Many of the HBO present “Westworld” focuses on synthetic intelligence and android robots that appear indistinguishable from people. However the present has additionally often snuck in some real-world expertise that appears futuristic sufficient to mix in with the science fiction setting. One instance of such actual expertise in “Westworld” comes within the type of haptic vests that made their debut within the present’s second season.
Freeze all motor capabilities and switch again now if you wish to keep away from spoilers in regards to the second season. All good? OK, you’ve been warned. Welcome to Westworld.
With a full-blown killer robotic revolution underway in Westworld and its sister theme parks, the Delos Company sends in heavily-armed non-public army contractors in an try to regain management. Within the episode titled “Les Écorchés,” the PMCs go into battle sporting particular haptic vests that may transmit patterns of vibrations indicating the path and potential location of close by hosts. That concept that first got here up throughout a “Westworld” writers’ room brainstorming session with neuroscientist David Eagleman, an adjunct professor within the division of psychiatry & behavioral sciences at Stanford College, over a 12 months in the past.
“As a result of the hosts are in a mesh community with one another and their areas are identified, it looks as if an apparent factor for personal army contractors that drop in to have the ability to inform the place they’re,” Eagleman says.
The geolocation monitoring is made potential within the present by the non-public army contractors tapping into the hosts’ mesh community that permits the robots to wirelessly talk with each other. That details about every host’s location then will get transmitted to the vests worn by the people, which seem to gentle up with crimson lights accompanying the vibrations warning of potential killer robotic threats.
What’s extra outstanding is that the “Westworld” haptic vests are based mostly on real-life expertise designed by Eagleman and his Palo Alto startup known as NeoSensory that would assist blind folks “see” the true world and deaf folks “hear” sounds by way of vibration patterns. Eagleman beforehand demonstrated the VEST (Versatile Further-Sensory Transducer) expertise throughout a March 2015 TED speak.
“The concept is passing data to the mind through patterns of contact on the pores and skin, and we will actually go any kind of data stream in there,” Eagleman says. “Over the following few years, we’re going to proceed discovering out which issues are probably the most helpful.”
Turning Sound into Contact
NeoSensory has developed each a vest and a wristband model of the VEST expertise that may allow deaf folks to really feel totally different sounds on the earth by way of the vibrations on their pores and skin. Eagleman describes an “extraordinarily quick studying curve” based mostly on deaf folks’s experiences of testing the expertise. It’s a robust testomony to the mind’s functionality for adapting to new sources of sensory enter.
“On day one, after they first placed on the wristband, they will inform straight away the distinction between a canine barking and a child crying and a smoke detector and a siren on the highway and a automotive passing,” Eagleman explains. “So the truth that it’s extraordinarily intuitive is type of the fascinating and stunning half.”
The vest model of the expertise prices about $2,000, however the wristband model often called The Buzz could value simply a number of hundred dollars. That might show really disruptive provided that the present prices for a cochlear implant—a surgically implanted digital gadget that transforms sounds into electrical impulses—can attain as excessive as $100,000 for each the surgical procedure and gadget. Such excessive prices clarify why a comparatively small fraction of the 77 million folks within the deaf neighborhood worldwide is presently utilizing cochlear implants.
A mass manufactured model of the wristband received’t possible attain the market earlier than January 2019. However NeoSensory has already been working to get prototypes into faculties for the deaf in Thailand and India.
“We’re simply going to work to get this all around the globe as quick as potential,” Eagleman says.
Giving New Sight to the Blind
A extra experimental model of the VEST expertise may assist blind folks simply navigate round crowded rooms. This depends upon repeatedly mapping the placement of individuals or objects within the room with sensor applied sciences reminiscent of LIDAR or Microsoft’s motion-based Kinect sensor. As soon as these areas are all identified, the knowledge will get transmitted in a approach that allows the vest wearer to really feel the place everybody was whilst folks moved round.
Early testing with a blind participant confirmed that there was as soon as once more “zero studying curve,” Eagleman says. The individual may instantly inform if, for instance, somebody was on his left coming towards him and finally transferring round behind or in entrance of him.
This specific utility impressed Eagleman to recommend the fictional army use of the expertise in “Westworld.” Provided that the non-public army contractors may typically observe the areas of the hosts, the vests may have supplied much more utility than the “eyes in the dead of night” utility described within the present. In concept, such vests may have warned wearers a few potential enemy on the opposite facet of a wall or crouched behind a field in additional of a “sixth sense” vogue.
“Think about should you’re dropping into Westworld, to know there’s one on my left a 3rd of a mile away on the opposite facet of that constructing, and there’s one behind me a half a mile away,” Eagleman says. “That was type of the unique concept.”
The “Westworld” creators apparently determined that will give the people an excessive amount of of an edge over the killer robots, as a result of they diminished the efficient vary of the vest expertise to only 30 toes. Past initially displaying a non-public army contractor counting on the vest’s warnings to take out a number of robotic hosts in a darkened room, the present didn’t show way more in regards to the full potential of such expertise. And ultimately, the military of killer robots overcame the non-public army contractors—maybe not an entire shock given their less-than-impressive techniques and habits.
“Sadly, the people sporting the vests died fairly quickly,” Eagleman says. “So I used to be joking to my associates that subsequent time we’ll put the vests on the hosts.”
Curious to listen to extra a few neuroscientist’s ideas on how “Westworld” depicts synthetic intelligence and human consciousness? You possibly can learn extra on this prolonged Q&A with David Eagleman.