Digital telepathy

I’ve started to follow the news recently (after staying away from much of the news media, for my mental health) and came across this article about the development of hardware that will allow us to control mechanical devices with our minds. According to the article, scientists have already managed to implant a chip in a quadriplegic man’s brain that allowed him to use his mind as a controller. The article goes on to claim that eventually people will be able to interact not only with the Internet via their minds, but with the thoughts of other people, going way beyond Snow Crash and even The Matrix.

Though I’ve often wished to be able to access Google or Wikipedia in my head, I found the article more scary than intriguing. But, like Neal Stephenson (of Snow Crash), I have to agree that while the hardware may be there by then, the software will be crap. The CNN article reeks of sensationalism; cybernetics has never made the kind of progress predicted by scientists and sf authors alike. But it’s certainly something to think about.

I’m not sure whether I’d want a computer in my brain, and certainly not an Internet connection. I feel like my individuality is sapped enough by the Internet as it is. This sort of thing could be the beginning of Vinge’s Technological Singularity.

I find it a bit disturbing to imagine that with just a thought, I could tap into the inner monologues of my neighbor, or boss—or two million Myspace users. I’m reminded of Ian Malcolm’s speech from the otherwise-forgettable novel The Lost World (Crichton’s sequel to Jurassic Park):

“[…] I think cyberspace means the end of our species. […] it means the end of innovation. […] This idea that the whole world is wired together is mass death. Every biologist knows that small groups in isolation evolve fastest. You put a thousand birds on an ocean island and they’ll evolve very fast. You put ten thousand on a big continent, and their evolution slows down. Now, for our own species, evolution occurs mostly through our behavior. We innovate new behavior to adapt. And everybody on earth knows that innovation only occurs in small groups. Put three people on a committee and they may get something done. Ten people, and it gets harder. Thirty people, and nothing happens. Thirty million — it becomes impossible. […] Mass media swamps diversity. It makes every place the same. Bangkok or Tokyo or London: there’s a McDonald’s on one corner, a Benetton on another, a Gap across the street. Regional differences vanish. All differences vanish. In a mass-media world, there’s less of everything except the top ten books, records, movies, ideas. People worry about losing species diversity in the rain forest. But what about intellectual diversity—our most necessary resource? That’s disappearing faster than trees. But we haven’t figured that out, so now we’re planning to put five billion people together in cyberspace. And it’ll freeze the entire species. Everything will stop dead in its tracks. Everyone will think the same thing at the same time. Global uniformity […]”

—Crichton, Michael. The Lost World. New York: Ballantine Books, 1995. pp. 338-339.

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