The Soft Spot

geoborder[Image: Close-up of the 2010 State Geologic Map of California].

An interesting story published last month in the L.A. Times explored the so-called “sweet spot” for digging tunnels along the California/Mexico border.

“Go too far west,” reporter Jason Song explained, “and the ground will be sandy and potentially soggy from the water of the Pacific Ocean. That could lead to flooding, which wouldn’t be good for the drug business. Too far east and you’ll hit a dead end of hard mountain rock.”

However, Song continues, “in a strip of land that runs between roughly the Tijuana airport and the Otay Mesa neighborhood in San Diego, there’s a sweet spot of sandstone and volcanic ash that isn’t as damp as the oceanic earth and not as unyielding as stone.”

More accurately speaking, then, it is less a sweet spot than it is a soft one, a location of potential porosity where two nations await subterranean connection. It is all a question of geology, in other words—or the drug tunnel as landscape design operation.

border[Image: Nogales/Nogales, via Google Maps].

With the very obvious caveat that this next article is set along the Arizona/Mexico border, and not in the San Diego neighborhood of Otay Mesa, it is nonetheless worth drawing attention back to an interesting article by Adam Higginbotham, written in 2012 for Bloomberg, called “The Narco Tunnels of Nogales.”

There, Higginbotham describes a world of abandoned hotel rooms in Mexico linked, by tunnel, to parking spots in the United States; of streets subsiding into otherwise unknown narco-excavations running beneath; and of an entire apartment building on the U.S. side of the border whose strategic value is only revealed later once drug tunnels begin to converge in the ground beneath it.

Here, too, though, Higginbotham also refers to “a peculiar alignment of geography and geology,” noting that the ground conditions themselves are particularly amenable to the production of cross-border subterranea.

However, the article also suggests that “the shared infrastructure of a city”—that is, Nogales, Arizona, and its international counterpart, Nogales, Mexico—already, in a sense, implies this sort of otherwise illicit connectivity. It is literally built into the fabric of each metropolis:

When the monsoons begin each summer, the rain that falls on Mexico is funneled downhill, gathering speed and force as it reaches the U.S. In the 1930s, in an attempt to control the torrent of water, U.S. engineers converted the natural arroyos in Nogales into a pair of culverts that now lie beneath two of the city’s main downtown streets, Morley Avenue and Grand Avenue. Beginning in Mexico, and running beneath the border before emerging a mile into the U.S., the huge tunnels—large enough to drive a car through—created an underground link between the two cities, and access to a network of subterranean passages beneath both that has never been fully mapped.

This rhizomatic tangle of pipes, tubes, and tunnels—only some of which are official parts of the region’s hydrological infrastructure—results in surreal events of opportunistic spelunking whereby “kids would materialize suddenly from the drainage grates,” or “you would see a sewer plate come up in the middle of the street, and five people would come up and run.”

Briefly, I’m reminded of a great anecdote from Jon Calame’s and Esther Charlesworth’s book Divided Cities, where the split metropolis of Nicosia, Cyprus, is revealed to be connected from below, served by a shared sewage plant “where all the sewage from both sides of the city is treated.” The authors interview the a local waste manager, who jokes that “the city is divided above ground but unified below.”

In any case, the full article is worth a read, but a tactical geological map revealing sites of likely future tunneling would be a genuinely fascinating artifact to see. I have to assume that ICE or Homeland Securitylet alone the cartels—already have such a thing.

(L.A. Times article originally spotted via Nate Berg).

London Laocoön

[Image: Machines slide beneath the streets, via Crossrail].

The Crossrail tunnels in London—for now, Europe’s largest construction project, scheduled to finish in 2018—continue to take shape, created in a “tunneling marathon under the streets of London” that aims to add 26 new miles of underground track for commuter rail traffic.

It’s London as Laocoön, wrapped in tunnel-boring machines, mechanical snakes that coil through their own hollow nests beneath the city.

[Image: Looking down through shafts into the subcity, via Crossrail].

What interested me the most in all this, however, was simply that fact that the first tunneling machine put to work in this round of excavation is called Phyllis—

[Image: Phyllis, via Crossrail].

—named after Phyllis Pearsall, widely (but incorrectly?) mythologized as the founder of the legendary A-Z book of London street maps.

