Imitation & Flattery

I’ve been lucky enough to own this domain name for a number of years, and populate it with loads of content along the way. For a while, I ran a dedicated Tumblr sideblog of the same name which I have since merged into this site. More recently, I founded Digital Cortex Ltd., a formal means of handling a clutch of consultation projects. And now, this site is the front-end to my hosting business, offering virtual private server space to a few happy clients, as well as a playground for a few of the other little projects I’m working on.

Meanwhile, plenty of other people / groups / products have laid their claim to the Digital Cortex name, and I wanted to provide a quick review of them here, just for fun, but also to signpost should anyone have got lost in the ether.

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Chris Chan on Twitter

https://twitter.com/digitalcortex

A dude who’s only tweeted four times, not much else to say…
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Question Authority on YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/digitalcortex

A highly politicised channel featuring clips from documentaries and news broadcasts. It’s seemingly anti-corporate  / anti-government / anti-war. Whoever runs the channel quotes:

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter, and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. (Abraham Lincoln)

Makes it all the more charming that one of his playlists is called Why I Love the 80’s, doesn’t it?
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Doc on Instagram

http://instagram.com/digitalcortex

I guess this is a tattooed guy who I assume wears glasses, eats pasta, and likes beer. He describes himself as “PhD -Piled Higher Deeper enuff said 😉
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Digital Cortex – The Movie

http://www.digital-cortex.com

A chap called Serhan Meewisse, a storyteller from the Netherlands, is making a film. He posted the below trailer to his YouTube channel:

About the film (autotranslated from Dutch):

Digital Cortex is a fiction story about Matt, who has just graduated from the film academy. Matt, the speed of the eternal accelerating system not keep after his studies. He gets his unattainable vision into depression and have thoughts about suicide. In desperation get Matt to his friend Andrew. Andrew may be the only solution for him.

A device that he can continue. system

Digital cortex makes the flow of information along the human visual cortex digital. Thoughts and fantasies are visual and are immediately visible on screen. Matt’s life is gaining momentum. Success is his second name. Because Matt is continuously working to become reality and fantasy begin to merge. Together his fantasy reality Matt is getting delusions and hallucinations. He stands for choice, back to his unhappy existence or lose himself in his imagination.

Sounds kind of cool – wonder if I’ll get an invite to the screening!
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Digital Cortex on LinkedIn

http://www.linkedin.com/company/digital-cortex

The leading social media marketing and customer experience agency. We help Business understand the power of having a marketing and communication presence through the Social medium.

Hmm… Not sure if they realise, but their web address redirects back here. Further googling suggests they might not be doing too well.
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Digital Cortex on SlideShare

http://www.slideshare.net/theopriestley/digital-cortex

A bit more info on what the above company does:


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Digital Cortex on SoundCloud

https://soundcloud.com/digital-cortex

Three guys named KyRow, Nebtune & Aaronson, who make Drum & Bass that sounds like this:

I recommend you also check out ‘Skull Fucker’, ‘nothing like a bowl of frosties’ and their remix of ‘Lana Del Rey – Born To Die’. They are also on Facebook and YouTube. Good shit, lads.
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DIGITALCORTEX.COM

Not active, but the WHOIS record indicates Brian Winn, a Professor of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media and Director of the Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) Lab at Michigan State University. We emailed a couple of years ago, and he provided some interesting backstory about the domain:

In terms of releasing digitalcortex.com, I am not interested at this point. I actually had a consulting company called Digital Cortex back in the late 90s and digitalcortex.com was the domain name for the company. Interestingly enough another company wanted the domain name and bought it for a substantial amount of money. Enough that we changed our company name and got a new domain name. Well, the story goes that a year or two later, that company went belly up in the .com crash and I bought the domain name back. I am not holding out for a big sale in the future (though I would not oppose it). I just have a sentimental connection with the domain … and I am thinking of using the name again for a new company.

