Archive for February, 2012

Educational project exploring connections between real and virtual identities and environments

Posted in Uncategorized on February 27, 2012 by pauljohnwhite

“The Avatar Project is a Vichealth funded Victoria University administered program researching the mental health of teens in virtual environments, specifically issues such as community engagement, self esteem, and self determination.

Many students we work with lack basic literacy skills, are not engaged by traditional classroom teaching and are at risk of not reaching their full potential once they leave school.

Taking these students into a virtual 3d environment allows them the freedom to not only express themselves and gain a sense of control over their lives, but also to learn educational skills in a fun way including a wide range of subject matter including maths, science, english, history, art, design and of course multimedia. Many students are already regular computer users and take to Second Life like ducks to water, and we work actively with the school’s teachers to incorporate Second Life-based activities into students’ existing educational curricula.

Some of the activities that we run include the following;

Activity 1 – Exploring the Virtual Environment

You must visit three places in Second Life and complete a short review on each place.

Location, Name, Region, People Online, What is done there? What do you like? What don’t you like? Would you visit again? Include a snapshot of each place.

The first purpose of this exercise is to learn how to take pictures using the built in SL snapshot button. The second purpose of this exercise is to learn how to navigate around Second Life whilst both individually and collectively gaining more knowledge about what has been done and how people react to and use the various environments.

Activity 2 – Online Identities

In this activity we will learn how to upload a texture and apply it to an object, whilst exploring the differences and similarities between our online and real world personas.

You must take a photo of yourself in real life, as well as a snapshot of yourself in Second Life. You must then post these two images in your blog(or a word document) and write about the differences and similarities, and anything else you have observed or felt.”

Information located at: and accessed on 27/02/12.


Project Avatar: U.S. military researches ways for soldiers to control robot ‘surrogates’ using just their minds

Posted in Uncategorized on February 27, 2012 by pauljohnwhite

The U.S. military is researching ways for its troops can use their minds to remotely control androids who will take human soldiers’ place on the battlefield.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), the Pentagon’s hi-tech research arm, has earmarked $7million for research into the project, nicknamed Avatar.

The ultimate goal of the project sounds, bizarrely, much like the fantastical plot of the the film of the same name. In the James Cameron movie, set far in the future, human soldiers use mind control to inhabit the bodies of human alien hybrids as they carry out a war against the inhabitants of a distant world. According to the Darpa’s 2013 budget: ‘The Avatar program will develop interfaces and algorithms to enable a soldier to effectively partner with a semi-autonomous bi-pedal machine and allow it to act as the soldier’s surrogate.’

They should be able to perform all the duties expected of a human soldier, including ‘room clearing, sentry control [and] combat casualty recovery,’ all via remote control.

The agency has reportedly already funded successful attempts to control robots with thought – albeit using monkeys – raising the terrifying prospect that wars may in the future be fought by machine proxy.

At ground level, the agency has also investigated autonomous, lifelike robots, including headless humanoid Petman, and AlphaDog, a four legged machine designed to carry equipment.

Last week Darpa released a new video of AlphaDog and noted that they wanted the machine to interact with soldiers in a way similar to the relationship between a trained animal and its handler.

Information located at: and accessed on 27/02/12.

The Startle Reflex test and Psychopathic responses to trauma

Posted in Uncategorized on February 20, 2012 by pauljohnwhite

He strapped them up, one by one, to various EEG and sweat- and blood-pressure-measuring machines, and also to an electricity generator, and he explained to them he was going to count backwards from ten and when he reached one they’d receive a very painful electric shock…

The tests seemed to indicate that the amygdale, the part of the brain that should have anticipated the unpleasantness and sent the requisite signals of fear over to the central nervous system, wasn’t functioning as it should.

It was an enormous breakthrough for Bob, his first clue that the brains of psychopaths were different to regular brains. But he was even more astonished when he repeated the test. This time the psychopaths knew exactly how much pain they’d be in when he reached one, and still: nothing. No sweat. Bob learned something that Elliot Barker wouldn’t for years: psychopaths were likely to reoffend…

He did another experiment, the Startle Reflex test, in which psychopaths and non-psychopaths were invited to look at grotesque images, like crime-scene photographs of blown-apart faces, and then when they least expected it Bob would let off an incredibly loud noise in their ear. The non-psychopaths would leap with astonishment. The psychopaths would remain comparatively serene.

Bob knew we tend to jump a lot higher when startled if we’re on the edge of our seats anyway. If we’re watching a scary movie and someone makes an unexpected noise we leap in terror. But if we’re engrossed by something, a crossword puzzle, say, and someone startles us, our leap is less pronounced. From this Bob deduced that when psychopaths see grotesque images of blown-apart faces they aren’t horrified. They’re absorbed. (pp97-99)

Perhaps we gain satisfaction from experiencing trauma in a controlled and safe environment (such as the art gallery) as our emotional response to it reassures us that we are ‘real’, as our reactions are as would be expected from a ‘normal’ person.  A fitting example would be Mat Collishaw’s Bullet Hole which shows a close up of a human scalp apparently wounded by a bullet (which was actually caused by an ice pick). The original image was taken from a pathology textbook and has been enlarged, illuminated and mounted on fifteen light-boxes in full visceral detail to enhance an immediate reaction of repulsion. Yet by taking the image out of its original context, we are encouraged to consider the image beyond the initial sensory impact of the image, and becoming either engrossed or fascinated by such a repulsive and abject image may make us feel abnormal and unsettle us (ironically sensing empathy with the psychopath!)

