Nocturnal

nocturnalThe ground was flattened in places, leaves, mud and the telltale traces of blood ground up and stamped together. The small dots of plasma glowed bright green through the frames in his headset, alerting him of the path of his quarry. He smiled, taking off at a runner’s pace and following it to its source…

He didn’t bother to step carefully. A full out sprint and all the noise he was making as brushes slammed into him was entirely safe now. His last shot had struck home, one of them at any rate. The tiny trail of star-like dots would lead him to it, weakened and helpless from the wound. And then, nothing more to do but finish it off with a quick, merciful shot. Or perhaps he would draw his sabre and let its torment linger. It was entirely up to him.

A successful hunt, and the best small fortune he had spent in years!

Coming to a clearing, he spotted the trail veer off to the right. The splotches of glowing plasma enlarged and became nebulas in his visual field and his auditory enhancers detected the faint sounds of rustling. Clear of the foliage, he looked to his right and spotted a rock outcropping. A vague blur of greenish, grey mass toiled away on it, surrounded by a large pool of glowing matter.

Grinning, he tapped the glasses to switch frequencies, calling up the thermal imaging. The green-grey mass became a blazing field of red, yellow, orange and white, the pool beneath accented in shades of yellow that was darkening at the corners. He stepped slowly forward, brandishing his weapon in both hands.

Coming up on the felled beast, he switched the glasses one last time to image intensification. For this last bit, he wanted to see his quarry’s face. Nothing beat the site of a finished animal, its eyes twisted into the horrid realization that it had been caught, its life brought to a sudden and painful end.

It’s eyes glowed brightly in the night, augmented pupils catching just enough ambient light to shine on their own, but appearing like blazing orbs through his glasses. He wondered if they would wink out when he delivered the coup de grace, or would they simply keep on shining, well into the night and until the vultures and maggots came to strip it’s body clean? Who knew? Point was, he would be looking into them when it died.

“Hello friend,” he said coolly. “You led me on quite the chase, but you had to know it would end.”

The beast struggled and bared its teeth. The almost human-like appendages struggled against the rock beneath it; it was fighting just to move a few more inches away. How quaint, the instinct to distance itself from its wound-be hunter. One had to admire that about it, the commitment to primal instinct in the face of all of its enhancement.

“I don’t suppose you have any last words to share do you?”

The beast bore its teeth again and growled loudly. He laughed. Apparently, it was choosing to die as an animal, ignoring its other genetic predispositions. A man always talked before the end, pleading, asking, wanting – anything to lengthen his last moments just a little bit longer. Or so he had been told…

“You know,” he said, kneeling. “If you were to beg me for your life, I might just let you die here… peacefully against this rock.”

The beast winced, its wounded leg scraping against the rock. It stopped moving for a second, began breathing heavily. It had accepted its fate and stopped trying to futilely pull away. And yet, he was determined to see it would say something before the end. He needed to know… would it behave like a man did? The experience of hunting a knowing, thinking prey was part of what he was paying for, after all. What harm did it do to get his money’s worth?

“What do you say? How about you beg for your life?”

The beast took a loud breath through its nose and turned to him. Its wide mouth stretched into some terrible, crooked line, almost as if it was smiling. The auditory units he had shoved in his ear canals suddenly picked up a new sound. Crunching, slow and low…

“Funny…” said the beast. “I was about to ask you the same thing!”

The frames in the glasses went dark. All light went out as he heard a terrible scream, the sounds of bone, sinew and flesh all crunching and grinding deep inside his ears…

_____

“Fantastic… The attention to detail is superb…”

Itzli smiled as Mr. Charleston, his latest prospective client admired the contraption in his hands. Many times, he turned it over, examining the metal, faux-wood and ceramic inlays. Though not the most sophisticated weapon by any stretch the imagination, those who paid for his services were known to appreciate classics, or at least-approximations thereof.

Charleston opened the breach next and sighted down the long tube, no doubt thinking he looked every bit the seasoned hunter.