Best of luck with it all, Brian.
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Digital Cortex in the US Trademark Records

COMPUTER SOFTWARE, WHETHER EMBEDDED IN ANOTHER PRODUCT OR ON A STAND-ALONE BASIS, WHICH ALLOWS THE USER OR ANOTHER COMPUTER SOFTWARE PROGRAM TO CAPTURE ANY DIGITAL CONTENT, AND TO USE, MANIPULATE, PROCESS, AND ROUTE THAT CONTENT, INCLUDING ORIGINAL ATTRIBUTES, TO AND FROM ANY COMPUTER SOFTWARE APPLICATION

The registrant was AnySoft, a tech company based in Newton, MA. From what I can dig up, their software ‘Digital Cortex 2.0′ was an approach to solving system and application interopability’ acting as a sort of software layer between various networked machines. More info here. Possibly the same guys who bought the domain from Brian Winn? Anyway, the trademark was cancelled a couple of years ago. A shame, too, because they also had this super snazzy logo:

Digital Cortex Anysoft Logo
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A few more:

Digital Cortex on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/alamocityit

Providing IT Solutions for local non-profits and healthcare businesses.

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Digital Cortex Media

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/mark-fenger/11/43a/485

Digital Cortex is a small animation studio specializing in educational videos. We just completed work on ‘Echo’ a computer animated accent reduction tutor, prior to that we created a series of videos to accompany medical textbooks.

Sounds pretty cool, but couldn’t uncover any of their work.
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Digital Cortex by Dactilar

http://www.beatport.com/track/digital-cortex-original-mix/4307073

A deep house track, with a couple of good remixes. I really like this one.
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Digital Cortex on ‘Wandering Stan’ Blog

http://wanderingstan.com/2006-11-16/we_need_a_digital_cortex

A mini series of interesting blog posts by Stan James, starting with this.
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Digital Cortex dot IT

http://digitalcortex.it

Hi, I’m Matt Hileman, chief do-it-all at Digital Cortex […] Contact us any time with issues regarding any aspect of IT, networking, wireless, software installs and/or upgrades, PC’s, servers, storage, disaster recovery, backups and more…

Seems like there’s lots more going on behind the scenes.
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Digital Cortex dot CA

http://blog.digitalcortex.ca

This blog has up to date information on Network Security.

Last updated, Wednesday, November 3, 2010…
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Digital Cortex dot DE

http://digitalcortex.de

Another dead IT site.
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Cortex Professional Digital 4-in-1 Titanium Curling Iron

http://amzn.to/10V87la

You’d be surprised how much of my traffic comes from searches for this product!
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Cortex Digital

http://cortexdigital.com

A complete mystery…
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And that’s all I could find! Hopefully, I can remain the top site for the keyword, but if not the crown is bound to go to one of the above contenders. My money is on the trio of drum+bass producers – those search bots seem to love ’em!

Missing: Bella the Dog

This isn’t the sort of thing I’d usually write about here, so for the hardcore who’ve come to expect a blend of media and tech thoughtfulness, an alternative reading is that this is a a live case-study in how digital can play troubleshooter to certain real-world issues…

Those who follow me on Twitter will know the news already:

There’s been a search out for her ever since, with all five Saunters and some amazing neighbours clomping about in our wellies, flashlights in hand.

I’m pretty sure we’ve thought of everything: we’ve scouring the entire surrounding area (see map); spoken to people all over town; put up flyers and posters in areas of high traffic; we’re leaving a scent-trail back to the house from where she went missing; notified all the necessary authorities and secured some media coverage (Star Radio, GumtreeDogLost).

As you’ll see, what we need now are some more eyes and ears…


View Larger Map

Four hours ago, something incredible happened. A lady I’ve never met created the Facebook group ‘Help find BELLA‘ and invited some friends.

Since then it’s grown, and now a whopping 128 people have joined. Tomorrow, there’s a search planned for 10.30am in the Littleport area. Truly awesome. Thank you all. We can’t do this without you!

