Friday, August 22, 2008

A Plague of Angels (or, Rorschach in your living room!)

Well, this is interesting. Intel has leapfrogged MIT on the whole magnetic-resonance schtick. They can wirelessly light a 60-watt bulb from almost a meter away, wasting only 25% of the broadcast energy in transit. This is a good thing, because "…the human body is not affected by magnetic fields," Josh Smith from Intel reassures us. "It is affected by electric fields. So what we are doing is transmitting energy using the magnetic field not the electric field." And I have to admit, it's heartening that the whole zapped-by-the-arc problem that electrocuted so many early-adopters seems to be a thing of the past.

I just have two teensy, niggling questions.

First up, in a world in which Peak Oil also seems to be a thing of the past — and in which the inextricably-linked issues of energy security and climate change grow increasingly troubling to anyone who isn't a) Michael Crichton and/or b) convinced that the Rapture will spirit them away and save their asses before the bill comes due — do we really want to be celebrating a technology that wastes a quarter of its kick before it even reaches its destination? Yes, the technology will improve over time; yes, efficiency will increase. But we're still talking about an omnidirectional broadcast here; even if the bulk of the signal strength passes in one direction, there's still going to be at least some wasted energy going out along the whole 360.

More to the point though, is Smith's confident assertions that "the human body is not affected by magnetic fields". Maybe he's talking about a different model of human body. Maybe the model he's talking about comes with a Faraday cage built into the skull, and is not susceptible to the induction of religious rapture1, selective blindness2, or the impaired speech and memory effects3,4 that transcranial magnetic stimulation can provoke in our obsolete ol' baseline brains.

Or maybe, once Intel gets its way and this "worldchanging" technology saturates our living space with directed magnetic fields, we'll all just start seeing things, bumping into chairs, vomiting from inexplicable bouts of spontaneous nausea, and freaking out at the sight of angels and aliens5 swarming through our living rooms.

Granted, so far you have to sit down in a lab and wear a magnetic hair-net to experience the effects I've described. But I wonder how many appliance-feeding magnetic-resonance transmitters we'll be able to load into our apartments before hallucinogenic hotspots start spontaneously appearing in our living rooms. At which point our local utility will reclassify these side-effects from "bug" to "feature", and add a small additional charge for "multisensory entertainment" onto our monthly power bill.

I'm actually kind of looking forward to it. It's bound to be cheaper than cable.

(Photo credit: Australian PC Authority)

Ramachandran, V.S., and Blakeslee, S. 1998. Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind. William Morrow, New York.
Kamitani, Y. and Shimojo, S. 1999. Manifestation of scotomas created by transcranial magnetic stimulation of human visual cortex. Nature Neuroscience 2: 767-771.
Hallett, M. 2000. Transcranial magnetic stimulation and the human brain. Nature 406: 147-150.
Goldberg, C. 2003. Zap! Scientist bombards brains with super-magnets to edifying effect. Boston Globe 14/1/2003, pE1.
Persinger, M.A. 2001 The Neuropsychiatry of Paranormal Experiences. J Neuropsychiatry & Clinical Neuroscience 13: 515-524.

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Blogger SpeakerToManagers said...

The way these things usually go, some enterprising MBA at Intel is going to figure out that they can use hallucinations as a marketing tool, and broadcast their ads right into our brains.

August 22, 2008 7:23 PM  
Anonymous rich said...

I for one welcome our magnetically induced overlord hallucinations.

August 22, 2008 8:28 PM  
Anonymous Julie K said...

On the plus side it would eliminate cords for the cat to chew on.

August 22, 2008 9:00 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Intel seem to be forgetting a lot of physics here. It's the electromagnetic force. Where you have magnetic fields you have electric fields inextricably.

The fact they can get away with saying this says a lot about standards of science education...

August 23, 2008 4:06 AM  
Blogger Keippernicus said...

I think we're missing some potential here. Rather than go bothering with powering entertainment and communication devices like remotes, cell phones laptops and all that via wireless power let's just cut out middle man and use the EM to beam the shit directly into our brains.

(I realize STM just said something about ads into the brain but why bother with such a narrow scope?)

I personally was born without an intracranial faraday cage so I know it'll work, once they hammer out the details I guarantee cisco will have a linksys wireless brain router on the market in no time.

That way we can consolidate all this extraneous hardware into one conveniently mind destroying device!

To be fair I would much have Theseus, and therefore an antimatter feed and cornucopia tech instead of a bunch of hyperactive ATP laced boney space squid with boundary issues.

Oh well, opinions vary.

August 23, 2008 7:28 PM  
OpenID bec-87rb said...

You know how I hate to agree with him, but Mr. W hat recht here. This innovation makes me grumpy and I, for one, do not volunteer to be a human guinea pig for a continuous monster exposure to EMF.

Just because it's cool doesn't make it a good idea. When I was 8, it was cool to see how long you could lay in the road before a car came.

August 25, 2008 11:27 AM  
Blogger Strannik said...

Obviously, these geniuses have never had an MRI. Ever see the questionnaire? Or everything they make you take off? That's right - its not just the human body, its their keys, watches, cell phones and/or implants and pins that you have to worry about.

August 26, 2008 1:04 PM  
Blogger John Henning said...

I seem to recall that solar panels naturally generate far more electricity in space than on earth. I remember a few decades ago watching a program on some space satellites where the narrator mentioned its panels could generate power equivalent to a city's power station on the surface of the earth.

Now, if we could somehow transmit that energy from space to stations on earth, I think even a 25% loss would be worth it. Also, to avoid magnetic fallout maybe the energy transfer could be targeted to specific power generators that use regular wire tech to transmit it on earth.

August 29, 2008 4:52 PM  
Anonymous Johnathan said...

Any electrical conductor moving within a static magnetic field or visa versa will cause a current flow within the conductor. The technology they are using involves a changing magnetic field and every single blood carrying vessel is in actuality a moving conductor. Such power transferred into the body has to do something, even if it is only heating effects and slow cooks individuals or even worse electrolyses the solutions travelling around the body. Never heard of RF cookers? more effective at deep tissue penetration than conventional microwave ovens!
It may be better used to improving point to point RF signalling efficiency.

September 5, 2008 9:47 AM  

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