NOTICE: Posting schedule is irregular. I hope to get back to a regular schedule as the day-job allows.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Weird Science Monday: The Steam/cyber/punk brain [Full link to blog for email clients.]

A friend wrote and asked my what I thought the timeline would be for cyberpunk-style brain-to-computer interfaces.

For some reason, I repeatedly read that as "steampunk" interfaces...  

So I told him that I have difficulty imagining steampunk, brain and computer in one sentence since the major premises of steampunk are:
  • The Industrial Revolution turned to minaturization, resulting in refinement of  manufacturing to make small clockwork, springs and valves.  
  • The internal combustion engine and transistor are never perfected.
  • Without transistors, there is no electronics.
  • Without internal combustion, all engines are powered by steam or clockwork. 
  • Everyone thinks Victorian-era fashion is cool.
In such a world, I just don't see brain (bioelectric) interfacing to computers (clockwork). 

But this is "what-if" - so I came up with the following timeline... (fictional elements in italics)

126 AD - birth of Claudius Galenus (Galen), founder of modern physiology.
1525 - French physician Jean Fernel introduces Catherine De'Medici, wife of King Henri II of France, to the term "physiology" to describe the study of the body's (and brain's) function.  Being educated in the classics, De'Medici prefers the term "Galenology."
1822 - Charles Babbage demonstrates a partial model of his Difference Engine for dinner party guests.
1831 - Difference Engine No. 1 is completed by Joseph Clement and Charles Babbage.
1832 - Babbage begins design work on Difference Engine No. 2 and Analytical Engine.
builds a portion of his original design 
1835 - American Joseph Henry is electrocuted and dies while attempting to build an electromechanical relay, use of electricity in computing engines is abandoned.
1840 - English mathematician Ada Lovelace (the only legitimate child of Lord Byron!) joins with Babbage to further designs for the Analytical Engine.
1842 - Babbage completes design of Difference Engine No. 2, but Ada Lovelace convinces him to complete designs for Analytical Engine, instead.
1848 - English mathematician George Boole is institutionalized in a mental hospital, raving about "binary algebra" and "computer design" (binary math and Boolean logic are never developed).
1855 - Swedish engineers Per Georg Scheutz and his son Edvard display an improved Difference Engine at the Paris World's Fair.  Since the purpose of the engine is to repeatedly print mathematical tables, the "Scheutzian Calculation Engine" is coupled to a steam engine to drive the calculation cogs.
1871 - Babbage reveals a prototype computing core and printer for the Analytical Engine just weeks before his death.  
1875 - Swedish engineer Martin Wiberg reveals the further improved (and compact!) Scheutzian Calculation Engine which incorporates elements of Babbage's Analytical Engine.  Not only did Wiberg reduce the size of the calculation component, all parts, including the steam engine, were reduced to the size of a desk.  
1884 - American Dorr Felt completes the develops the "Comptometer" - a version of the Wiberg calculator with keyed inputs instead of dials and cranks.  
1886 - American Herman Hollerith develops a system whereby small strips of metal are punched with holes aligning with steam valves and channels in the Wiberg Calculator, representing a single operation for the calculation engine.  
1898 - American Daniel David Palmer establishes the "Palmer School of Chiropractic." His controversial theories include the metaphysical concept of "innate intelligence" in which the body's muscles and joints alter function of the brain. 
1906 - Henry Babbage (Charles's son) works with Hollerith to complete Babbage's Analytical Engine, using Hollerith's "punched card" system as well as a "valve board" system for "programming" the Engine for different operations. Hollerith and the younger Babbage form the "Industrial Babbage Machine Company."
1906 - American Lee De Forest seriously injured in a laboratory accident when a prototype vacuum tube "thermionic valve" explodes. 
1906 - Bartlett Joshua Palmer (son of Daniel David Palmer) takes over the Palmer School of Chiropractic.  Rumors abound that he is trying to build "Intelligizer" skeletal support frames that will not only allow injured patients to walk, but will also improve intelligence and thinking ability.
1921 - German scientist Otto Loewi reveals that nerves in the body send their signals using chemicals. 
1930 - American Vannevar Bush builds a chemically activated difference engine capable of solving differential equations. 
1931 - Austrian Kurt Godel publishes a paper proposing a formal computation language based on Loewi's identification of different chemical signatures for various brain and nerve functions.
1931 - Welsh physicist Charles Wynn-Williams demonstrates the first digital counter tied to a chemical detector.
1936 - Alan Turing of Cambridge University publishes his notable work on "computable thoughts" which reformulates Godel.
1938 - Nazi scientist Konrad Zuse completes the "Z1"  - the first computation engine to be directly operated by chemical means.  
1939 - Zuse completes the "Z2" operated by detecting "cerebrochemicals" from the blood of human "volunteers."
1941 - Rumors surface that Zuse has completed a "Z3" computation device in which human POWs have been surgically integrated into the machine via catheters and cannulas to collect cerebrochemicals directly from the brain and peripheral nerves.  
1941 - Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor uses "walking machines." One such machine is captured whole after its "pilot" was killed by a direct hit.  The Walker design is found to derive from Bartlett Palmer's Intelligizers.
1942 (February) - United States Executive Order 9066 leads to supposed internment of Americans of Japanese Ancestry.  In reality, internment was used as cover to explain disappearance of the AJA into covert intelligence missions.  Doolittle's Raid on Tokyo staged as a cover for a covert insertion of  AJA counterintelligence agents tasked with spying on Walker manufacturing.
1942 (April) - American Major General Leslie Groves assumes command of the super-secret "Huntsville Project" to develop fighting machines to counter anticipated combination of Nazi Z3's with Japanese Walkers by the Axis Powers.  
1944 (December) - Germans assault Allied lines in the Ardennes Forest using "GetriebeSoldaten" - mechanical soldiers.  
1945 (January) - Ardennes Counteroffensive (Battle of the Bulge) ends with Allied victory.  British Field Marshall Montgomery claims that his conventional forces won the day, while others credit the contribution of American "SteelSuits" - a true mechanized infantry - under the command of General George S. Patton.  

August 6, 1945 - "Little Boy" weapon designed by the Huntsville project released in Hiroshima, Japan.
August 9, 1945 -  "Fat Man" weapon developed by the Huntsville project released in Nagasaki, Japan.
The two weapons consisted of fully autonomous war-fighting mechanicals controlled by direct interface of a human brain to "Z3" type computational engines.  Little Boy was essentially an over-sized suit of heavy plate armor with the mechanical components integrated as artificial muscles and joints to allow a human controller to carry the increased weight of armor and weaponry.  Fat Man was designed such that the human controller sat completely within the large central "body" with legs, arms and weapons controlled remotely.  Surgical connection of the human "Combat Intelligence" with the "Combat Calculator" was always intended to be a one-way process.

Both of the devices were armed with conventional arms such as single shot and machine guns, as well as experimental lightning guns and heat rays.   The armor was a new form of superdense element to protect the human controller from return fire long enough for human and mechanical to inflict extensive damage on the enemy.  It was not after the War that the augmented explosions produced when the suits came under heavy defensive fire were fully understood to be a particular property of the uranium alloy armor.  


2010 - University Professor and Galenologist Tedd Roberts introduces a new teaching series entitled "Your Brain is Electropunk..."