Your Smart Device is Making You Weird: Human Augmentation

Your Smart Device is Making You Weird – A series where ScienceBlog.com blogger joebowman takes a look at new technologies and the ways they affect people and society.

In a world where continually evolving technology is changing the way people interact with the digital and physical worlds, the first genuine hands-free technology may be just around the corner. Rest assured that new advancements in smart device manipulation will do much to make people seem even weirder than today.

The hand is quicker than the eye, but the eye is way cooler

If you follow the geeks of Silicon Valley then you may have noticed Google co-founder, Sergi Brin sporting a stylish and decidedly futuristic looking eye piece at recent events.

Google_Glass

A sly introduction for one of Google’s most anticipated technologies, Project Glass promises to liberate Humans from the tyranny of using one’s own hands. Calling it, ‘Augmented Reality’, this latest effort by Google hints at a future where buttons and switches become hilarious vestiges of more primitive eras in Human history.

While Google is primarily known for its search engine dominance it is actually advertising that drives corporate profits. In fact, only about 1,100 employees in the AdWords division of Google generates revenue for the worldwide operation of 20k employees. So, at the end of the day, and no matter how hard they try it is the advertising business that Google’s namesake symbolizes. Industry insiders quickly point to a dystopian future where ads and offers are stuck in the eye, literally.

Google was quick to point out that there will be no advertisements on the new devices. Yet, for a company with the motto, ‘don’t be evil’ and a technology that hasn’t doesn’t hit developers’ hot little hands until 2013, much will certainly change between now and when these smart devices are available for consumers.

No glove, no love

Not to be outdone by its own self, Google has recently patented a glove-like device that integrates sensors and control points that may open up even more possibilities for changing the way people interact with technology. With the potential to put cameras at your fingertips, again literally, Google Glove may make the average user an explorer of all types of crevasses. Imagine a world where people can peer into any orifice accessible to a finger or a world where American Sign Language becomes a common way to physically dictate text. Perhaps this is where transdermal drugs and smart device technology finally grants the Pharmaceutical industry unfettered access to your bloodstream over the Internet.

Predicting the ill effects of technologies still unrealized is easy, finding real world applications that will enhance productivity is another story.

These technologies may be years away in terms of augmenting our lives in a meaningful way but they speak volumes about where smart device technology is headed. As new advances change the way people perceive and interact with the world the more old customs and courtesies fall away.

In previous editions of Your Smart Device is Making You Weird, I talked about a family out at dinner, happily sitting in silence as each was engrossed by their smart devices, now mix in some Augmented Reality eyepieces and glove control gear and you have a scene that can only be described as ‘weird’.

If you are like many people, you are already thinking how ridiculous these upcoming advances in technology seem. You may be right, but remember that you said the same thing about that smart phone charging on your desk and the Bluetooth headset in your ear.

The Wrathful Planet: Fracking the Future

fracking the futureThe Wrathful Planet – In recent decades, a technique for natural gas exploration and extraction known as ‘fracking’ has emerged which has had a ‘game changing’ impact for energy producers worldwide.  In existence since the 1940’s the current technique involves a modernized combination of several preexisting techniques: horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in combination with novel application of chemical agents.

With natural gas prices at their lowest in a decade the industry has a continued cost-efficiency over oil even in the face of forecasts speculating the doubling of the prices seen today.  Where the price of oil is determined in a global market with perturbations being felt across the globe the market price of natural gas is typically intra-national and often times, as is the case with the United States, a regional one. Where certain deposits of natural gas have previously been cost ineffective to extract, fracking has opened the way for exponential growth for the Energy Industry.

Despite the advantages, many questions remain such as the environmental impact of the chemical blends used to improve well performance and other risks associated with deep ground extraction.  Drilling takes place, not only in remote areas but in many cases in proximity to population centers and precious deep ground aquifers.

With service companies typically refusing to show the chemical agents used in fracking and loose or often watered-down regulations and safeguards, the public’s clamoring for transparency is reaching new heights. Not just the usual NIMBY (not in my back yard) fight, fracking has energized activists and communities across the United States.

To understand the nature of the fracking fight, one must gain an understanding of the methodologies at play. Each fracking operation while unique, has some core components shared across all extraction operations.

Vertical Drilling – This is the most traditional aspect of fracking and is employed in almost all types of extraction scenarios.

