Self and identity

This week's readings all dealt with the notion of selfhood, from very different perspectives. The first highlighted the fact that we can be uniquely identified simply by wearing an item of mass-produced clothing that's been worn down based on our body and activity. The second discussed living forever in the context of transferring the human brain to a surrogate. The third showed that virtual and augmented reality can make us question our own concept of selfhood.

My strongest response came from the second article. I have been a follower of Kurzweil for a few years now, and have read his latest book How to Create a Mind which discusses the possibilities of whole brain emulation, storage, and access. I am convinced after reading this book that it will definitely be possible in the future to release ourselves from our biological "homes." Everyone knows by now that the brain is a massively-parallel processor. It works much slower than the average computer but its simultaneity of processing achieves a far higher computational output. Eventually our technology will progress to meet this demand, and then we will have the serious conversation about what to do with our bodies.

I think the third article ties into the exact spot where the second leaves off. If we're able to transplant/copy/emulate our brains for use with a virtual avatar, we will have essentially jumped into the virtual realm, never to return. And as virtual reality gets more "real" by the year, it seems logical to predict that we could be fully immersed in an alternative reality that is imperceptibly different than our current physical reality.

I don't think there's any question that this will happen, but we need to decide soon what kind of future we want for ourselves, and how to achieve it.


This week's wearable exploration centered on sound and hearing. I have always been fascinated with the idea of controlling our personal aural environments. There are a lot of sounds in the world that are not only annoying, but damaging to our ears. Most of the time you have no choice but to plug your ears with your fingers or just simply grimace through it.

To deal with this problem, I designed a hood with a built-in decibel meter. An LED attached to the hood illuminates when the sound around you reaches an unsafe level, urging you to put your hood up. The hood itself is designed with an internal air pocket to reduce the amount of sound vibration that reachers your ears.

Ideally the hood would be made out of a lightweight, breathable fabric, so that it's main focus is not to keep you warm, but to block sound. The LED could be improved by locating it in a more obvious location, or incorporating light into a different area of the garment.

Final project ideas

My group and I discussed three possibilities for our final project. The first is a general GPS tracker to learn more about the transit infrastructure in New York. We could develop a simple GPS module and move through the city with it, gathering location data that could then be visualized on a map. Another possibility is developing a low-cost, throw-away version in order to track things that we cannot physical be a part of.

The second idea is a randomized messaging system, wherein the user "rolls dice" or somehow uses probability to send a message to another person. If the messages were all pre-established, it could be a fun way to add unpredictability to the social text message scene.

The third idea is a goTenna-inspired project in which we try to create a way for two people to communicate off of the commercial networks. This one is less developed and would require significant hardware skills, which is why it might not be best suited to two-week timeline.

Staying in touch

I really loved the article Losing Our Touch and its historical account of the way human senses were perceived and valued in the time of Plato and Aristotle. I think we are at a similar Platonic moment in history where we are now very much obsessed with visual experiences, especially in our digital devices. However, I believe the next step for us, as was the case in ancient history, is a rekindling of real touch experiences.

My opinion is that Aristotle's argument in favor of touch as the most intimate sense couldn't be more true. There is a certain immediacy associated with touch that cannot be attained through any other sense. As we have now been using touch screens for almost a decade, we are beginning to feel the glass beneath our fingers, and we desire something more fulfilling.

Wearables do offer so much in this regard. They are on or close to our bodies, they can be used to detect truths about our bodies, and they are full of contextual cues, emotion, and cultural associations that give them great potential to expand the boundaries of what interfaces can be.

Wearable tel-empathy

I created a prototype of a wearable device that lets the wearer receive real feelings from another person, in their chest and gut. I was inspired by how often we have strong feeling that originate in that region of the body and yet we have no real way to convey them except through words or actions. This device would, for better or worse, duplicate the feelings experience by another person through transfer of exact muscle contractions, synapses, and neurons.

The device is about 6.5" x 4.5" and fits securely on the chest. The top most section is thinner and should fit in the concavity near the sternum. It's very thin and almost imperceptible to the wearer. It attaches to the body using a special adhesive that stick to skin but does not cause irritation. The skeleton of the device is a series of components that actuate neurons in the corresponding region of the chest and stomach.

Here is the first version of the prototype. It is slightly smaller than what I had envisioned because I could only find a 4-pack soda ring instead of a 6-pack. Ideally there would be holes in it to increase its breathability and decreased its footprint on the body.

Photo journal

I used to work in film and television production so whenever I see a shoot I get a little misty. It's the kind of thing where you forget the bad parts, e.g. the 14-hour days and the low pay, and you remember the camaraderie, that magic of making a film, and the memories that only come from spending hours on end with people, some who you barely know, who turn into good friends. I can't help identifying with this and I always feel the need to share it.

This wall is on West 4th Street opposite Washington Square Park. I have walked that block more than a few times and never noticed it, but it is one of the most ornate facades I've seen in the city. If I never noticed it, I figured other people may not have, so that's why I felt it was worth sharing.

I found this pin in the lobby of Bobst Library, as I was eating a breakfast sandwich on one of the benches. I think it is Islamic in some way, though I don't think it's the flag of a specific country (or at least I couldn't find the country it represents). It was very shiny and I left on the bench for someone else to find and/or claim. I probably shared this photo because I don't know that much about Islam and finding this flag pin reminded me of that somehow.

This pup is a temporary companion of mine, and this face was too precious not to capture. I think there is a gamesmanship related to cute pet photos; everyone wants to take the end-all cute photo but it is in fact impossible. Just when you think you've seen the cutest possible photo, along comes one that is cuter, and the cycle continues. This was my most recent contribution to that cycle.

I love this photo and was very eager to share it because it's a perspective not often seen (and isn't that what we all strive for in our photo sharing?). I was on the E train and the door to the driver's compartment was open. I was able to snap a photo of the interior of this compartment, which is not normally in public view. As a transit fanatic, I appreciate this because I'm always looking to better understand how the systems work.

Useful applications of custom cellular networks

Rolling your own cellular network would be really useful for custom applications involving sensor arrays out in the world. I have worked on a few noise mapping projects and having sensors communicate to each other while placed out in the world is usually difficult. Controlling the full GSM network would mean that you could potentially customize the way that your sensors communication with each other and with the base station. This could improve the efficiency of data collection.

My series of projects called Sonome were originally envisioned as standalone sensor modules that could either connect to the Internet using cellular data or run through wireless radios back to a base station that had an Internet connection. I think a custom GSM setup would be really great, except for the large startup budget necessary. I thought using XBees was expensive but the lowest-cost GSM base stations are around $700. However, for a project with a larger budget, I would definitely consider it.