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404 Not Found

Written by Sam Wallace

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Sorry. Mike Lynes made me do it. Okay, that’s only half true. The fuller truth is that I cannot resist a corny joke, and when we started the preliminary work of getting Circuit Cellar’s 404th issue ready, I knew I wanted to shoehorn that joke (if you can properly call it that) into these pages somewhere. Lynes just gave me the extra nudge I needed.

The use of 404 for this familiar error began with the first web server software, CERN httpd, designed by Tim Berners-Lee and his team at CERN. It employed a simple file system for the storage and retrieval of web pages, and assigned a three-digit number to each type of request/response. 404 was the number chosen for when a requested file was not found on a server. Apparently, World Wide Web inventor Berners-Lee, himself, coined the phrase “404 Not Found.” As he explained in a later interview, he wanted to make the error message “slightly apologetic.”

Speaking of Lynes: As he writes in this month’s Technology Feature covering robotics in manufacturing, “Robot Doomsday…is here.” That is, we have passed the point of no return with robots—quite a while ago, I would add. They are here to stay, and will only grow more powerful, capable, and intelligent with time, whatever that means for us. (But really, who doesn’t think robots are cool, regardless?)

It would seem we’ve passed a similar threshold—or might soon—with brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). This is a touch dramatic (I hope), but I’m referring to Elon Musk’s announcement that Neuralink’s first patient is “recovering well.” Neuralink is Musk’s sci-fi inspired company that aims to make BCIs (a surprisingly old technology) widely available for the common folk.

I hate to shout that the sky is falling for the umpteenth time, but this seems like the sort of commercial sector that might benefit from a regulation or two. At the moment, Neuralink’s chips aim to interpret brain signals so as to allow patients to control devices without needing to lift a finger. But Musk has grander ambitions with Neuralink, including restoring eyesight to people who are blind and mobility to people who are disabled. And as Brown University’s John Donoghue, a neuroscientist and expert in BCIs, stated in a recent interview with Scientific American, that’s “a whole different ball game. It’s not recording from single cells—that’s one thing—it’s [electrical] stimulation.” [1]

I’ve already written in this space on the incredible work of embedded systems engineers who design medical devices. So don’t get me wrong—I am sure that with enough time, money, and labor, embedded engineers will achieve incredible results with BCIs in the future. The two items that give me pause are (1) the trial-and-error period between now and then, and (2) who gets to control how these chips will function in patients’ brains. But that’s me, Chicken Little.

[1] Ben Guarino, “Elon Musk’s Neuralink Has Implanted Its First Chip in a Human Brain.” Scientific American, January 30, 2024.

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Editor-in-Chief at KCK Media Corp.

Sam Wallace - became Circuit Cellar's  Editor-In-Chief in August 2022.
His experience in writing, editing, and teaching will provide a great perspective on the selection, presentation, and clarity of editorial content. The Circuit Cellar audience will benefit from his strong academic background encompassing a Master of Fine Arts in Writing and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics with honors. His passion for learning and teaching is a great fit for Circuit Cellar's continuing mission of Inspiring the Evolution of Embedded Design.

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404 Not Found

by Sam Wallace time to read: 2 min