Enhanced prosthetics, cryptographic music collectives, and custom-built cardiac assist devices.

17 March 2014

When many people consider prosthetic limbs, they often seem to think of mechanisms that replace some of the functions of the original but don't seem to add anything new. Prosthetics limbs are not very common and they're almost always very expensive. To the best of my knowledge I don't know of anybody modifying a prosthetic in any substantial way (or any way, for that matter). That's what made this news article jump out at me: A student at the Atlanta Institute of Music and Media named Jason Barnes lost his right arm in an accident in the workplace. He wears a prosthetic hand which seems to serve him well, but it doesn't have all of the flexibility of the original which makes playing the drums difficult. Gil Weinberg of the Georgia Center for Music Technology wrote a proposal for and recieved a grant from the National Science Foundation to fund the development of the Robotic Drum Prosthesis, which is a custom-designed replacement hand that not only grips a pair of complimentary positioned drumsticks but also has enough processing power on board to make the playing of second drumstuck autonomous. The microprocessor on board analyzes Jason's percussion routines and improvises a third percussion line automatically played by the other drumstick controlled by the prosthesis. Not only is Jason able to play the drums and marimba more effectively but he's never quite sure what he's going to get...

Wanting to play in a band isn't an easy thing. First, you have to figure out where your musical talents lie; not everybody's are conducive to playing live, or playing pre-recorded, or even playing alongside others. Some people's gifts lie in fields other than music which are no less important, I hasten to add. So, you have to figure out not only where you fit but you have to find (or avoid) collaborators. Then you have to figure out how to market yourself so you get people listening to your work, and distribute your work, and and and... It's hard. I was never able to pull it off, which is probably why I'm sitting on my couch writing blog posts and not on the road touring. I realize that I'm making this about me, which is something I don't ordinarily do but I've got good reason to this time. What if it was possible to find some combination of musical and sapient factors to make it more feasible to play as a musician?

Enter the Cypherfunks.

Simon de la Rouviere of South Africa wondered what would happen if someone combined the global Net, virtual collectives like Anonymous or Telecomix, identity politics, and cryptographic currency and proposed a meme called the Cypherfunks, an online pseudnonymous adhocractic band that anyone could claim to be a member of simply by taking up the flag and the insignia, performing music, and publishing it to the collective's Soundcloud account. As a way of transacting business inside and outside of the collective, de la Rouviere created an open source cryptocurrency also called the Cypherfunks which also seems as if it could form the backbone of a reputation network similiar to Quantified Prestige because it's possible to write arbitrary text and limited programs into cryptocurrency blockchains.

The music of the Cypherfunks is whatever the members of the collective make it out to be. One track might be cool jazz, another hard techno, another darkwave, another spoken word, another a bizarre atonal improv involving a tuba, some vacuum cleaner hoses, a kazoo, and an amateur radio telescope (no, really, look it up). Adherents of the Cypherfunks meme are explicitly free to publish their own work, remix the other works of the collective, and redistribute the other works of the Cypherfunks. Adherents of the meme are also free to play live or virtual gigs under the moniker if they so choose. Adherents can even collect and donate samples of instruments or sounds to the collective to assist in the creation of new works.

What's going to come of this? I have no idea. It'll be interesting to find out, though...

Cardiac surgery of any kind is complex and risky, to say the least. Let's face it, we're talking about a chemoelectrical pump made of muscle and collagen that has to beat well over two billion times during a human's lifetime. Toward the end of taking care of such a delicate organ hundreds of people around the world dedicate thousands of days of their lives toward learning how to perform surgery upon it, and tens of millions of dollars have been spent engineering devices that interact with it, such as pacemakers, implantable cardioverters, and left ventricular assist devices. However, when you consider that engineering cardiac prosthetics requires a certain amount of standardization, it stands to reason that one size does not, in fact, fit all, and additional care must be taken to integrate everything properly. Recently, advances in 3D printing of flexible circuitry and biomedical engineering have produced a custom-made elastic electrode array that fits over the wearer's heart that can potentially replace the pacemaker. Still in the test type stage, the device continually monitors the electrical activity of the heart over much of the organ's surface instead of a few single locations, and in the event an arrhythmia is detected will compute and administer optimal electrical stimulus to get the heart back on track, at least until the wearer can get to the hospital for treatment I should think. Each device is fabricated based upon a high resolution scan of the patient's heart (currently only rabbits, and even then only extra-corporeally) and run off on a 3D printer. No word on when this device will enter clinical trials, but I'd say it'll be a few years down the line to say the least.