There’s something very Psychogeography Lite™ in this, weaving your city together from below with a giant machine-needle named after the woman who (supposedly) first walked the streets of the capital, assembling her book of maps, as if the only logical direction to go, once you’ve mapped the surface of your city, is down, passing through those surfaces to explore larger and darker volumes of urban space.

Buy an Underground Kingdom

[Image: The Mole Man’s house in Hackney, via Wikipedia].

As most anyone who’s seen me give a talk over the past few years will know, I have a tendency to over-enthuse about the DIY subterranean excavations of William Lyttle, aka the Mole Man of Hackney.

Lyttle—who once quipped that “tunneling is something that should be talked about without panicking”—became internationally known for the expansive network of tunnels he dug under his East London house. The tunnels eventually became so numerous that the sidewalk in front of his house collapsed, neighbors began to joke that Lyttle might soon “come tunnelling up through the kitchen floor,” and, as a surveyor ominously relayed to an English court, “there is movement in the ground.”

From the Guardian, originally reported back in 2006:

No one knows how far the the network of burrows underneath 75-year-old William Lyttle’s house stretch. But according to the council, which used ultrasound scanners to ascertain the extent of the problem, almost half a century of nibbling dirt with a shovel and homemade pulley has hollowed out a web of tunnels and caverns, some 8m (26ft) deep, spreading up to 20m in every direction from his house.

What did he store down there? After Lyttle was forced from the house for safety reasons, inspectors discovered “skiploads of junk including the wrecks of four Renault 4 cars, a boat, scrap metal, old baths, fridges and dozens of TV sets stashed in the tunnels.”

But now the late Mole Man’s home is for sale.

[Image: An earlier Mole Man: Tunnel-Digging as a Hobby].

Alas, “most of the tunnels have been filled in” with concrete, and the house itself is all but certain to be torn down by its future owner, but I like to think that maybe, just maybe, some strange museum of subterranea could open up there, in some parallel world, complete with guided tours of the excavations below and how-to evening classes exploring the future of amateur home excavation. Curatorial residencies are offered every summer, and underground tent cities pop-up beneath the surface of the capital city, lit by candles or klieg lights, spreading out a bit more each season.

Briefly, I’m reminded of a scene from Georges Perec’s novel Life: A User’s Manual, in which a character named Emilio Grifalconi discovers “the remains of a table” that he hopes to salvage for use in his own home. “Its oval top, wonderfully inlaid with mother-of-pearl, was exceptionally well preserved,” Perec explains, “but its base, a massive, spindle-shaped column of grained wood, turned out to be completely worm-eaten. The worms had done their work in covert, subterranean fashion, creating innumerable ducts and microscopic channels now filled with pulverized wood. No sign of this insidious labor showed on the surface.”

Grifalconi soon realizes that “the only way of preserving the original base—hollowed out as it was, it could no longer suport the weight of the top—was to reinforce it from within; so once he had completely emptied the canals of the their wood dust by suction, he set about injecting them with an almost liquid mixture of lead, alum and asbestos fiber. The operation was successful; but it quickly became apparent that, even thus strengthened, the base was too weak”—and the table would thus have to be discarded.

At which point, Grifalconi has an idea: he begins “dissolving what was left of the original wood” in the table’s base in order to “disclose the fabulous arborescence within, this exact record of the worms’ life inside the wooden mass: a static, mineral accumulation of all the movements that had constituted their blind existence, their undeviating single-mindedness, their obsinate itineraries; the faithful materialization of all they had eaten and digested as they forced from their dense surroundings the invisible elements needed for their survival, the explicit, visible, immeasurably disturbing image of the endless progressions that had reduced the hardest of woods to an impalpable network of crumbling galleries.”

Somewhere beneath a new building in East London, then, some handful of years from now, the Mole Man’s “fabulous arborescence” will still be down there, a vast and twisting concrete object preserved in all its tentacular sprawl, like some unacknowledged tribute to Rachel Whiteread: a buried and elephantine sculpture that shows up on radar scans of the neighborhood, recording for all posterity “the endless progressions” of Lyttle’s eccentric and mysterious life.

(Via @SubBrit. Earlier adventures in real estate on BLDGBLOG: Buy a Prison, Buy a Tube Station, Buy an Archipelago, Buy a Map, Buy a Torpedo-Testing Facility, Buy a Silk Mill, Buy a Fort, Buy a Church,).

Subterranean Machine Resurrections

[Image: Photo by Brian Harkin for The New York Times].

