Monday, March 6, 2017

Neural UI: Beyond the Lace

Last week, I took it upon myself to offer unsolicited advice on the User Interface for the coming direct-to-brain technologies.  Because no one reached out to offer me millions of dollars to continue bashing my thoughts in this keyboard... I'll just have to offer more for free.  #badprecedent

Over the week, while not being offered speaking engagements, I have continued to noodle on the problem and have realized that I did not take the whole concept of "interface" far enough.  Last week's idea that "seeing" or "hearing" or "touching" as essential paradigms for a UI become bottlenecks when the brain is connected only works as long as the thoughts stay in natures own little ATX computer case: the skull.  But what should this all look like (crap it's hard to get away from visual metaphors as a human) when the thought process has been copied out of the brain and is 'running' on a different medium?

(image and case credit to user Masbuskado on

That's right, I'm talking about running "you" on silicon or quantum computers or Minecraft Redstone or whatever.  Because if we will be able to implant thoughts into your head via neural laces or neural shunts, then it is not much of a jump to start pulling them out and storing them externally.  I want to set all of the issues around identity and 'which you is you' and 'if you have a copy running after you die, does it inherit your estate' all aside in order to focus on what that copy will experience when running on a computer.

Science Fiction authors have tackled this stuff for more than a few years.  Most of them offer up images similar to the ones in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash or the Otherland series from Tad Williams.  The Matrix.  A visual world.  Granted, both of those worlds can only be experienced through the body via goggles or immersion rigs and were not intended to imaging a brain tap style connection.  Others take a more leave-your-body-behind approach and divide humanity between those who have uploaded and those who remain hide bound.  Most of these latter still stick to a world recreated; one of visions and sounds and surfaces.

But is that what will actually be experienced?  When uploaded, the mind is now in a different body, one with different senses.  Does it need to be coddled by some concept world similar to what it has been used to?  Maybe initially, to get over the shock, but I posit that, in the long term, that will all be left behind to something intensely different.

Alastair Reynolds had some of this towards the end of his first novel, Revelation Space, where the uploaded characters only recreate a virtual world when they have visitors.  That seems nice.  Unfortunately, Reynolds is sparse on details about what he thinks those people experience when they don't have visitors.  Is it just extended thinking with your eyes closed?  Long term meditation on the nature of self and reality?  Long term sensory deprivation?

Not that last, at least.  There will be sensors to the outside world.  We are all in the process of installing them right now: IP cams, microphones and connected smoke alarms to mention a few.  The difference will be the immediacy of it.  Our current senses are tied directly to our location.  We can only sense what is around us.  A mind in a computer will have a different sense of presence.  On the one hand, the sensors that it has access to will be even more location tied.  Cameras will swivel and tilt, but not move around.  On the other hand, that presence will also be distributed with access to sensors everywhere all at once.  Moving from place to place will be as easy as willing it.  Teleportation in a real sense.

Or continuing to do the same menial task... but as a robot!

But beyond the senses, what will it be like?  Will the mind's ability to think change merely because it is thinking on a different strata?  I suspect so.  Thoughts will be different.  They will have to be.  For instance, now, when we close our eyes, we still see: we visualize.  When we thinking on a computer, will we still think in terms of 'seeing' or will it be something else?

As intensely physical beings embedded in organic bodies, it is difficult to imagine a world in which physicality no longer exists.  Some poor soul (#punintended) is going to have to DO it before we can know.  Hopefully, that soul has something of the poet so that they can properly articulate their experience back to those of us still stuck with ears.

I'll volunteer myself, but only as a copy.  I still enjoy living in this physical world.

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