“Single-shot, long range spreadgun,” he said, slapping it shut again. “Pump action at the rear and the option for holographic sites.”

“Just in case people feel like merging the traditional and the modern,” replied Itzli. Charleston laughed and put the gun back in the rack. He gazed around at the other various weapons that were on display. From the automags and flechette pistols in the hand gun section, to the high-powered assault rifles by his left arm.

Across the room, he spotted the cases which held the self-loading crossbows, knives, machetes, and other weapons that were even more traditional in nature. Everywhere he peered, the same look burned intently in his eyes. A man overwhelmed by choice, a veritable kid in a candy store…

His eyes settled on one section in the far corner, a case with several canister-like objects inside.

“Grenades?” he said, pointing in their direction.

“Oh yes,” Itzli said, leading him over to where they resided behind reinforced glass. “Our hunters do enjoy flushing out their game. But no high-explosives or frags. Only flashbangs, stun grenades, and caustic gas.” He punched in a code on a small wall terminal, opened the case and fetched a combination grenade. “Our hunters do not enjoy kills they cannot take home with them. And I think you’ll agree. Explosive grenades are messy and somewhat of a liability.”

He passed the device to Charleston, who took it between two slightly trembling hands. “And you say the animals can think, reason, even talk?”

“Why yes,” Itzli responded happily. “All are augmented to ensure the most thrilling and challenging hunt. After all, what good is prey that only obeys its instincts and is entirely predictable? And with all the best wild game now extinct, with the safari now on the verge of becoming a distant memory, men of sport like ourselves have had to get creative, haven’t we?”

Charleston chuckled loudly. “We certainly have. Bu I must commend you specifically for your ingenuity.” He waves his arms around vaguely, referring to the entire compound that existed around them.

Iztli waved his hand dismissively. “Nothing special, my friend. Had I not done it, someone else surely would have.”

“But you, and you alone, had the fortitude to find an island nation that knows how to do business, keep the foreign authorities and animal-rights trouble makers out. No doubt that cost you quite the pretty penny.”

“My greatest expense,” Iztli acknowledged. “But I don’t need to tell you how important discretion is. Which is why all clients must sign a confidentiality agreement and take a private shuttle to get here. Mustn’t allow for a digital trail, after all.”

“I agree,” said Charletson, nodding approvingly. “Criminal the lengths those left-wing freaks make us go to just have some fun isn’t it?

“But well worth it, when you consider the sheer enjoyment this place provides.”

Iztli and Charleston smiled at each for a few seconds, a comfortable silence between two men who seemed to understand each other perfectly. And then, a chime in Iztli’s ear caught his attention. He depressed it and replied:

“Hello… yes? Oh dear… where is he now?”

Charleston waited, his face twisting into a slight frown as he waited for an explanation. Itzli looked back to him the moment his conversation was complete.

“My apologies, I have been summoned to the field. It seems one of our hunters has concluded his safari prematurely.”

“Oh dear,” said Charleston, suddenly concerned for himself. “Nothing serious, I hope?”

“Nothing at all. Mr. Celik simply made the mistake of filling out his information incorrectly. I try to tell these novices, if you request a basic hunt, that is what you’ll get. All too often, sporting men assume they are not ready for a challenge, and then express disappointment when their prey dies too soon.”

Charleston laughed and winked at him. “I assure you, I will not make that mistake.”

Iztli brightened and extended his hand. “Then I assume we have an agreement? A solo hunt for the sporting man from the Deep South?”

Charletson took his hand unhesitatingly and shook it firmly. “Indeed we do. And I look forward to it.”

“Excellent. I shall return forthwith and we can speak to booking, find you the perfect weekend to fly down and conduct a safari of your choosing. Remember, the class of animal, weapons used, duration of the hunt, and any incidentals are entirely up to you. In the meantime, feel free to have a look around. I’ll meet you in our lounge after.”

