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After what seems like months hacking around inside the matrix (building PCB’s and writing code) The Zone is ready for public consumption… and by that we mean… its ready to consume YOU!

**Disclaimer: While this installation utilises Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) technology, we are not able to read, control, or influence your mind/brain in any way. What we mean by ‘consume you’ is ‘take up a lot of your time’… its pretty addictive.

The Zone is a brain-training light installation based on Electroencephalography (EEG) biofeedback. EEG measures the electrical activity of your brain and classifies the patterns of activity into different bandwidths (like radio wave frequencies for different stations). Research has established a link between patterns in these different frequencies and ‘states of mind’, for example – higher beta wave activity (and some others, determined by an algorithm) has been linked to more focus or attention, while higher alpha wave (and some others, determined by an algorithm) has been linked to relaxation and mediation. This is an insanely simplified overview, for some more information on the specific tech we’re using… check this out

http://www.neurosky.com/AboutUs/BrainwaveTechnology.aspx

Biofeedback is the use of electronic monitoring of automatic bodily functions to train someone to acquire voluntary control of that function. Because we can’t see our brain, or feel the work it is doing – like we can with muscles – it is often hard for us to know when we are in a really good state of mind, other than through our emotion, which can be pretty unpredictable and sometimes unrelated to our ACTUAL state of mind.

The Zone allows you to see exactly how your brain is behaving on average at any point in time (albeit at a pretty low resolution) and learn how different kinds of actions / thoughts or ‘things you do’ impact on your state of mind. Think of it like listening to a DJ playing at a club, from outside and across the street. You can hear the basic rhythm of the thudding bass and make a pretty good guess what is being played, but you can’t really hear the detail or the lyrics. The Zone is quite similar, in that we’re listening for different rhythms (frequencies) in your brain’s activity and inferring how attentive or relaxed you are based on this.

The Zone is an experiment in giving you control of your state-of-mind.

Like any new skill, we’re not expecting everyone to get fantastic results on the first go. In fact, we’re expecting some pretty poor / borderline frustrating attempts.

But – that’s why we installed this in the middle of The Edge; so that every time you come in, whether its for a meeting or to smash out some homework, you’re gently reminded to give your brain a bit of a workout.

So… without further ado, here’s your first Brain Training Regime!!!

ARRIVE at The Edge
Head over to The Zone and get comfortable
Set the mode to FOCUS
– Try to light up all the Green lights, from the outside-in and hold them in the centre
– This task feeds back your brain’s average attention level.
You might like to try things like:
Counting backwards from 100
Counting to 200 in 4′s
Focus on one idea or thought and block out all other distractions / senses
Imagine yourself explaining how a car works to an alien, detail all the parts, what you need to run it, how you drive, etc
If you speak another language… try translating live (on the spot) while someone else speaks to you
Try to hold a ‘HIGH’ (within 3 bars of the end) attention level for at least one minute without it dropping
Rest / Repeat as often as you’d like (you don’t have to take the headset off to rest)
GO DO WHATEVER YOU CAME HERE TO DO!
Done for the day? Feeling a little frazzled? GOOD!
JUMP BACK IN!
Set the mode to RELAX
– Try to fade the lights from White to DEEP BLUE
– This task feeds back your brain’s average relaxation level, the state of mind similar to just before you fall asleep, but before you get really sleepy… relaxed basically.
You might like to try:
Deep breathing
Closing your eyes
Trying to block out any ideas or thoughts from entering your mind
Focusing on your senses only, thinking about breathing, thinking about what you can smell (don’t fart! – thats gross and its a small room)
Try to hold the lights down as close to BLUE as you can get them for as long as possible until you notice yourself feeling more relaxed.
You can use it to make the most of your time at The Edge and get ‘in the zone’ (train your attention and focus) before you go about working on your world changing ideas. Then – before you leave – you might like to pop in again, and go back to a state of ‘zen-like-bliss’ (train your relaxation, or meditation) before heading home for the night. After all, no-one likes to take their problems home with them.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how you go with this over the coming months, we’ll be checking in from time to time to make some adjustments and improvements based on your feedback. So…. GET IN THE ZONE!

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Pictured above – Anatomical Neon by Jessica Lloyd-Jones
http://www.jessicalloyd-jones.com/page19.htm

I’ve recently kicked off the first phase of a new project for ‘The Edge’ at the State Library of Queensland as part of the Animate That! project grants.

It’s called ‘The Cloud’ and its an experiment using Brain-Computer Interfaces to augment a physical space. I’ve become more interested in places over the last few years, particularly from a technological point of view. I’m particularly interested in how places and spaces will develop in the coming years as ubiquitous computing catches up to device based / cloud computing.

The concept for ‘The Cloud’ came together while I was researching the origin and evolution of ideas. One of the first and most obvious metaphoric influences is a term that’s been getting bashed in creative circles since the 50s – Brainstorming.