There is clearly a machines-and-robots theme on the blog this morning. I was fascinated last week to read that New York will soon have “its own subterranean wonder: a 200-ton mechanical serpent’s head” buried “14 stories beneath the well-tended sidewalks of Park Avenue.” In other words, a “gargantuan drill that has been hollowing out tunnels for a train station under Grand Central Terminal” will soon become a permanent part of the city, locked forever in the region’s bedrock. It will be left underground—”entombed” in the words of Michael Grynbaum, writing for the New York Times— lying “dormant and decayed, within the rocky depths of Midtown Manhattan.”

The machine’s actual burial is like a Rachel Whiteread installation gone wrong: “In an official ceremony this week, the cutter will be sealed off by a concrete wall; the chamber will then be filled with concrete, encasing the cutter in a solid cast, Han Solo-style, so that it can serve as a support structure for the tunnel. A plaque will commemorate the site.”

“It’s like a Jules Verne story,” the head of construction for NY’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority endearingly remarked. And the machine itself is an alien wonder:

A recent visit to the cutter’s future crypt revealed a machine that evokes an alien life form that crashed to earth a millennia ago. Its steel gears, bolts and pistons, already oxidizing, appeared lifeless and fatigued. A wormlike fan, its exhaust pipe disappearing into the cutter’s maw, was still spinning, its drone not unlike a slumbering creature’s breath.

I’m tempted to write a short story about a cult of Aleister Crowley-obsessed tower dwellers on the Lower East Side, in the year 2025 A.D., intent on resurrecting this mechanical worm, like something out of Dune, goading it to re-arise, pharaonic and possessed, into the polluted summer air of the city. Grinding and belching its way to dark triumph amidst the buildings, now shattered, that once weighed it down, it is Gotham’s Conqueror Worm.

[Image: Promotional poster for the otherwise unrelated film Conqueror Worm, aka Witchfinder General].

But that would be to rewrite something that, to some extent, already exists. In Jonathan Lethem’s recent novel Chronic City, a tunneling machine goes “a little out of control” beneath the surface of New York, resurfacing at night to wreak havoc amongst the boroughs. From the book:

“I guess the thing got lonely—”
“That’s why it destroys bodegas?” asked Perkus.
“At night sometimes it comes up from underneath and sort of, you know, ravages around.”
“You can’t stop it?” I asked.
“Sure, we could stop it, Chase, it we wanted to. But this city’s been waiting for a Second Avenue subway line for a long time, I’m sure you know. The thing’s mostly doing a good job with the tunnel, so they’ve been stalling, and I guess trying to negotiate to keep it underground. The degree of damage is really exaggerated.”

And soon the machine—known as the “tiger”—is spotted rooting around the city, sliding out of the subterranean topologies it helps create, weaving above and below, an autonomous underground object on the loose.

In any case, the entombed drill will presumably outlast the city it sleeps beneath; indeed, if it is ever seen again, it will be a much more geological resurrection. As Alex Trevi of Pruned suggested over email, the machine will be “left there, perhaps forever, and will only surface when NYC rises up in a new mountain range and starts eroding.”

(Thanks to Jessica Young for the reminder about Lethem’s tiger).

Of networked buildings and architectural neurology

[Image: A glimpse of Honda’s brain-interface technology].

I thought I’d jump into the ongoing conversation swirling around Tim Maly’s Cyborg Month—of which you can read more here—with some loose thoughts about what an architectural cyborg might be.

There have already been some significant stabs made in this direction over the past few weeks, including a brief look at “architecture machines”—that is, “evolving systems that worked in ‘symbiosis’ with designer and resident,” promising to “turn the design process into a dialogue that would alter the traditional human-machine dynamic” and thus opening up the possibility of cyborg architecture.

But my interests here are both more speculative and more neurological—specifically, looking at the wiring together of buildings and nervous systems, and the strange possibilities that might result. As such, I’ll be revisiting/rewriting some older posts here, tailoring them specifically for the context of Maly’s Cyborg Month.

[Image: Earthly extensions crawl on Mars; courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech].

1) A few years ago, two unrelated bits of news accidentally merged for me, their headlines crossing to surreal effect. First, we learned that monkeys were able to move a robotic arm “merely by thinking.” The arm, which included “working shoulder and elbow joints and a clawlike ‘hand’,” was controllable after “probes the width of a human hair were inserted into the neuronal pathways of the monkeys’ motor cortex.” This field of research is referred to as “mind-controlled robotic prosthetics”—but the mind in control here is not human.