Charleston shook his hand again. “Good to know there are still men out there who appreciate a good hunt.”

Iztli chuckled and issued him a slight bow. Leaving him in the Armory, he quickly made his way to the bottom floor, to a set of large doors opening onto the main hunting grounds. He depressed the piece in his ear again and began speaking hurriedly to Mara in the Monitoring Booth.

“Where is he?”

“In the South Asia stretch. He cornered Tigris on the rocky bluff, and that’s where his signal began to go faint.”

“Dammit!” Itzli considered the possibly implications. His anger momentarily subsided, replaced by general concern. “Was Tigris injured?”

“Yes,” said Mara. “I’ve dispatched a medres to his location though. He should be fine.”

Itzli sighed and nodded to himself. “Alright, I’m en route to that area now. Tell Tigris to stay put!”

_____

He found Tigris leaning against a slight crop of shale. The medres bot was next to him, its long, poking appendages fishing around in his leg for bullet fragments as a second set of arms administered anti-coagulants and wiped obscuring traces of blood away. Standing next to him, Hubris stood, his clawed hands ruddy with gore. Despite the obvious pain, Tigris appeared to be laughing, no doubt reminiscing with Hubris about their opponents last moments on this Earth.

Bringing the cart to stop, Itzli jumped out and proceeded to them. Both looked suddenly subdued as they saw him coming, sensing that Pappa Bear was ornery and looking to kick some butts. It was a fortunate thing for Tigris that he was. Had his injuries been worse, he wouldn’t have the time or inclination to be mad right now.

“What the hell happened out here?” he demanded. Hubris looked down at his paws and cleared his throat.

“Uh… well, Pappa, we uh… we kind of had to accelerate things a bit.”

“Accelerate? What are you talking about? Tigris! What is he talking about?”

“You’re client,” uttered Tigris, grunting amidst the pain of his medical treatment, “proved to be a better shot than we expected. He caught me in the leg with a lucky round. Fortunately, it fragmented on impact.”

“Of course it did! That’s what your sub-dermal inlays are for! How did that lead you to call in our quick-clawed friend here?”

Tigris looked to Hubris, who was still keeping his head low.

“Well… it still hurt! And I was losing blood. I tried to make it over the bluff and keep things going but…”

“But what?”

Tigris once again looked at Hubris, who finally sighed and chimed in. “He tripped before he could make it over. Twisted his hind leg pretty good too.”

Iztli palmed his face and tried not to shout out how disappointed he was. Such skilled hunters, perfect specimens of evolution and augmentation. And they were to be foiled by a simple accident? Had they no pride in their work anymore? What was worse, they seemed to be getting a kick out of it, the way they were both laughing now.

“I-told-you… never conclude a hunt when I’m with client! It raises suspicions! If I tell one of those butchers that another client died, they will run away with their tales tucked between their legs! If I lie and say they won too soon, they’ll assume the hunt is too easy and look elsewhere! Do you want them hunting your kin for sport and winning? Do you?!”

Hubris cleared his throat again and shook his head. Tigris joined him.

“No, Pappa. No we don’t.”

“Good!” he replied, and looked at Tigris injured leg. His message delivered, his anger spent, he felt some pangs of sympathy and inquired about it finally. “How is it? Any pain?”

“Nothing so bad this machine of yours can’t make it worse,” said Tigris through bared fangs. The machine dug deep for a final fragment, causing him to growl loudly. Iztli smiled.

“Good. Now where’s our friends body?”

“Over there,” said Hubris, pointing with a single claw, bathed as it was in indigo. Itzli followed the finger to a mass on the ground, a twisted wreck of a man who’s terror-stricken eyes looked up at the moon. The pale orbs looked horribly bug-eyed, as it the lids themselves had been ripped free. The horrible expression seemed to scream of lament, a man crying to the heavens demanding to know why he had been forsaken.