The Total Encounter Capsule

Posted in Uncategorized on February 19, 2012 by pauljohnwhite

The psychopaths he (Barker) met during his first days at Oak Ridge were nothing like R.D.Laing’s schizophrenics. Although they were undoubtedly insane you would never realise it. They seemed perfectly ordinary. This, Elliot deduced, was because they were burying their insanity deep beneath a facade of normality. If the madness could only, somehow, be brought to the surface, maybe it would work itself through and they could be reborn as empathetic human beings. The alternative was stark: unless their personalities could be radically be altered, these young men were destined for a lifetime of incarceration.

And so he successfully sought permission from the Canadian government to obtain a large batch of LSD.., handpicked a group of psychopaths (‘They have been selected on the basis of verbal ability and most are relatively young and intelligent offenders between 17 and 25…), led them into what he named the Total Encounter Capsule, a small room painted bright green, and asked them to remove their clothes. This was truly to be a radical milestone: the world’s first ever marathon Nude Psychotherapy session for criminal psychopaths.

Elliot’s raw, naked, LSD-fuelled sessions lasted for epic eleven-day stretches. The psychopaths spent every waking moment journeying to their darkest corners in an attempt to get better. There were no distractions – no television, no clothes, no clocks, no calendars, only a perpetual discussion (at least a hundred hours every week) of their feelings. When they got hungry they sucked food food through straws that protruded through the walls. Much like Paul Bindrim’s own Nude Psychotherapy sessions, they were encouraged to go to their rawest emotional places by screaming and clawing at the walls and confessing fantasies of forbidden sexual longing for each other even if they were, in the words of an internal Oak Ridge report of the time, ‘in a state of arousal while doing so’…

Elliott himself was absent, watching it all from behind a one-way mirror. He would not be the one to treat the psychopaths. They would tear down the bourgeois constructs of traditional psychotherapy and be each other’s psychiatrists.

There were some inadvertently weird touches…There would be tour groups of local teenagers: a government initiative to demystify asylums…How could he ensure  the presence of strangers wouldn’t puncture the radical atmosphere he’d spent months creating? And then he had a brainwave. He acquired some particularly grisly crime-scene photographs of people who had committed suicide in gruesome ways, by shooting themselves in the face, for instance, and he hung them around the visitors’ necks. Now everywhere the psychopaths looked they would be confronted by the dreadful reality of violence. (pp75-77)

Ronson, A (2011) The Psychopath Test. Picador. London.

Stelarc’s Prosthetic Head

Posted in Uncategorized on February 14, 2012 by pauljohnwhite

The aim was to construct an automated, animated and reasonably informed artificial head that speaks to the person who interrogates it. The PROSTHETIC HEAD project is a 3D avatar head, somewhat resembling the artist, that has real time lip-synching, speech synthesis and facial expressions. Head nods, head tilts and head turns as well as changing eye gaze contribute to the personality of the agent and the non-verbal cues it can provide. It is a conversational system which can be said to be only as intelligent as the person who is interrogating it. There is an attempt to make the Prosthetic Head more creative in its responses. It has embedded algorithms that enable it to generate novel poetry and singing each time it is asked.

Embodied Conversational Agents (ECAs) are about communicative behavior. It has an ultra-sound sensor system that alerts it of the user’s presence, enabling it to initiate a conversation. With a vision system, The PROSTHETIC HEAD will also be able to detect the color of the user’s clothing and be able to analyze the user’s behaviour. This information would then be used by the PROSTHETIC HEAD to make its conversation more interactive and convincing.
This is not an illustration of a disembodied intelligence. Rather, notions of awareness, identity, agency and embodiment become problematic. Just as a physical body has been exposed as inadequate, empty and involuntary, so simultaneously the ECA becomes seductive with its uncanny simulation of real-time recognition and response. Initially decisions would have to be made about its database and whether The PROSTHETIC HEAD is a pathological, philosophical or simply a flirting head. A problem would arise though when the PROSTHETIC HEAD increases its database, becoming more autonomous in its responses. The artist would then no longer be able to take full responsibility for what his head says.
Information found at: and accessed on 14/2/12.

The Begotten

Posted in Uncategorized on February 13, 2012 by pauljohnwhite


Posted in Uncategorized on February 12, 2012 by pauljohnwhite

CAPTCHA  is a type of challenge-response test used in computing as an attempt to ensure that the response is generated by a person. The process usually involves one computer (a server) asking a user to complete a simple test which the computer is able to generate and grade. Because other computers are assumed to be unable to solve the CAPTCHA, any user entering a correct solution is presumed to be human. Thus, it is sometimes described as a reverse Turing test, because it is administered by a machine and targeted at a human, in contrast to the standard Turing test that is typically administered by a human and targeted at a machine. A common type of CAPTCHA requires the user to type letters or digits from a distorted image that appears on the screen.

The term “CAPTCHA”  is an acronym based on the word “capture” and standing for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers andHumans Apart”.

Characteristics: A CAPTCHA is a means of automatically generating challenges which intends to:

  • Provide a problem easy enough for all humans to solve.
  • Prevent standard automated software from filling out a form

Information located at: and accessed on 12/02/2012.