Influence #1 – A Brainstorm

The term ‘brainstorm’ was first brought into popular vernacular in 1953 by Alex F. Osborn (the O of the BBDO agency) only three short years after J.P Guilford’s presidential address to the American Psychological Association (1950) set tone for serious investigation into creativity. Osborn was an advertising executive, developing methods for creative thinking that hinged on two core principles; “defer(ing) judgement” and “reach(ing) for quantity”.

The result of a brainstorm is usually a collection loosely related ideas, fragments – all collected in one place for everyone to build on, add to, refine and develop into something new.

Influence #2 – Memory

“It is not possible to demonstrate the isolated localization of a memory trace anywhere within the central nervous system….” (Karl Lashly, 1950).

In our everyday life today, we deal with memory in two very distinctive ways. Our own, mental memories, and computer memory.

Our senses inform us of the detail in the world around us. Coupled with a complex biological system, these ‘raw inputs’ are contextualised by our mood, mental health and sometimes the quality of food we ate last night. These contextual markers leave impressions on our memories, filing them in our brain more like a story than a single file.

A complex series of connections, fragmented and spanning many regions of our brain. This ‘rub-off ’ is not isolated only to memories ‘going in’ and we often vividly remember a moment in our life while smelling an old cologne, or while walking down a street we used to live on.

Although neurobiology has made great advances in understanding the interaction of neurons within the brain, our fragile, vulnerable and living system of memory is still only loosely understood.

In contrast, computer based memories and stored files have traditionally been a system of indexing and journaling. Data is stored in a specific location, and a basic understanding of information architecture (folder systems, etc) is all that is required to able to retrieve them (as a user, using a device).

Over the last two decades, our lives have become increasingly connected with devices and mobile computing. As our businesses and our personal archives become evermore digital, our familiarity with computer memory has become symbiotically intwined with the ‘way‘ we now think.

Cloud Computing and its related services (hosting, file storage, etc) – in particular, Apple’s iCloud – has propelled this distinction between the computer memory and the biological system, allowing access to files across multiple platforms without distinctively ‘putting’ a file somewhere to collect later.

Everything revolves around the context in which it is used. 

Access has become the first active ‘sense’ that computers use to store our digital memories. ‘The Cloud’ has another implication for our digital evolution – most of us don’t even know where it is. Unlike our brain – easily located between our neck and pillow – the cloud may store our information in a variety of physical and virtual locations.

As technology progresses towards ubiquitous computing technology, these ‘memory places’, the devices they service, and consequently us; the users, are becoming more closely intertwined.

The Hook?

I am interested in using a real-time interaction between a human memory system (a brain – or mind, depending on your point of view) and a computer system, to see what comes from it.

The Cloud will – quite literally – become ‘a cloud‘ of digital memories, experiences, thoughts, emotions and interactions at The Edge.

The sculpture will converge as it approaches the entrance and foyer area, at its heart will be a Brain-computer Interaction (BCI) device. One of either the Emotiv EPOC or Neurosky Mind Wave

The brain activity recorded via will be programmed into the audio-visual and lighting elements of the sculpture using Arduino interactive-ware.

Over the coming months, I’ll be conducting some experiments in at The Edge on Thursday afternoons.
Feel free to pop in and plug your head into a computer – literally!

I’ve had a few people ask me ‘what exactly is a meme‘ recently.

Remember the ‘Shit ### people say’ videos?

So here’s the quick version

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” as a description for a “self-replicating unit with potential significance in explaining human behavior and cultural evolution.” They’re transmitted from mind to mind through writing, speech, gesture, ritual, or other means which can be imitated, replicated, mutated and implemented.

(Lifted from http://emergentbydesign.com/2012/05/03/birth-of-a-meme-the-rise-of-culture-tech/)

And if you have a little more time

Susan Blackmore on Memes

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

Hopefully that clears it up….

If you're a bit of a mind-tech junky, you might have already seen the first reference in this piece. It is a study published towards the end of last year, by Shinji Nishimoto who undertook the intense task of attempting to recreate the activity within the visual cortex of the brain while it viewed a number of short videos. In other words - put the vision you just experienced back together, based on the activity in your brain. Live Capture Results Nishimoto, Shinji (11/10/2011). "Reconstructing Visual Experiences from Brain Activity Evoked by Natural Movies". Current biology , 21 (19), p. 1641. Today, I discovered the photography of Pip Ventosa who's 'Collective Snapshot' series. It rang a very similar bell. These are all real photographs, layered on top of each other until a somewhat blurry by no less distinctive vision of a famous landmark emerges. Pep Ventosa - Sydney Opera HousePep Ventosa - Eiffel Tower

The Hook?
In Nishimoto's study, the central issue seemed to be one of resolution, among an almost inexpressible number of technical barriers in the use of fMRI and motion-energy encoding. But looking at Ventosa's work, I can't help but think perhaps the visual cortex is busier than we give it credit for... if the act of seeing involves even the minute possibility of invoking a memory... perhaps we're seeing more than we think when we look at our visual cortex 'in the act'

I’m working on a public art project in Brisbane, Australia at the moment. We’ve been commissioned to breath new life into a series of urban thoroughfares that have recently fallen into a rather uninspiring state; Half ‘antigraffiti orange’, half hundred year old concrete bridge.