He could see several traces of bite and scratch marks, where Hubris and Tigris had both torn into him. All were concentrated on his center mass, avoiding the jugular and other major arteries as much as possible. He understood now why the expression was so fixed on his features. His two furry friends had enjoyed themselves, stretching his last few minutes into an inexorable oblivion. He was sure the expression would remain painted on for as long as his body remained there. Until the vultures and maggots came to pick it clean…

How horrible… and yet beautiful.

“Alright. Get fixed up and get back home. I want you healed and rested. We have another client coming in the near future.”

Hubris purred aggressively. “Anyone special?”

Iztli smiled. “A Southern gentleman gentleman with many kills to his credit. And it just so happens, he enjoys hunting jungle cats.” That seemed to get both Hubris and Tigris’ motors running. Both emitted low growls of contempt and anger, interspersed with happy purrs. The thought of putting such a soul away no doubt appealed to them greatly…

“I love the taste of Southern gentleman,” said Tigris, licking the gore from his lips.

New Video Shows Google Glasses in Action

GOOGLE-GLASS-LOGO1In a recently released teaser video, designed to expand Google Glass’ potential consumer base from the tech-savvy to what it refers to as “bold, creative individuals”. While the first video of their futuristic AR specs followed a New Yorker as they conducted mundane tasks through the city, this new clip hosts a dizzying array of activities designed to show just how versatile the product can be.

This includes people engaged in skydiving, horseback riding, catwalking at a fashion show, and performing ballet. Quite the mixed bag! All the while, we are shown what it would look like to do these activities while wearing a set of Google glasses. The purpose here is not only to show their functionality, but to give people a taste of what it an augmented world looks like.google_glass

And based on product information, videos and stillpics from the Google Glass homepage, it also appears that these new AR glasses will take advantage of the latest in flexible technology. Much like the new breeds of smartphones and PDAs which will be making the rounds later this year, these glasses are bendable, flexible, and therefore much more survivable than conventional glasses, which probably cost just as much!

Apparently, this is all in keeping with CEO and co-founder Larry Page’s vision of a world where Google products make their users smarter. In a 2004 interview, Page shared that vision with people, saying: “Imagine your brain is being augmented by Google.” These futurist sentiments may be a step closer now, thanks to a device that can provide on-the-spot information about whatever situation or environment we find ourselves in.

google_glass1One thing is for sure though. With the help of some AR specs, the middle man is effectively cut out. No longer are we required to aim our smartphones, perform image searches, or type things into a search engine (like Google!). Now we can just point, look, and wait for the glasses to identify what we are looking at and provide the requisite information.

Check out the video below:

Transhumans by 2030?

transhumanismThe issue of transhumanism, the rise of a new type of humanity characterized by man-machine interface and augmented intelligence, is being debated quite fervently in some circles right now. But it seems that groups other than Futurists and speculative fiction writers are joining the discussion. Recently, the National Intelligence Council, a US policy think-tank, released a 140 page report that outlined major trends and technological developments we should expect in the next 20 years.

The report, entitled “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds”, predicted several trends which are likely to come true in the near future. Amongst them is the end of U.S. global dominance, the rising power of individuals against states, a growing middle class that will increasingly challenge governments, and ongoing shortages in water, food and energy. However, predictions were also made concerning a future where humans have been significantly modified by various technologies, what is often referred to as the dawn of the Transhuman Era.

how-nanotechnology-could-reengineer-usIntrinsic to this new era is the invention of implants, prosthetics, and powered exoskeletons which will become regular fixtures of human life. These will go beyond merely correcting for physical disabilities or injury, to the point where average humans are enhanced and become more productive. 2030 is key year here, because it is by this point that the authors predict that prosthetics will exceed organics, and people will begin getting them installed in order to augment themselves.