Second, the New York Times reported that “NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander has successfully lifted its robotic arm” up there on the surface of another planet. “Testing the arm will take a few days,” we read, “and the first scoops of Martian soil are to be dug up next week.”

And while I know that these stories are in no way connected, putting them together is like something from the pages of Mike Mignola: monkeys locked in a room somewhere, controlling the arms of machines on other planets.

As if we might discover, at the end of the day, that NASA wasn’t a human organization at all—it was a bunch of rhesus monkeys locked in a lab somewhere, enthroned amidst wires and brain-caps, like some new sign of the Tarot, lost in private visions of machines on alien worlds. An experiment gone awry.

Their “dreams” at night are actually video feeds from probes moving through outer darkness.

[Image: A “Demon” unmanned aerial drone by BAE Systems, courtesy of Popular Science].

2) Among many other things in P.W. Singer’s highly recommended book Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the Twenty-First Century is a brief comment about military research into the treatment of paralysis.

In a subsection called “All Jacked Up,” Singer refers to “a young man from South Weymouth, Massachusetts,” who was “paralyzed from the neck down in 2001.” After nearly giving up hope for recovery, “a computer chip was implanted into his head.”

The goal was to isolate the signals leaving [his] brain whenever he thought about moving his arms or legs, even if the pathways to those limbs were now broken. The hope was that [his] intent to move could be enough; his brain’s signals could be captured and translated into a computer’s software code.

The man’s doctors thus hook him up to a computer mouse and then to a TV remote control, and the wounded man was soon able not only to surf the web but to watch HBO.

What I can’t stop thinking about, however, is where this research “opens up some wild new possibilities for war,” as Singer writes.

In other words, the military has asked, why hook this guy up to a remote control TV when you could hook him up to an armed drone aircraft flying somewhere above Afghanistan? The soldier could simply pilot the plane with his thoughts.

This vision—of paralyzed soldiers thinking unmanned planes through distant theaters of war—is both terrible and stunning.

Singer goes on to describe DARPA‘s “Brain-Interface Project,” which hoped to teach paralyzed patients how to control machines via thought—and to do so in the service of the U.S. military.

Later in the book, Singer describes research into advanced, often robotic prostheses; “these devices are also being wired directly into the patient’s nerves,” he writes.

This allows the solder to control their artificial limbs via thought as well as have signals wired back into their peripheral nervous system. Their limbs might be robotic, but they can “feel” a temperature change or vibration.

When this is put into the context of the rest of Singer’s book—where we read, for instance, that “at least 45 percent of [the U.S. Air Force’s] future large bomber fleet [will be] able to operate without humans aboard,” with other “long-endurance” military drones soon “able to stay aloft for as long as five years,” and if you consider that, as Singer writes, the Los Angeles Police Department “is already planning to use drones that would circle over certain high-crime neighborhoods, recording all that happens”—you get into some very heady terrain, indeed. After all, the idea that those drone aircraft circling over Los Angeles in the year 2015 are actually someone’s else literal daydream both terrifies and blows me away.

On the other hand, if you can directly link the brain of a paralyzed soldier to a computer mouse—and then onward to a drone aircraft, and perhaps onward again to an entire fleet of armed drones circling over enemy territory—then surely you could also hook that brain up to, say, lawnmowers, remote-controlled tunneling machines, lunar landing modules, Mars rovers, strip-mining equipment, woodworking tools, and even 3D printers.

[Image: 3D printing, via Thinglab].

The idea of brain-controlled wireless digging machines, in particular, just astonishes me; at night you dream of tunnels—because you are actually in control of tunneling equipment as you sleep, operating somewhere beneath the surface of the planet.

A South African platinum mine begins to diverge wildly from known sites of mineral wealth, its excavations more and more abstract as time goes on—carving M.C. Escher-like knots and strange excursive whorls through ancient reefwork below ground—and it’s because the mining engineer, paralyzed in a car accident ten years ago and in control of the digging machines ever since, has become addicted to morphine.

Or perhaps this could even be used as a new and extremely avant-garde form of psychotherapy. For instance, a billionaire in Los Angeles hooks his depressed teenage son up to Herrenknecht tunneling equipment which has been shipped, at fantastic expense, to Antarctica. An unmappably complex labyrinth of subterranean voids is soon created; the boy literally acts out through tunnels. If rock is his paint, he is its Basquiat.

