THE END OF THE INDIVIDUAL

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No disease,

no natural conception,

no mind of your own…

Excited?
Imagine a world without sex and disease,

and where all of our brains are networked.

It sounds wonderful,

but it will bring

a new set of moral questions…

 YOU have your own mind, right? You have your own thoughts and you experience the world in your own unique way. In short, you’re an individual.  Maybe future generations won’t enjoy the same privilege.  If you believe some futurists, technology will make telepaths of us all. We will live every day in a vast network of brains that communicate directly via sensors and implants.

This “noosphere” could enable true global consciousness – but it might also obliterate the individual, transforming our existential landscape forever.  Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle have already demonstrated a human brain-to-brain interface.  

Rajesh Rao wore a sensor-studded cap to measure his brain’s electrical activity, while Andrea Stocco sported a device that stimulates brain regions using targeted magnetic fields. By imagining moving his hand, Rao was able to send a signal to Stocco’s brain, causing him to move his finger.

Miguel Nicolelis at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and his colleagues have gone further with rats and monkeys. Last year, they connected the brains of three monkeys, showing that the primates could synchronize brain activity to control a virtual arm.

But the leap from monkey brains coordinating an action to a global shared consciousness is massive.

“You cannot transfer minds, emotions, memories,” says Nicolelis.

We don’t know how to measure and encode such higher-order brain functions.

Anders Sandberg at the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, UK, says that even if we could establish connections with the required fidelity, we will have a translation problem.

“My mind doesn’t work like your mind,” he says.

Creating software that can translate different mental representations of various concepts might be as challenging as creating human-level artificial intelligence.

There may be a workaround. The brain’s plasticity allows it to incorporate and interpret new sensory information. Sandberg thinks that with the right technology we might train our neocortices, the regions of our brains responsible for consciousness, to adapt to more complex signals coming from other brains, rather than from simple sensors.

What might life in the hive mind be like? Acting as part of a group can be joyous and fulfilling, and the larger the group, the greater the benefit. So joining a global noosphere could be a profound and ecstatic experience. We might all share the joy of holding a newborn baby, multiplied by the 350,000 born around the world every day, say, or marvel at how quickly billions of coordinated hands can fix the environment.

“Global shared consciousness

could be a profound, joyful experience”  

But there is a dark side.

“If technology makes it easy for the good ideas to spread, it can also make it easy for the stupid ideas,” says Sandberg.

False accusations, for instance, could rage through our shared consciousness like wildfire, supercharging the worst that mob rule has to offer.

Advanced neural filters that automatically block the most dangerous thoughts might prevent the worst-case scenarios, says Sandberg. The same goes for securing our minds against brain-hackers seeking to influence or even directly control our thoughts and desires.  But such filters would have to assess the content of neural signals to understand human thought, a staggeringly complex task to say the least. If all such hurdles are overcome, the hive mind might operate at different scales, says Sandberg. 

Our local individual experience would still be ours, as long as the security measures hold up, but we might choose to switch viewpoints, as in a video game. And we might modulate signals coming from higher levels – family, city, regional and global – so that we experience them as our own preferences or even gut feelings.  However, as in the early days of the Internet, you will probably have to get used to buffering. Nerve impulses move more slowly than the signals between computers. 

Multiply the inevitable lag by billions of brains, and the hive mind might feel positively indecisive.  Even in the deepest future, the speed of light will impose limits on what a hive mind can do, says Sandberg.

“A universe-scale hive mind might take billions of years to think a single thought.”

by MacGregor Campbell, 04 June 2016, doi:10.1016/S0262-4079(16)31003-X, from SCI-HUB Website

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