In addition, life extension therapies and medical advances which will be used predominantly by the elderly will become a means for otherwise healthy people to prolong their lives and maintain health and vitality for longer periods of time. Brain implants are expected to become a reality as well, ostensibly to allow people to have brain-controlled prosthetics, but also for the sake of enhanced memory and augmented thinking.

bionic_handAnd of course, bionics are an important factor in all this. Already, researchers have achieved breakthroughs with bionic limbs, but retinal attachments, artificial eyes, and even fully-functioning organs are expected before 2030. On top of that, improvements in drugs, such as neuropharmaceuticals – drugs that enhance memory, attention, speed of thought – and implants which assist in their delivery are expected to be making the rounds.

google_glassesFinally, there is the matter of virtual and augmented reality systems, which are already becoming a reality thanks to things like Project Glass and recent innovations in PDAs. As the report notes: “Augmented reality systems can provide enhanced experiences of real-world situations. Combined with advances in robotics, avatars could provide feedback in the form of sensors providing touch and smell as well as aural and visual information to the operator.”

However, the big issue, according to the report, is cost and security. Most of these technologies will be not affordable to all people, especially for the first few years of their existence. This could result in a two-tiered society where the well-to-do live longer, healthier and have a competitive advantage over “organics”, people of lesser means who are identifiable by their lack of enhancements. Also, developers will need to be on their guard against hackers who might attempt to subvert or infect these devices with tailor-made viruses.

Naturally, the importance of maintaining uniform scientific progress was stressed, and the need for a regulatory framework is certainly needed. What the CSER recently recommended is certainly worth keeping in mind here, which was to ensure that some kind of regulatory framework be put in place before all of this becomes a reality. What’s more, public education is certainly necessary, so that the current and next generation of human beings knows what to expect and how to go about making informed choices therein.

To see the full report and learn more about the NIC, follow the link below:

National Intelligence Council: Who We Are

Source: IO9.com

Of DIY Cybernetics and Biohacking

transhuman3It seems that biohackers and enthusiasts of body augmentation could be setting a new trend, and doing it all from the comfort of their basements. That’s the essence of an article filed by Neal Ungerleider this past September, in which he stated that biohackers have not only cloned the innovation strategies of Silicon Valley, but could also be reshaping how technology is being created.

Amongst their efforts are such things as brain interfaces that can control video games with human thoughts, Bluetooth sensors that are meant to go under the skin and send vital signs to mobile phones, tissue engineering that can create in vitro “steaks” and leather, and devices that convert brainwaves into actual speech. These efforts are collaborative in nature and connect numerous basements, labs and research facilities together to share research, resources, and breakthroughs.

Those who take an active part in this trend are often known as grinders or biohackers, people who have chosen not to wait for cybenetic enhancements and body augmentation to become commercially available and seek to create them on their own.

According to Ungerleider:

“West Coast biohackers and grinders were the pioneers of this tech-driven, California brand of utopianism… For biohackers everywhere, augmentation of humanity itself—whether through technology or more traditional methods—is the primary goal. Common conversation points include DIY cyborgs, the quantified self, and diet…

“But a growing community on the East Coast—in greater New York, Boston, and Pittsburgh—is synthesizing Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial DNA for its unique innovation model. Experimentation and science here is not only an exercise in advancing humanity through tech but is often applied toward creating viable cybernetic products for the market.”

One such group is Biohackers NYC, a group that was formed in 2012 largely in response to all the innovation that was taking place on the opposite coast. In additi0n to the initial startup group, it was joined by numerous startups, incubators, and workspaces scattered across the outer boroughs. As group founder and psychiatrist Lydia Fazzio claimed in an interview back in September:

“Our intent was to cover the spectrum of biohacking from manipulating non-human genomes to also the body and the mind. It’s a holistic approach to the meaning of biohacking, whether technology or nutrition. However you get there, we all have the innate potential to be an optimal functioning human in society. Our question is: How do we get there?”

davinci_transhumanOne of the attractions of this new movement is that it allows the merger of skilled professionals and dedicated hobbyists a chance to collaborate on projects of mutual interest. It also takes advantage of new business and development models – i.e. crowdsourcing – which is made possible thanks to the digital revolution.