Horizontal Drilling – Traditional vertical wells can cut through gas rich rock layers, but only tap the portion of rock that the bore pass through.  Horizontal drilling allows a curvature to be implemented into the bore path making it possible to target the desirable layer more effectively.

Hydraulic Fracturing – Using high pressure water (~95-99%) is mixed with chemical agents and pumped into the well. Deep underground, the gas rich rock layer is cracked and the fissures in the rock are held apart with sand or various types of grit. With the fissures held open, the gas issues forth and the well becomes active, capable of extracting exponentially more hydrocarbons that ever considered possible before.

Chemical Agents & Additives – The aforementioned substances mixed to create the fracking fluid are variable and many with some being known or suspected carcinogens and air pollutants. A 2011 Congressional Report details a number of findings distilled from data provided by 14 leading oil and gas providers.

The committee found that methanol was the chemical that was by far the most commonly used between the years of 2005 – 2009. Methanol is considered a Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) and is being review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

The foaming surfactant agent, 2-butoxyethanol (2-BE) was also heavily employed, which can cause hemolysis in humans in addition to causing damage to organs such as the spleen, liver, and bone marrow. Toxicological studies on humans have shown that this class of chemical is even more readily taken into the body when suspended within an aqueous solution. With fracking operations happening within relatively close proximity to deep ground aquifers and vital water tables the possibility for serious consequences becomes clear.

Consequences that became a reality for one small town in Wyoming.  After years of issuing complaints about local water quality Pavillion, Wy residents petitioned the EPA to test water wells used by the area’s residents. Situated in the Wind River Indian Reservation, the Tribes, the Northern Arapahoe and Eastern Shoshone Indians have petitioned to be recognized as a State under the Clean Air Act.

January 2010 sampling

Complaints that led to the EPA testing ranged included:

  • Water taking on a yellow tint
  • Oral Numbness
  • Appearance of gas bubbles
  • Oily character/sheen
  • Loss of taste sense
  • Increased turbidity (cloudy as if with sediment)
  • Chemical-like smell

EPA Expanded Site Investigation results are pending but residents have been advised to use alternate sources of water.

 

Should heavy industry be responsible for self-regulation?  Are we asking the wolf to play shepherd?  Is the information I present to you today simply another example of civilian hysteria that pro-business forces regularly decry? Is it true what industry spokespersons say when they insinuate that the reason for the public resistance to fracking is the complex nature of the chemical agents themselves?

Regardless of the ultimate answer what we do know is that this is fracking is happening now and if service companies are operating in a gray area of the law where environmental impact and necessary commonsense statutes that proper legislation provide, then perhaps fracking is something worthy of closer inspection.

While the benefits of fracturing techniques are significant and perhaps ultimately necessary for an increasingly energy hungry world, the risks and collateral damage to communities and individuals must not go unappreciated.

If Humanity has indeed disrupted the natural balance of planet Earth, future generations will undoubtedly seek to learn by what manner and for what reasons this reality came to pass.

 

Further Reading

 

Toxicological review of ethylene glycol monobutyl ether (EGBE) (CAS No. 111-76-2)

Pavillion, Wyoming Groundwater Investigation (EPA 2010)

Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development (2012)

Evaluation of Contaminants in Private Residential Well Water

Your Smart Device is Making You Weird: GPS Induced Stupidity

isliderWhen a technology becomes reliable to a certain level people tend to free themselves from thought and responsibility to varying degrees.  Take for example the Global Position System (GPS), once an important tool limited to military applications, GPS is now standard and rightfully expected by consumers purchasing mobile devices, vehicles and more.

Whether you are in your car, on foot, or just planning an outing you are in need of direction and location information.  And, few technologies give quite as much assurance as GPS-aided navigation.

Our main thinking point for today’s article is this:

What happens when people over-rely on a convenience technology that is not necessarily always accurate?  If people stop thinking for themselves then what happens to the rest of us?

You be the judge, here are a few snippets from news stories around the web highlighting some of the not-so-great moments of GPS Induced Stupidity in another installment of a segment I like to call, Your Smart Device is Making You Weird.