[box]Update: We found her! I’ll update this blog post when we find her. In the meantime, please tweet, Facebook and G+ this blog post to anybody in your network that lives in the Cambridgeshire/Norfolk area.[/box]

Many thanks indeed, Tom.

Strategy Bot: An Experiment in Social A.I.

In this post I’ll introduce you to my new pet project: an experiment in Twitter automation. The Strategy Bot (pictured) is ‘programmed’ to select & retweet key digital media resources, case studies or news items that provoke a higher understanding of the formation of good digital strategy.

Strategy Bot
He thinks, therefore he tweets.

Some context… I will typically have the odd side project on the go at any one time. Recent examples have included:

  • Recategorising all my RSS feeds for mobile, web & iPad
  • Linking up Instapaper / ReaditLater / Pinboard & Twitter
  • Testing Facebook ads to see if I can drive Twitter followers
  • Playing with XFBML, the new Follow button and Google +1
  • Sketching people’s Twitter avatars with my new stylus

All of the above would be worthy of a blog post, and that might happen for a couple of them, but there’s been one project I’ve been thinking about for a while that I reckon just needs to be shared, because, dear reader, I need your help!

I’ve been interested in getting the most out of Twitter for a while, and I’ve been certain there is some utility among the network’s parasites: the lowly twitterbot. I’d love to perform an autopsy on one to see how they really work, as there are some excellent cases of these automata being actually quite useful or cool. For example:

  • Spotibot – @replies suggested music based on your requests
  • Wikipediabot – random links to Wikipedia pages every hour
  • Easy Joke – RT’s with “that’s what she said” on certain phrases

There are loads more listed on the Twitter Fan Wiki, and of course there are millions of spambots that behave in similar ways. But I wanted to make something that would be primarily useful to me, and that others might enjoy too.

The idea arose from the need to detect, share and archive truly excellent links, without cluttering my personal Twitter feed. Did you know you can automatically add Twitter links to Pinboard for archiving? It’s a bloody useful way to passively log the stuff that’s held your attention. And did you know you can create a self-hosted archive of all your tweets? I use Tweetnest to this end, where I’ve been logging my personal tweets here. Try searching for something!

Mr. Strategy Bot is just another way to add useful stuff to my own personal content library. But throughout the course of his life, I’d like him to be useful to everyone. Or at least, everyone that works in digital media (you gotta have a niche). So how should I automate him to this end?

In my attempts to pin down what makes these robots work, I found a number of approaches, typically making use of Twitterfeed (a pretty blunt RSS syndication tool) or the Twitter API (way over my head). I needed something that would let me ‘scrape’ the top links from a list of Twitter users, and automatically RT the top five links.

I have totally failed in my attempts, even after a whole evening spent in the depths of Yahoo! Pipes. For now, I’ve had to settle on the manual way. Yep, I’m manually RT’ing the links until I find a better solution, five a day, with a bit of prose each time to help round out his character.

I will continue to research means of automating his behaviour, as I think the idea of one’s own personal virtual pet social robot is a really powerful idea. Wouldn’t you agree?

[box]Please leave a comment if you can help create virtual life! Let’s give this guy his own A.I. existence out in the digital ether.[/box]

In the meantime, you should follow him on Twitter here.
He’s programmed to follow back!

The Future of Love

Love is here to stay

Human beings are hard-wired to love. As babies, we rely solely on the love of our parents for our survival. As adults, our instinct to love keeps us producing those babies.

So what is the future for love?
Guest blogger Lindsey Mountford investigates:

Love is a drug.

The state we call the “honeymoon period” is known as being in limerance, and there are specific things going on in our brains (darling, when I look at you my ventral tegmental area lights ups with the power of a thousand suns and my caudate nucleusis floods with enough dopamine and norepinephrine to fill a thousand seas) when this happens.

The pharmaceutical industry will cotton on to this and produce pills to keep the spark of love alive. We already take vitamins, Viagra and Prozac by the bucketload to improve our standard of living, so why ignore this incredibly important aspect of our emotional lives?

