M. torquata beetles and giving them tiny little backpacks.

·      Not for fashion reasons, in case you’re thinking this is Kanye west’s latest style experiment – if it were I’d call it Skeezy Yeezy.

·      Attached to the backpacks are electrodes that connect to the flight muscles of the beetle.

·      In that way see researchers were able to send electric pulses to the muscles and Remotely control the insects during flight, causing them to veer left or right as required.


And because they have their own power, they can stay in the air longer?

·      More than that they’re actually easier to fly than a drone.

·      Because flying is what they do. They’re much better adapted to life in the air,  wind currents and the other stuff that they do naturally and that we need banks of sensors to help us with.

·      And they’re really cheap. Building a tiny nanobot is expensive, bugs are literally everywhere.

·      The next step is to integrate stuff like carbon dioxide and infrared sensors and they could be used in disaster relief situations, such as looking for survivors under rubble and collapsed buildings.


And the cockroaches?

·      The Nanyang team believes you could saddle up most insects in a similar way.

·      Researchers in the US have already used drones to control cockroaches in a similar way and for the similar purposes.

·      In the future, the cockroach might be seen as a life saving device.


I remember a story from last year about drones replacing insects. Bees, I think.

·      That’s one of the things I find so fascinating about this kind of technology, the way it operates in both directions.

·      We’re talking about using organic life as a way to overcome weaknesses in our material technology.

·      We can also use that technology to plug gaps while we prepare damage to the organic life on the planet.


You mean geoengineering?

·      A little bit.

·      Back to your bees, we’ve had a lot of stories about her declining bee populations and the possible links to various pesticides.

·      A lot of countries are banning those chemicals it will take time to see if those measures are enough to allow the bee population to rebound.

·      In the meantime, some scientists are using drones to prepare for the worst-case scenario: a world without bees.

·      Bees and other insects pollinate as much as 75% of all the crops on our planet.

·      In the event of a bee die off, it’s possible that we could experience Global famine.

·      Eijiro Miyako and a team at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology have been creating drones that can do that pollination work.

·      Of course, this would be an expensive and last-ditch solution, because you would need millions of the machines to do the work.

·      It would be much better to find ways to save the bees, but anything beats starving to death.


You mentioned nanobots. How’s that technology coming along?

·      We talked about a lot of different types of nano box on the show.

·      We talked about tiny machines that could be injected into the bloodstream or other parts of the body and used to deliver targeted amounts of drugs to specific sales.

·      Kind of a highly honed chemotherapy treatment.

·      Generally we talk about machines that would dissolve harmlessly and Be excreted from the body.

·      What’s really worrying some trend watchers is the possibility for weaponised nanotechnology, similar to the threat of bioterrorism.

·      The idea is that a hostile state actor might release swarms of nano bots to Consume everything in their path.

·      I think we’ve talked about grey goo before…

·      Where the machine sleeve are biologically inert dust behind them.

·      It would block out sunlight in the sky. It would replace the soil. It would render huge areas and potentially the entire planet avoid of life and un inhabitable.


Would anyone do that?

·      Might get to a point where it is a bit like the nuclear weapons we have now.

·      The ultimate weapon as the ultimate deterrent.

·      Each side having so much weaponry that they can destroy the world 20 times over.

·      And that’s what stops you from doing it. It’s pretty much drunk guy logic as far as I can see.

·      So your opinion on it probably reflects how you think about nuclear weapons.

·      Certainly, on an individual level, studies have found that gun owners are more likely to shoot someone, so I would say that I’m ambivalent towards the idea of the deterrent at best.

·      And it’s much harder to undo technology and knowledge – unless you go ahead and destroy the world – than it is to not invent it in the first place.

·      So, I don’t think I’m looking forward to the world of nano-weapons.


Let’s go somewhere a little less dark. What about tiny homes?

·      The tiny homes movement is quite a cool one.

·      It’s a response to rising land and housing prices in developed countries.

·      Tiny homes are highly efficient but very small homes, often prefabricated, that can be erected quickly and cheaply and offer a decent standard of living.

·      They aren’t ideal family homes, but they suit older or childless couples and singles.

