Stocks made solid gains today on encouraging August auto sales numbers—the best in six years—and the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book, which showed the economy continued to expand at a modest to moderate pace.
The Dow gained 96 points, with 26 of its 30 components advancing; the S&P 500 Index rose 13; and the Nasdaq was higher by 36. Advancers led decliners by five to two on the NYSE and just under two to one on the Nasdaq. The prices of Treasuries weakened. Gold futures dropped $22.00 to close at $1,390.00 an ounce, and the price of crude oil dropped $1.31 to settle at $107.23 a barrel.
In Other Business News:
- The U.S. economy continued its modest to moderate expansion in most of the Federal Reserve’s 12 districts, according to the Fed’s Beige Book. Back-to-school shopping, auto sales, existing home sales, and home improvement projects helped boost consumer spending, although the Fed noted that consumers were becoming price-sensitive. Tourism and travel spending grew as well. The Federal Open Market Committee’s next meeting will be held September 17–18.
- The U.S. trade deficit rose 13.3% in July, according to the Commerce Department. Imports rose 1.6% on rising U.S. demand for imported cars—which hit a record for the month—and consumer goods, while exports fell 0.6% after a strong showing the prior month.
- Preliminary data show that August was the best month for car and truck sales in six years. The buying was fueled by strong demand even at record-high average vehicle prices. General Motors’ sales jumped 15%, Ford Motor Co.’s and Chrysler’s each rose 12%, while Toyota’s jumped 23%. Volkswagen’s 3.4% rise came in under expectations.
- At an event in Berlin, Samsung, the market-share-leading manufacturer of smartphones, announced its foray into wearable technology with its Galaxy Gear smartwatch. Competitor Apple has long been rumored to be developing a similar device. Samsung also announced its latest tablet, the Galaxy Note 10.1, and its newest smartphone, the Galaxy Note 3, with a larger screen and slimmer profile than the earlier versions. Both will sync with the Galaxy Gear smartwatch.
I was under the impression that we had a good 20 or 30 years before we had to worry about people taking over our bodies via mind control. It turns out we’ve reached this science-fictional point already. Researchers at the University of Washington hooked up a volunteer to an EEG machine, recorded the person’s brain signals, and then sent those brain signals to another volunteer who was wearing a special noninvasive helmet. The first volunteer was able to force the second volunteer’s finger to involuntarily move. I should mention that they sent the brain signals over the internet, which means the signals could have picked up any sort of virus or internet contagion, or so the Hollywood screenplay I’m furiously writing since I heard about this story will suggest.
To those who think they might already be secretly controlled by other people, there’s one quick way to check: Are you wearing a helmet with electrodes that you don’t remember putting on? If so, there’s a good chance you’re not in full control over your actions.
Right now, the neural interface is clumsy and can’t transmit (or read) a person’s thoughts, only rudimentary electrical signals that are loosely tied to specific nerves. This raises the question: What would it take to fully simulate a human brain? A lot. According to GigaOM, German and Japanese researchers used computers to simulate one second of brain activity from the equivalent of 1% of the brain. And it took a mammoth amount of computing power and time to perform that fraction of a fraction of conscious life. As GigaOM’s Derrick Harris writes:
“The hardware necessary to simulate the activity of 1.73 billion nerve cells connected by 10.4 trillion synapses (just 1 percent of a brain’s total neural network) for 1 biological second: 82,944 processors on the K supercomputer and 1 petabyte of memory (24 bytes per synapse). That 1 second of biological time took 40 minutes, on one of the world’s most-powerful systems, to compute.”
So there you have it. It’d be virtually impossible given current technology to replicate a person’s conscious mind, although check in again in 10 years. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Likewise, for now, you can make a person wearing a weird helmet stumble around, but you can’t make them think. (DISCLAIMER: Unless that’s what they want us to think.)
Does this first step toward mind control represent a scientific breakthrough or the march toward a dystopian future? Leave your thoughts (assuming they’re really yours and not some lab researcher’s) in the comments area below.