If Big Pharma is clever it will market the drug as a health supplement.

Heart Beat
Prescribed Love?

Worried that it’s not ‘real’ love? In the future the lines between what we think of as real, virtual, enhanced or fake will be more blurred anyway. We won’t mind.

Prenuptial agreements will be accompanied by brain scans which will ‘prove’ we’re marrying for love. Marriage counselling could take place in the EEG/fMRI scanner, with new versions of neurofeedback therapy helping us get our relationships back on the right track.

Love is good for your health.

Once we’ve all given up smoking and we eat well and exercise, what’s next on the agenda? We may be seeing NHS leaflets encouraging us to go speed-dating. We may even be prescribed the Love Drug described above.

More likely, we will be offered more education about love, which starts in schools and continues at the GP. It’s happening already. Interpersonal psychotherapy is an evidence-based talking therapy which helps people with relationship skills. The benefits are improved mental and physical health, which last a lifetime. The NHS is already investing more money in IPT, and will continue to do so.

Love is big business.

There are thousands of dating sites out there, catering for more niches than anyone knew existed. (Geek lover? Got a Stashe Passion? Zombie looking for love?) This diversification won’t continue.

The truth is, there are lots of unconscious things going on when we fall in love. We are not always good judges of our own characters (and we can’t help lying in our profiles.) We’re not good judges of characters of others and we often don’t have a good understanding of we should be looking for in a partner that will make us happy.

OKCupid are doing some very interesting things with the data they’re gathering from their millions of members which finally gives us real data about what makes a good match. When Google gets involved, things will get interesting and result in love.google.com

We won’t need to spend several hours writing our profiles trying to sell ourselves.

A Google spider will find all the things we’ve ever written online (On Buzz, Twitter, blog, social network profiles etc.), then text analysis software like Alceste will scan it and suss you out based on:

  • keywords (i.e. I mention ‘books’ a lot on my blog)
  • frequency of keywords (I mention books a LOT)
  • moods (i.e., I complain a lot, especially in the mornings)
  • thought patterns (i.e. I can get overexcited and Tweet a lot)
  • sentence structure, grammar (i.e. I’m an informal writer, but I don’t use three exclamation marks in a paragraph and I don’t write LOL.)

Then Google Love will look at all that juicy data it has about us as individuals:

  • film/TV/music preferences (Lovefilm, Spotify etc.)
  • interests (browsing history)
  • food and household purchases (Tesco clubcard)
  • travelling and going-out habits (Oyster card)
  • sociability (activity levels on social networks)
  • relationship history (on social networks)

Google Love will gather an overwhelming amount of data on millions of people and track the course of their relationships. Using all this knowledge, eventually Google will be able to create a Love algorithm to find the ideal partner for everyone.

The Google Love algorithm will be big and beautiful, and it will work.

Marriage, sex and robots.

Most visions of love in the future involve a lot of casual sex (thank you male sci-fi authors.) As sex becomes safer with improved contraception, people will be doing more of it. Google Love won’t care if you’re unavailable, if your data is there then you can be ‘headhunted’ by a love interest. If you were told you had a 98% chance of falling in love with someone wouldn’t you want to meet them?

Roxxxy Sex Robot

‘Traditional’ marriage is a crazily outdated concept. In what other area of life would we accept a contract that we sign when we are intoxicated (see ‘Love is a drug’ above) that is binding until death? As life expectancies continue to increase, marriage must have more flexibility. Perhaps similar to a mobile phone contract – minimum of 10 years with a rolling annual contract afterwards.

There’s definitely a place for the robot girlfriend and BritneyBot. The BoyfriendBot version will be sophisticated software only, programmed to send romantic/loving messages and emails throughout the day to satisfy her need to feel adored.

Love is a meme.