Instead of performing more traditional forms of Freudian analysis by interviewing the boy in person, a team of highly-specialized dream researchers is instead sent down into those artificial caverns, wearing North Face jackets and thick gloves, where they deduce human psychology from moments of curvature and angle of descent.

My dreams were a series of tunnels through Antarctica, the boy’s future headstone reads.

[Image: The hieroglyphic end of a Canadian potash mine; courtesy of AP/The Australian].

Returning to Singer, briefly, he writes that “Many robots are actually just vehicles that have been converted into unmanned systems”—so if we can robotize aircraft, digging machines, riding lawnmowers, and even heavy construction equipment, and if we can also directly interface the human brain to the controls of these now wireless robotic mechanisms, then the design possibilities seem limitless, surreal, and well worth exploring (albeit with great moral caution) in real life.

3) What, then, in this context, might an architectural cyborg be? While it’s tempting to outline a number of scenarios in which a human brain could be directly wired into, say, the elevator control room of a downtown high-rise, or into the traffic lights of a Chinese metropolis, this scenario could also be disturbingly reversed.

In other words, why have a building somehow controlled by a human brain, when a human brain could instead be controlled by a building?

Like something out of Michael Crichton’s Coma—or even the film Hannibal (NSFW and highly disturbing!)—future elevator banks in New York’s replacement World Trade Center cause wireless twitching in an otherwise bed-bound patient. That is, the patient moves because of the elevators, and not the other way around.

Imagine a zombie horror film, complete with stumbling hordes guided not by demonic hunger but by the malfunctioning HVAC system of a building outside town…

[Image: A circuit diagram].

At this point, though, I’d rather step back from these morally uncomfortable images and suggest instead that buildings connected to other buildings might form their own ersatz neurology: like the hacked brain of a military paralytic, one building’s elevators would actually control the elevators in another building.

Networked examples of this are easy enough to invent: the computer system of one building is cross-wired into the circuitous guts of another structure, be it a skyscraper, an airplane, a geostationary satellite, a moving truck, or an interstellar probe built by NASA (and why stop at buildings—why not networked plants?). The changing speeds of a building’s escalators become more like graphs: responding to—and thus diagramming—signals from a rover on Mars.

They are pieces of equipment, we might say, neurologically interfering with one another.

In many ways, this just takes us back to the cybernetic designs mentioned earlier, but it also leads to a general question: are two buildings hooked up to each other, in the most intimate ways, their HVACs purring in perfect co-harmony, responding to and controlling one another, each incomplete without its cross-wired partner, actually cyborgs?

For more posts in Tim Maly’s ongoing series, check out 50 Posts About Cyborgs.

The Subterranean Machine Dreams of a Paralyzed Youth in Los Angeles

[Image: A glimpse of Honda’s brain-interface technology, otherwise unrelated to the post below].

Among many other interesting things in the highly recommended Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the Twenty-First Century by P.W. Singer – a book of interest to historians, psychologists, designers, military planners, insurgents, peace advocates, AI researchers, filmmakers, novelists, future soldiers, legislators, and even theologians – is a very brief comment about military research into the treatment of paralysis.
In a short subsection called “All Jacked Up,” Singer refers to “a young man from South Weymouth, Massachusetts,” who was “paralyzed from the neck down in 2001.” After nearly giving up hope for recovery, “a computer chip was implanted into his head.”

The goal was to isolate the signals leaving [his] brain whenever he thought about moving his arms or legs, even if the pathways to those limbs were now broken. The hope was that [his] intent to move could be enough; his brain’s signals could be captured and translated into a computer’s software code.

None of this seemed like news to me; in fact, even the next step wasn’t particularly surprising: they hooked him up to a computer mouse and then to a TV remote control, and the wounded man was thus able not only to surf the web but to watch HBO.
What I literally can’t stop thinking about, though, was where this research “opens up some wild new possibilities for war,” as Singer writes.
In other words: why hook this guy up to a remote control television when you could hook him up to a fully-armed drone aircraft flying above Afghanistan? He would simply pilot the plane with his thoughts.

[Image: A squadron of drones awaits its orders].

