This month we took a break from our usual circuits and electrons to explore cells and emotions. [Katie] opened the evening with events and other announcements. The Hackaday Prize is still ongoing, and the focus is just about to shift from Robotics Module to Power Harvesting. An exciting announcement for regular attendees of the meet delivered by [Dan] is that the venue, Supplyframe DesignLab, is turning its street-facing space into a design+technology gallery whose opening night will be a part of LA Design Festival.
Dr. [Rajib Schubert] was our first speaker and he managed to capture this audience's attention by rephrasing his work in terms electronics tinkerers understand: technology and techniques for cell exploration are reaching the point where researchers like himself can start looking at individual neurons in the brain, manipulation them, and watch them react. This is akin to cutting open a microprocessor, modify a transistor, and monitor effects of the change while the computer continued running. Major advances in this field have taken place within the past 5-10 years and pace of advancement are not slowing down. He is very enthusiastic to spread this knowledge of the protein-and-blood field to the silicon-and-electricity field because he sees clear mapping between the two and he believes their convergence is inevitable. People with interest and skills in either field can ramp up on the other and join the cadre of pioneers.
In the Q&A session that followed, some in the audience were very excited by the promise but some were concerned about applying this technology ethically and what the risks might be. Dr. Schubert is frank in that the ethics discussion is happening but is outpaced by tremendous technological development. This made for very lively discussions after the talks.
On a similar vein of caution about technology, [Christine Sunu] presented stories about robots and people who form connections to them. Our brains evolved to recognize other people and recognize things. Robots show signs of both and this effect can be disconcerting. Human beings have become attached to these objects because they're no longer purely inanimate. What does it mean for society when people would treat their Roomba robot vacuum as a child, or invite Amazon Alexa into their house as a trusted advisor? It's not just a disembodied voice, it is an always present point of sale terminal for a retail giant. Are Amazon's interests necessarily aligned with the interests of their users?
Our two speakers and their amazing talks gave us an evening of thought-provoking discussion. Keep an eye on the Hackaday LA Meetup page for information about future events. If you weren't able to make the meet, we do have a way for you to relive the talks digitally, but the lively intelligent debate afterwards has to be experienced in person.
Dr. Rajib Shubert - Virus stamping for targeted single cell infection
Christine Sunu - Emotive Robots