This week we’ve been on location, collecting information about how these places are used and by whom. It’s not been easy, but it has been rather promising. Almost every vistor doesn’t not stop unless they’ve dropped something – or need to tie their shoes. If we get just one person to stop after we finish – that’s a 100% improvement!

I’m interested in the significance of developing these places; for locals, tourists and the identity of the area. I’m curious about these in-between places, places that people don’t normally stop for – but sometimes pause in. In France, there is one particular example of these pause places; in Dijon. Along Rue de la chouette (Owl Street) there is – surprise – an Owl. This sculpted owl, no bigger than the size of an average hand span has become a thing of myth and local folklore. It is believed to bring good-luck to any passer by; simply if they rub the owl with their left hand while making a wish.

Testament to this belief is the Owl’s appearance….

The Owl aka La Chouette

La Chouette; ‘The Owl’ is a small carving, etched out of one flying buttresses of the Nortre Dame Cathedral in Dijion, France. It is believed to be either the trademark of a master stonemason or the cathedral’s architect – I’m not ruling out old old old school street art though… and – there appears to be no definitive source of information on the origin of this tiny sculpture – however I’m still looking…

I’m curious about these tiny adjustments – these seemingly insignificant additions to a public place that can turn walking to work into something a little more enchanting and memorable.

More of La Chouette here:

http://photosynth.net/embed.aspx?cid=1e42cc77-ac3b-46d7-b45a-57068e7393be&delayLoad=true&slideShowPlaying=false

I’m interested in serendipity ~ the experience of stumbling upon something of immense value, in an unexpected or seemingly irrelevant place. I also quite like the word too – despite the ice-cream magnetized movie by the same name.

This moment of inspired discovery has long been revered in the uncontrollable realm of fate  and luck, even it’s word suggests something of a magical quality. But increasingly, serendipity is creeping into our day to day lives in a number of different ways. Apple, Netflix and Amazon are a couple of widely cited examples; offering their users recommendations based on previous purchasing decisions and user records. The value of this is fairly self-explanatory – but analytical recommendations are still confined to logical reasoning; if you liked that, then you’ll like this. 

In a slightly less enchanting way – insurance companies are hard at work trying to analyse the likelihood of your serendipitous encounters with their bottom lines

The problem is… Human’s aren’t calculators 

I’m interested in curating serendipity. I want to know what the conditions that turn a seemingly random encounter into something ultimately valuable are. I’m curious to see whether it is possible to put in place guides or structure that promote these serendipitous encounters.

At the heart of this idea is value.  How it’s created, and what people get from it. But I believe that real serendipity is something a little more than just value. It relies on an understanding of what direction you’re travelling in at the time of the encounter, a sticky problem at work, perhaps even a idea that you’ve had bubbling away for a new flavour of ice cream.

Real serendipity is a deep seated idea, hunch or feeling responding to external stimulus that may have existed in your network for years, but you seemed to just bump into it by chance. We always know serendipity once we’ve encountered it, but predicting it is something of a grey area.

However it does push the case that if we know it when we see it, serendipity is essentially visual. We experience serendipity, because suddenly connected the dots between our sticky problem, and our random chance encounter.

But – if our brains are essentially just awesome pattern detectors – the idea of serendipity becomes even less enchanting (maybe we are calculators after all)

So – can you curate it?

Discovr use a recommendation style with a twist – the added feature being a visual network that links up your recommendations in a glance-able and scalable way; stronger connections, tight knit clusters.

At a more structural level – behind the scenesPageRank and it’s cousin EdgeRank are constantly plotting out the relevance of our enquiries and relationships, a good visual example (though not as practical) is LinkedIn’s In Maps.  Beyond that – PeerIndex, Klout and others are working away at understanding the way we share as nodes in our networks. Soon we’ll be meeting Likeness a subjective search engine.

But does understanding what we share, with whom and how frequently get us any closer to showing us exactly what we didn’t know we were looking for?

I believe that curating serendipity is about enabling people to see the connections between their interests, ideas, exisiting work, relationships and resources – and connect the dots for themselves, a few steps ahead. Serendipity factors might one day become part of scenario planning?  

I’m curious about the impact curating serendipitous encounters will have on inspiration and productivity. If we can curate it, will we all be better off? Or ultimately distracted in a permanent spin-cycle of discovery?