This vision – of paralyzed soldiers thinking unmanned planes through war – is both terrible and stunning.
Singer goes on to describe DARPA‘s “Brain-Interface Project,” which helped pay for this research, in which training the paralyzed to control machines by thought could be put to use for military purposes.
Later, Singer describes research into advanced, often robotic prostheses; “these devices are also being wired directly into the patient’s nerves,” he writes.

This allows the solder to control their artificial limbs via thought as well as have signals wired back into their peripheral nervous system. Their limbs might be robotic, but they can “feel” a temperature change or vibration.

When this is put into the context of the rest of Singer’s book – where we read, for instance, that “at least 45 percent of [the U.S. Air Force’s] future large bomber fleet [will be] able to operate without humans aboard,” with other “long-endurance” military drones soon “able to stay aloft for as long as five years,” and if you consider that, as Singer writes, the Los Angeles Police Department “is already planning to use drones that would circle over certain high-crime neighborhoods, recording all that happens” – you get into some very heady terrain, indeed. After all, the idea that those drone aircraft circling over Los Angeles in the year 2013 are actually someone’s else literal daydream simply blows me away.
In other words, if you can directly link the brain of a paralyzed soldier to a computer mouse – and then to a drone aircraft, and then perhaps to an entire fleet of armed drones circling over enemy territory – then surely you could also hook that brain up to, say, lawnmowers, remote-controlled tunneling machines, lunar landing modules, strip-mining equipment, and even 3D printers.
And here’s where some incredible landscape design possibilities come in.

[Image: 3D printing, via Thinglab].

A patient somewhere in Gloucestershire dreams in plastic objects endlessly extruded from a 3D printer… Architectural models, machine parts, abstract sculpture – a whole new species of object is emitted, as if printing dreams in three-dimensions.
Or you go to a toy store in Manhattan – or to next year’s Design Indaba, or to the Salone del Mobile – and you find nothing but rooms full of strange objects dreamed into existence by paralyzed 16-year olds.
The idea of brain-controlled wireless digging machines, in particular, just astonishes me; at night you dream of tunnels – because you are actually in control of tunneling equipment operating somewhere beneath the surface of the earth.
A South African platinum mine begins to diverge wildly from real sites of mineral wealth, its excavations more and more abstract as time goes on – carving M.C. Escher-like knots and strange cursive whorls through ancient reefwork below ground – and it’s because the mining engineer, paralyzed in a car crash ten years ago and in control of the digging machines ever since, has become addicted to morphine.
Or perhaps this could even be used as a new and extremely avant-garde form of psychotherapy.
For instance, a billionaire in Los Angeles hooks his depressed teenage son up to Herrenknecht tunneling equipment which has been shipped, at fantastic expense, down to Antarctica. An unmappably complex labyrinth of subterranean voids is soon created; the boy literally acts out through tunnels. If rock is his paint, he is its Basquiat.
Instead of performing more traditional forms of Freudian analysis by interviewing the boy in person, a team of highly-specialized dream researchers is instead sent down into those artificial caverns, wearing North Face jackets and thick gloves, where they deduce human psychology from moments of curvature and angle of descent.
My dreams were a series of tunnels through Antarctica, the boy’s future headstone reads.

[Image: Three varieties of underground mining machine].

That, or we stay aboveground and we look at the design implications of brain-interfaced gardening equipment.
I’m imagining a new film directed by Alex Trevi, in which a landscape critic on commission from The New Yorker visits a sprawling estate house somewhere in southern France. The owner has been bed-bound for three decades now, following a near-fatal car accident, but his brain was recently interfaced directly with an armada of wireless gardening machines: constantly trimming, mowing, replanting, and pruning, the gardens outside are shifted with his every thought process.
Having arrived simply to write a thesis about this unique development in landscape design, our critic finds herself entranced by the hallucinatory goings-on, the creeping vines and insectile machines and moving walls of hedges all around her.

[Image: The gardens at Versailles, via Wikipedia].

Returning to Singer, briefly, he writes that “Many robots are actually just vehicles that have been converted into unmanned systems” – so if we can robotize aircraft, digging machines, riding lawnmowers, and even heavy construction equipment, and if we can also directly interface the human brain to the controls of these now wireless robotic mechanisms, then the design possibilities seem limitless, surreal, and well worth exploring (albeit somewhat cautiously) in real life.
It could be a new episode of MythBusters, or the next iteration of the DARPA Grand Challenge. What’s the challenge?
A paralyzed teenager has to dig a tunnel through the Alps using only his or her brain and a partial face excavation machine.