Automated Casualties

Ismail Khan, one of London’s many homeless, died today after suffering an apparent heart attack as a result of being shocked by one of the automatic defensive units used by the city’s railway network.

Installed recently to prevent vandals destroying property, or terrorists from carrying out a possible attack, the death has sparked controversy and calls by civil rights groups to have the systems re-manned and monitored by humans in order to make more accurate judgement calls.

Khan, 31, was apparently looking for somewhere to sleep when he approached the perimeter fence along the tracks near New Cross Gate. Apparently unable to speak English, and ignoring the warning signs, he paid no attention to the automatic voice warning issued by the unit.

It is unknown if he has any family, or relatives.

From a UK news report, circa 2020.


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June 28, 2007

History Fragments: Some People Understood The Future

Written by on June 27, 2007 | History Fragments

Bruce Sterling was one of them, although, like most, he was way too optimistic, caught in the gaze of pursuit of wealth and the wonders of technology. A borderless world to some, if you played by the rules, but an open-aired prison to others that couldn’t, or wouldn’t.

I gently opined to the glum congressional committee that sealing borders in a world of location-aware technology is a futile effort doomed to an ignominious defeat. Yes sir, just like digital rights management!

Anyway, fact is, a passport is redundant – even if it’s crammed full of RFID chips that howl your ID to every passing parking meter. The US should do what the Japanese do: track every foreigner’s mobile. If he does anything freaky, jump on him.

Anybody without a mobile is not any kind of danger to society. He’s a pitiful derelict. Because he’s got no phone. Duh.

He also has no email, voicemail, pager, chat client, or gaming platform. And probably no maps, guidebooks, Web browser, video player, music player, or radio. No transit tickets, payment system, biometric ID, environmental safety sensor, or Breathalyzer. No alarm clock, camera, laser scanner, navigator, pedometer, flashlight, remote control, or hi-def projector. No house key, office key, car key… Are you still with me? If you don’t have a mobile, the modern world is a seething jungle crisscrossed by electric fences crowned with barbed wire. A guy without a mobile is beyond derelict. He’s a nonperson.

From Dispatches From the Hyperlocal Future, Wired Magazine, 26th June 2007:

Too bad over two billion people are nonpersons and derelicts.

History Fragments: Art Critic Or Vandal?

Written by on June 27, 2007 | History Fragments

Recent hi-tech artists who have been manipulating and planting arphids around major urban centres – reprogramming them with neo-luddite, anti-capitalist or anti-commercial art slogans, and even arranging them to form invisible digital graffiti – often cite The Splasher as being a historical inspiration in showing how it was possible to use street art to spread memes and create copycats.

The only clues left behind in the paint assaults were bold manifestoes – phrases like “destroy the museums, in the streets and everywhere” – that appeared to critique the commercialization of art.

Now it appears that there may be more than one Splasher, and those claiming responsibility for the attacks have offered additional information about themselves.

Art Critic or Vandal? ‘The Splasher’ Leaves Clues, New York Times, 27th June, 2007

History Fragments: Recycling Plastic

Written by on June 27, 2007 | History Fragments

A US company is taking plastics recycling to another level – turning them back into the oil they were made from, and gas.

All that is needed, claims Global Resource Corporation (GRC), is a finely tuned microwave and – hey presto! – a mix of materials that were made from oil can be reduced back to oil and combustible gas (and a few leftovers).

Giant Microwave Turns Plastic Back To Oil, New Scientist, 26th June 2007

History Fragments: Harnessing Untapped Brain Power

Written by on June 26, 2007 | History Fragments

Desney Tan, a researcher at Microsoft Research, and Pradeep Shenoy, a graduate student at the University of Washington, have devised a scheme that uses electro-encephalograph (EEG) caps to collect the brain activity of people looking at pictures of faces and nonfaces, such as horses, cars, and landscapes. The pair found that even when the subjects’ objective wasn’t to distinguish the faces from the nonfaces, their brain activity indicated that they subconsciously identified the difference. The researchers wrote software that churns through the EEG data and classifies faces and nonfaces based on the subjects’ response. When a single person viewed an image once, the system was able to identify faces with up to 72.5 percent accuracy. Results were even better using data from eight people who had viewed a particular image twice: accuracy jumped to 98 percent.

“Given that the brain is constantly processing external information,” says Tan, “we can start to use the brain as a processor.” In one scenario, he explains, pictures would be placed in people’s peripheral vision, which doesn’t require focused cognitive attention, so they could go about their daily tasks.

Human-Aided Computing, from the Technology Review, 22nd June, 2007