That instinct for all-encompassing love from an all-powerful, benevolent, omnipotent being we have as babies never leaves us just because we become adults, so we invented God to fill the gap. For a long time, religious love was seen as True Love.  We evolved to believe we’re the centre of the universe and it’s a heady feeling to be told that God loves us.

But now the philosophers have dug a God-shaped hole in our heads, what replaces it? Look at the popularity of the Twilight Saga to see what is happening already. The fantasy of romantic love and our instinct for religion meet in stories like this, and the result is 85 million books sold worldwide.

Stories about love (seen in films, books, magazines, perfume adverts, family and friends) propagate the love myth and make it stronger. The supernatural love meme will become stronger and more powerful. Vampires aren’t going anywhere.

If music be the food of love, play on.

For your listening pleasure, here is a a collaborative Spotify playlist of love songs.

Thanks for reading! It would be very romantic of you to leave a comment below.
Oh, and do subscribe to be notified of the next entry in this blog series.

On the Potential for Branded Robots

Last year I wrote about these awesome fighting robots from Japan, where  I asked this question:

“I am very interested in at least progressing research into the potential for branded robotics, androids & cybernetics if any readers have thoughts?”

I received an equally awesome response from one Pius Agius, who challenged me on my Western predilection to see robots fighting rather than fulfilling a higher place in society. I reproduce the key lines of our dialogue here:

“Because [the Japanese] accept robots as part of their daily lives more than a majority of those living in the west does not mean we in the so called west cannot build great machines […] We can make better use of our creations than place them in roman like battles. What does that say about us as a civilization?? Let us build machines that can develop and reach their full potential.”

Stunned to have stimulated such a well-considered response, in answer I cited a company that I think are making some great stuff in this field – Festo:

“I think their design-led approach is not only creating some very useful mechanisms, but can potentially change the way we in the West perceive robotics as part of everyday life.”

Check them out if you like – Festo do great stuff.

Meanwhile, I went to see what I could find out about the guy who’d crashed in with his well-considered comment. I found Pius dwelling on the vibrant community pages of Grandroids, a Ning-based social network full of heavyweight discussion on robotics. Members spoke of a ‘Steve Grand’ as the patriarch of their micro-culture. I’m coming back to this…

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but I grew up surrounded by members of the Games Industry in Cambridge. My father was Director of Development at Millennium Interactive, which became Cyberlife, then Creature Labs, and then Gameware Development.

The common thread between these companies was a breakthrough series of Artificial Life games called Creatures. Cyberlife was created to commercialise the work of this very same Steve Grand, where together with a team of artists and programmers they went about developing the Creatures series.

Though artificial life simulators are now a well-established genre (Tamagotchi; Sims; EyePet), the series was first to reach critical and commercial acclaim. Players would take on the role of keepers to cutesy ‘Norns’. But these were no ordinary creations, and in the 90’s Creatures was far ahead of its time.

These creatures would learn and grow, each with their own neural network, and were motivated to survive, and eventually breed in order to pass on their digital genotype. They had the ability to adapt and evolve, iterating towards an understanding of and harmony with their environment.

Years later, Steve is well-established as the leading thinker in AI and robotics. As well as mounds of academic submissions, he’d been running a project to build a series of intelligent robots for rent, as crowd pullers in public events and trade shows. His first robot was a five foot tall humanoid female called Grace, I discovered.

Because I’d found myself on his site, and because I know the guy, I thought I’d go to Steve to ask my initial question once more:

Hello Steve,
This is Tom Saunter here, Ian’s son.

A member of this very network recently commented on my blog, and one Google later I found myself here. With such a vibrant community there’s so much to digest, so I thought I’d go straight to the source…

Part of my job these days is to seek out emerging technologies for advertising purposes, and now that I’ve read about your Grandroids project I am interested to hear your thoughts on how you feel robotics could be of benefit to brands and, in turn, to consumers.

Besides increased traffic to conference booths, what part do you feel your robots might reasonably play when faced with a brief to change the buying behaviours of the general public?

