Don’t brain on my parade

Can reading and manipulating human brains benefit people and society? Can the same technology be used to oppress? As with most technology, the answer to both questions is: YES.

Let’s take a look at some of the most recent discoveries.

Credit: Jerry Tang and Alexander Huth

WTF? – A.I. can read minds

It turns out that well-trained A.I. models can predict what you’re going to say before you say it. Don’t freak yet (just get your tinfoil hat ready :D ). The A.I. needs a real-time MRI scan of your brain, and at the moment that’s not super portable.

This could be awesome for people who lose the ability to speak or never had it. On the flip side, however, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how surveillance capitalism or authoritarian regimes would use this. Thoughtcrime1 anyone?

Mind-reading machines are here: is it time to worry?

Yay! – Magnets cure depression

Credit: Steve Fisch / Stanford University

Stanford researchers have discovered that certain brain signals actually flow the wrong way in people with treatment-resistant depression — and that magnets can correct the misdirection and help patients feel better.

Depression treatment reverses “backwards” brain signals

Cool! – Implants bypass spinal injury

New implants help a spinal injury victim to walk again. The implants send brain signals to receptors below the spinal injury, enabling the patient to use his legs just by thinking.

Ironically, it doesn’t work that well without machine learning (aka A.I.) helping to read the patient’s thoughts (see above). Over time and with training, the A.I. can predict and interpret the patient’s intent — and make the whole thing work.

Brain Implants Allow Paralyzed Man to Walk Using His Thoughts

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From 1984 by George Orwell. Read it!

A.I. revolution incoming

Is it hyperbole to compare the push by tech companies (and governments) to gain supremacy in A.I. technology with the Manhattan project and the invention of the atomic bomb? Before listening to this Ezra Klein interview with Kelsey Piper—about the increasing pace of A.I. development and how it’s changing the world—I would’ve said that the main concern was job loss for knowledge workers and creatives.

Now I’m not so sure. In the next decade, A.I. is very likely to be replacing knowledge workers — up to and including writers, lawyers, and investment bankers — but that’s not the biggest concern. The threat is likely not what you or I imagine, but that’s part of the issue: namely, that development is moving so fast down the capitalism-greased paths to make money for the A.I. development companies that society can’t adjust fast enough for the unexpected.

The same thing happened before, in the rush to create the atomic bomb. The fictional narrative driving the Manhattan project was that we needed to get there before the Nazis. Turns out they weren’t working on it at all.

Listen or read:

How we can prepare for AI (podcast)

Transcript of Ezra Klein’s interview with Kelsey Piper

Meanwhile in chemistry…

Credit: James King-Holmes/SPL

Almost every chemist agrees that generative A.I. systems can massively accelerate research into protein folding, retrosynthesis, and novel drug identification. But that’s only possible if there’s enough data shared to effectively train the systems.

Today’s editorial in Nature calls for more open sharing of chemistry data, including negative results.

For chemists, the AI revolution has yet to happen

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I’m Jak Koke. I create stories.

Some of my stories adhere very closely to reality, and some are completely made up. I’ve been writing professionally in various forms for over 30 years since I sold my first short story in 1991. Since then, I’ve published novels, game material, technical articles, marketing copy, instructional tutorials, memoirs, keynote speeches, and video scripts.

My interests vary widely. Over the years, I’ve been an author, an editor, a publisher, a content strategist, a lab technician, a French tutor, a ranch hand, a berry picker, and a newspaper delivery engineer. On the personal side, I’ve lived in over a dozen different cities in four countries, been blessed with two long-term (and a number of medium-length) loving relationships, and co-parented two daughters to adulthood.

Learn more about me and my books at


I write to inform, communicate, and sway. The major issues that concern me right now are climate change and sustainability; economic, gender, and racial inequality; and how to change insidious and exploitative cultural narratives.

For me to write an effective story, I require an understanding of the world and how it works. In that light, I’m creating Dear Future to help three people:

You. Perhaps curated information that contains contextual knowledge will offer a more complete understanding of the world and the forces involved (as I see them).

Future me. This can serve as a reservoir of interesting information, and — because memory is both imperfect and shaped by context — remind me of what I was thinking when I posted it.

Current me. The act of writing something helps me codify it into knowledge and I’m likely to remember the information more clearly.

For more information, see the About page.

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How Patrick Rothfuss Helps Me Do Dishes

(with help from Nick Podehl)

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, Patrick Rothfuss’s two novels The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear are masterpieces of storytelling. The characters are complex and richly developed, the writing is lyrical and meticulously crafted, and the plot is engaging. This is one of the best stories that I have read. Rothfuss’s writing is clever, and thoughtful… and even when not a lot is happening, I am drawn along because I care about the characters.

notw_coverSo when I had the opportunity to check out the audiobook from our incredible Seattle Public Library, I took it even though I had already read the book. I wanted to read it again anyway.

I got hooked on audiobooks when I was commuting to a day job, and had to spend 30 minutes in the car each morning and again at night. An intriguing audiobook would make otherwise dull and frustrating time pass quickly. I cannot recommend them enough… especially if you can get them from the library. Audiobooks are relatively expensive because the publisher has to pay the voice actor(s), sound engineer, and producer. A long novel can be upwards of 40 hours long, which adds a substantial cost to production above what the author gets. And yet, I would say that the experience of a well-produced and expertly-narrated audiobook is worth the money.

The Brilliance Audio productions of the Rothfuss books are worth it. Days and days of entertainment and distraction while you get stuff done. It’s a pretty great deal actually.

The narrator of both The Name of Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear is Nick Podehl. His reading is marvelously expressive. He does voices for all the characters as one would expect, and in my opinion he has got them down cold. To me, his voice is Kvothe’s voice.

I don’t have a twice a day commute anymore, but even so I seem to have less and less time to sit down and read. When I’m not writing or editing at the computer, I’m up and about doing something around the house. I find that listening to a good story is a perfect way to pass the time when I’m battling entropy around the house — washing dishes, cleaning a room, or working on a project that’s primarily physical like car repair or construction. I’ve gotten to where I even listen in the shower from time to time. This isn’t good for my hot water bill as I tend to take longer showers when I’m involved in a good story.

But I also get a lot more dishes washed. Thanks Pat and Nick!

Do you like audiobooks? Have you read or listened to any that you particularly love? Let me know in the comments.