We're a little crazy, about science!

Technical problems

While people worried about the robot apocalypse, I’m not. If I need to randomly turn my router off and back on again for it to work properly I doubt Skynet will somehow gain sentience and take over the world without someone needing to go in and reboot it from time to time. Technology is an imperfect thing, like biology, but we expect technology to be better than us at what we need it to do. Today we spent almost an hour doing a little dance with the technology in the lab trying to get all the pieces to play nicely. The robot apocalypse will be short lived.

As science progresses we need to rely more heavily on technology to help us answer the fundamental questions we have about the topic we’re researching. Bigger telescopes have given us the ability to peer further into the galaxy and further back in time. We build giant atom smashers to discover the stuff everything our known universe is made from. In my field we use high fidelity recording devices that can register changes in electrical charge as small as 0.1 uV (a microvolt is 0.00000001 volt and it’s as tiny as it sounds).

The field I research in is constantly evolving to keep up with the new technology and we find new ways to apply new technology to push our understanding of the brain and in my case, the spinal cord. On one hand it means that we get to find cool things and come up with ways to tease out the information we want based on the responses we see. There is a tug and pull between how clever we can be and the technology we have.

It’s actually really interesting how we spend so much time designing experiments because we need to limit the contributing factors to get a very specific bit of information. The way we limit other interactions, especially in the stuff I do, isn’t always obvious too. Sometimes we come up with solutions that, to me anyway, seem counterintuitive.

All this to say that when we design experiments, there’s a lot of work involved and technology gives us the ability to ask new questions that we couldn’t 20 years or sometimes even just 20 months ago. It’s an amazing thing to see and be a part of, but as I mentioned the downside is that reliance on technology to give us the answers we are searching for and the fact that technology doesn’t always want to play nice.

It started off pretty simply, we had some fancy wireless EMG sensors that wouldn’t connect to the computer software we use to record from. It’s a common enough occurrence that we know the routine, jump through the hoops, and get the solution. Except that wasn’t the case this time. This time no matter what we did nothing fixed the problem. We finally got it all figured out, we of course had to dismantle essentially everything we had plugged into the device to get it to work, but we somehow managed to fix the issue.

It was just a not-so-fun reminder that technology can be a pain and no matter how much checking we do prior to the experiment things can (and often do) go wrong. I’m glad we got everything figured out, but it meant that our participant had to hang out waiting while we troubleshot the system.

Moral of the story, technology is great! I love technology and the fact that I can talk about that using the internet is amazing. I just don’t think that robots are going to take over the world anytime soon or we are going to merge with an AI, you know since one crash could break the whole system.


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