There’s got to be a great piece of research in there.
Do you know anyone who can help me with an answer?

All the best,
Tom

The response, and get ready for it, was this phenomenal piece of prose:

[…] So, um, how might robots like Grace change buying behaviours? God knows! They could certainly have an impact on brand perception, and I suspect that’s a double-edged sword. If the robot is suitably impressive then it improves the company’s image, but if it’s a bit naff then at best it’s just a novelty to draw crowds that the client would then have to secure by other means, and at worst it damages the client’s image.

For instance Asimo has done wonders for Honda’s public image (not in terms of AI, particularly, just general technology), but some other Japanese robots have fared less well, especially those that fall into the Valley of the Uncanny. In other words, they’re lifelike enough to trigger the circuits in our brains that detect things that “aren’t quite right” in other people (signs that we’re being deceived or threatened, say), but they’re not lifelike enough to actually pass the test, so we find them disconcerting. 3D computer games frequently suffer from the same problem, as I’m sure you know, and years ago I predicted that as 3D graphics got better, the demands on intelligent behaviour for game characters would grow intense.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on a tangent. It was a big factor in our design for Grace, though. We deliberately made her look like a robot and didn’t give her human-like skin, etc. Instead I relied on psychological cues of sexiness and lifelikeness that didn’t risk us falling into the Valley of the Uncanny. My point is, you have to get the psychology right or you won’t produce the positive associations in people’s minds that your client needs. The consumers aren’t necessarily going to be able to articulate these things, so they’ll feel bad without knowing why, and you could damage the brand rather than enhance it. I felt I had enough unique experience in designing artificial lifeforms to stay on the safe side of that boundary, though.

One of the things I was keen to achieve was understatement. There are various companies renting out “robots” as crowd pullers (although really they’re just animatronics or remote controlled) and they go for a big noisy splash – flashing lights, big press releases, comedy routines, etc. I wanted Grace to just sit there at the entrance to a booth and be as much like a normal sales girl as possible. I wanted people to do a double-take and then be intrigued. Let them discover it for themselves. It’s a bit like knowing you’ve just been passed by a really powerful motorcycle because you didn’t hear it coming. I think if you do something like this with a fanfare then people will be primed to find something wrong with it, but if you go for the soft sell then they’ll be supportive and impressed. When I wrote Creatures all those centuries ago, my prime principle was that I shouldn’t try to fool people into thinking norns were alive – I should really try my best to make them alive. If people knew I was being honest and doing my best then they’d be on my side, and I think the same is true here. Undersell the robot and you make their company look good by association, as if there’s a lot more under the hood of their products than they’re letting on.

There are also many other kinds of subliminal association that can work for you or against you depending on the client and your ability to tap into the right psychological triggers. I based the look of Grace on the robots Chris Cunningham designed for the video to go with Bjork’s “All is full of love”, because I think he got a lot of those triggers just right – especially the tension between femininity and technology. It’s a bit like designing the iPod – the right curves and the bits you leave out are so important. And with real robots you have to get the behaviour right too, which is a big subject all by itself. Almost all current robots fail miserably in that regard, especially by being too predictable and not subtle enough.

But I don’t think I’m really answering your question, am I? Sorry. Advertising and marketing aren’t my field (I have quite enough fields without adding any more). I don’t really know of anyone who knows about this stuff. One of our “competitors” in New York has a site where they talk quite a bit about the marketing potential of their remote-controlled “robots”, but I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the company (so maybe their advice doesn’t work!).

Looks like it’s down to you to figure it out…

There it is then. The planet’s preeminent ALife & robotics academic, whom has been referred to by Richard Dawkins as “the creator of what I think is the nearest approach to artificial life so far”, is leaving it up to us to answer the big questions:

  • What is the potential for branded robots?
  • Will they ever form part of a marketing strategy?
  • Will we ever allow robots a part in everyday life?

And so, I ask again, dear reader, what do you think?

Let me know in the comments.