·      Some are single rise, landed, with small gardens or vegetable gardens, others are in blocks.

·      And there’s a mixture of new and converted purpose old architecture.


Is that the future, smaller spaces for everyone?

·      This is my personal opinion here – not a scientific one.

·      I think that tiny homes are great great idea from a population point of view.

·      I think they’re terrible idea from an economic point of view.

·      Let me explain that a little bit more.

·      If it’s a question of space, in that we need to find a balance between growing populations and the land area we need to grow food and still maintain some semblance of wild and natural land, then tiny homes makes sense.

·      As long as we still have communal green and recreational areas as well.

·      What we don’t want is for them to end up being virtual cocoons.

·      If we’re building them because rich people and buying up all the decent sized properties and forcing prices upwards, then they’re terrible idea.

·      Have you heard the term Landscraper?


[Jeff Replies] Yes or No

·      The terms being used for the huge campuses that a lot of technology companies are building.

·      Especially the ones that are being built in the heart of developed cities.

·      Critics argue that the land used for these huge sprawling low-rise low-density campuses could be much better use for the Affordable accommodation for ordinary people.

·       And let’s not forget that the people working on these campuses, many of whom are migrants to the area, Will then be looking for housing in the surrounding area which can in turn Price long-term residents out of their homes.

·      There are some really interesting stories about people who workers support staff on the tech campuses in silicon valley.

·      Often they were third-party agencies and help to run canteens and cleaning services there effectively homeless, and living out of their cars.

·      So I think we need to look at the kind of society we want to live in. Do we embrace tiny homes because we’ve made a conscious decision to sacrifice space for the sake of that society or are we saying that we are being forced into smaller and smaller housing units because of economic and technological inequality.


We haven’t talked about AI or robots yet?

·      I know we’re going to talk about Google and its auto response systems after the break in Geeks Squawk, so I won’t ruin that.

·      I don’t think there is any question that we’re heading for a much more automated future.

·      This is where I come back to my ongoing campaign for smart artificial intelligence.

·      Dumb machines are a real pain. Anyone who has tried human free check-in facilities or those horrible automated phone systems knows how painful they can be.

·      Machines are going to replace a lot of jobs. What specifically, the going to replace a lot of the jobs where normally we would expect to have a lot of interaction with the other person.

·      For example, things like loan approvals and other banking functions.

·      Airlines and Hotel desks. You know the kind of thing I’m talking about.


Things where a little bit of nuance is required…

·      Yes. Take me as an example, never good example.

·      Because I’m a foreigner in Malaysia, pretty much any transaction I try to do with the bank online is automatically rejected.

·      As soon as I enter a passport number instead of an IC number, my application for whatever is automatically declined.

·      I have to speak to a human being because there are other layers of documentation that I have to provide.

·      That’s fair enough.

·      As soon as you move to the system where there are no human beings, then all you have is machines that can follow a set guidelines, things can only be black or white, right or wrong.

·      We’re starting to see systems that this come into law enforcement. And even in determining sentencing at a judicial level.

·      I’m not saying that we shouldn’t machines involved in these processes or situations, until those machines have similar reasoning powers to a human, we certainly can’t call them a replacement.


Any final horror on the horizon?

·      Just a very quick one. I found this on a Gizmodo feed from a few years ago actually.

·      And it’s quite fascinating.

·      We talked earlier about technologies to extend life and enhance human beings.

·      Those same technologies could also be used to extend punishment for people.

·      You hear about people being given sentences are hundreds of years, especially in the United States.

·      We could use life extending treatments do actually make people serve those hundreds of years.

·      In fact, we could go beyond that, the bit like that black Mirror episode from last year.

·      Only get to the point where we can upload or share consciousness to the cloud, we could use that technology on criminals, uploading their consciousness to a virtual prison.

·      if that’s not weird enough, With a digital mind we can manipulate the concept of time.

·      We could speed up time and make someone serve 1000 years in space of a few hours, including all the rehabilitation.

·      I’d genuinely have no idea whether you would go mad in that time, or whether this approach would save money.

·      But it does go to show you what a strange place the future could turn out to be.

Matt Armitage