The 32-year-old man, a computer maven, was on temporary assignment for an I.B.M. contractor in New York and wandered through the rolling hills here one evening, trusting in the cyber-driven intelligence of his car’s G.P.S. device rather than his own. As a result, according to Metro-North, he ended up making a right turn onto the railroad tracks and getting the undercarriage of his rented Ford Focus wedged between the rails. The man calmly hauled out his suitcase, called 911 and waited to wave the train to a stop. But the train couldn’t brake in time and ended up dragging the car for 100 feet until it burst into a fireball.

Read it Here

Most tales of GPS-Induced Stupidity do not end in fiery carnage (yet), but we see from this snippet that not even tech savvy people are safe from technology related ignorance.

A Bavarian man was given a persuasive lesson in the fallibility of technology Thursday night when he crashed into another car and injured an 11-year-old boy after obeying his car navigation device’s command to turn around on a divided autobahn.

Amazingly, the man, 45, took a U-turn on the divided motorway and began driving down the wrong side because the satellite navigation computer told him to turn around, police said in a statement.

Read it Here

Strange as it may sound, there is no replacement for using one’s eyes to aid in the operation of motor vehicles or heavy machinery.

The teen, who had two juveniles in the car with him in violation of the state’s graduated license rules, was headed westbound on Route 33 in his Ford Mustang when, he told police, his GPS told him to make a left turn onto Sweetmans Lane, police said.

The 17-year-old cut across the eastbound lanes of Route 33 and struck a vehicle on the left side at about 7:50 p.m. Saturday, according to police. The impact turned that car around 180 degrees before it came to rest facing oncoming traffic. The driver of that vehicle was taken to an area hospital after complaining of neck pain.

A third car struck the rear bumper of the Mustang, pushing that car into a spin before it too came to rest facing the eastbound oncoming traffic. A fourth vehicle traveling in the eastbound lanes swerved left to avoid the multiple car accident scene, when that car struck the curbed median, damaging both right-side tires, and rolling into the westbound lanes before coming to a stop.

The 17-year-old driver, from the Morganville section of Marlboro, was issued motor vehicle summonses for careless driving, making an improper turn and violating the terms of his provisional driver’s license.

 Read it Here

Of course, we expect poor judgment from young drivers so this is perhaps not the best example of GPS Induced Stupidity. You can view disturbing statistics related to young drivers here.

Three young women escaped the sinking Mercedes-Benz SUV after the vehicle’s GPS directed them down a boat launch and into the Mercer Slough in Bellevue, Washington.

The driver thought she was on a road while following her GPS unit just after midnight, but she was actually heading down the boat launch. All three women made out safely, but the SUV was completely under water. Officials said the three were in town for a conference and were trying to get to a hotel in Bellevue.

“They were trying to re-route their path and found this boat launch near the entrance to I-90 in South Bellevue and just kept driving into the water,” Mr Keenan said.

Read it Here

760px-Conformity_Hazard

As amusing as these stories are they may speak to something larger about Human nature in terms of technology. Perhaps there is a natural expectation that technology will someday alleviate most of the ‘burdens’ people experience in their daily lives.  Even if this were the case such a thing is surely far into the future.

Only you as an individual can truly be responsible for your own safety, but when others fall prey to over reliance on technology or mere stupidity you may find that there is only so much you can do to prevent the consequences of GPS Induced Stupidity.

Your Smart Device is Making You Weird: Family Norms

joebowman.scienceblog.com – Like clockwork, new devices and technology come along to enhance and enrich our lives.  Smart phones and tablets are the laptops and PDA’s of our Age.  Small, usually pocket sized gadgets are more powerful now than ever before.

I was leaving a restaurant recently and I noticed a young family at a table near the door.  As I walked by I glanced over and saw the family happily and most importantly quietly waiting for their server.  The kid wasn’t disruptively playing with utensils testing his parent’s patience, Dad wasn’t breaking his neck to see the game on the various televisions hoisted all over the place, and Mom wasn’t busy wrangling both into having a civilized night out of the house.

The dynamic was alien to me as I am continually surrounded by people who have no problem asking me to put by tablet away during dinner or any other time.  Something that I considered a taboo was being flaunted out in the open.

I pondered the young family as I left the restaurant imagining it was only a matter of time until this was the new norm.  Admittedly, the worst part to me was the kid, utterly enthralled with the game on his device.  Here he was, in his formative years developing and practicing what will undoubtedly become a standard for the rest of his life.  I see this more and more with young children and I am not entirely convinced that this is harmless parenting.

What else is technology changing about our lives that we as a society aren’t even fully aware of yet?