Already, message boards have sprung up that allow disparate “labs” to post information on their work and share with others who have similar interests and projects on the go. These include DIYbio, which deals with the larger field of DIY biotechnology labs; and biohack.me, where the possibilities of subdermal bone conduction headphones and echolocation implants are being contemplated.

TranshumanIn the end, this is really just a small part of a much larger movement, which takes on various names. On is transhumanism, a movement which believes that human limitations can and must be transcended with the help of technological innovation. Another is Singularitarianism, a movement popularized by such Futurists as Ray Kurzweil. These individuals believe that technology will (or has) reached the point where human beings can take control of their own mortality, abilities and evolution. While some are willing to wait, others are intent on making it happen sooner other than later.

Naturally, there is a great deal of skepticism towards this new trend. For one, there are countless people who believe it to be the stuff of “science fiction”, and not real science. But, as Ungerleider claims, this represents the culmination of trends that have been in the works for some time. What’s more, it represents the monetization and mass marketing of technologies which have been under development for many years. And in truth, the line between science fiction and science fact has always been a fine one. All that’s ever been needed for us to transcend it is for people to make it happen.

Sources: fastcompany.com, Wired.com, IO9.com

True Skin: A Cyborg Short

Hello again all. You know that feeling you get when you sense that you’re getting swept up in a trend? Well, it seems that the trend of making futuristic and predictive videos has captured me in its wake. The latest comes from Vimeo, courtesy of N1ON Productions, and is entitled True Skin. The concept is quite intriguing too: a near-future where cybernetic enhancements are all the rage, and people who are purely organic are discriminated against and looked down upon.

Filmed entirely in Bangkok, this video has a real nitty gritty feel to it, something that no cyberpunk tale would be complete without! And of course, there’s plenty of social commentary too, showing how cybernetic augmentation is tantamount to status and the poor are easily recognized by their lack of physical enhancements. And in the end, the story is told from the point of view of a man who knew he had to get upgraded if he was not going to slip through society’s cracks, even if that meant breaking the law.

No more spoilers, check out the video. And enjoy the scenery, courtesy of Bangkok’s Red Light District!

“How Nanotech Could Reengineer Us.”

My personal thanks to kwolph, the unidentified fellow who was nice enough to stop by and forward me the link to this rather interesting infographic. Courtesy of the Keithley Center, which designs electronic systems for measurement and analysis, this infographic shows how advances in nanotechnology might aid us in reinventing and augmenting the human body.

These include augmenting our brain chemistry by either delivering drugs directly to our receptors (which can include anti-depressants, stimulants, or pain killers), or the more audacious approach of enhancing our thought pattens and memory by actively building and repairing neural tissue. As such, things like mental illness, brain injuries and trauma could be overcome at last.

In addition, there’s plenty of enhancing our hearts, lungs, reinforcing our bones, repairing muscle tissue, enhancing our eyes, reflexes, strength, endurance. And, as they point out, by virtue of the female model, the scourge of breast cancer, which effects one in eight women, could be be wiped out. No mother’s or young women dying before their time anymore!

And of course, other entirely too common ailments, heart disease, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, and every form of degenerative disease, could be nipped in the bud either through regular maintenance of the bodily tissues, or by correcting the fault at the genetic level.

There’s really no limit to what programmable nanomachines could do, once the technology was realizable of course. And above all, proven to be safe and effective. And since it would mean that human beings no longer would be subject to disease or degenerative conditions (a la aging), lives could be extended indefinitely, which is part and parcel of the whole “transhuman”, “posthuman” and “postmortal” concept.

Naturally, they used the image of a very pretty young woman for the display. Had it been a man I’m guessing they would have gone with a six foot tall dude with washer board abs and only 1 percent body fat. Why can’t they ever use a porked out old dude with man boobs? That’s what I’d like to know? Well, for one, such regular individuals don’t exactly inspire confidence in the consumer market, do they?