'Consciousness spreads to fill the space available'

"The bandwidth of your cell phone is already comparable to that of your corpus callosum, once noise and synaptic redundancy are taken into account. We’re still a few theoretical advances away from an honest-to-God mind meld – still waiting for the ultrasonic ‘Neural Dust’ interface proposed by Berkley’s Dongjin Seo, or for researchers at Rice University to perfect their carbon-nanotube electrodes – but the pipes are already fat enough to handle that load when it arrives.

And those advances may come easier than you’d expect. Brains do a lot of their own heavy lifting when it comes to plugging unfamiliar parts together. A blind rat, wired into a geomagnetic sensor via a simple pair of electrodes, can use magnetic fields to navigate a maze just as well as her sighted siblings. If a rat can teach herself to use a completely new sensory modality – something the species has never experienced throughout the course of its evolutionary history – is there any cause to believe our own brains will prove any less capable of integrating novel forms of input?

Not even skeptics necessarily deny the likelihood of ‘thought-stealing technology’. They only protest that it won’t be here for decades (which, given the number of us who expect to be alive and kicking 30 years from now, is not an especially strong objection). If we do stop short of a hive mind, it’s unlikely to be because we lack the tech; it’ll only be because we lack the nerve.

So I don’t think it unreasonable to wonder if one day, not too far from now, Netflix might change its name to Mindflix and offer streaming first-person experience directly into the sensory cortex. I suspect people would sign up in droves for such a service. Moore’s Law will work its magic.

What might that mean to us as individuals?


Consciousness remains mysterious. But there’s no reason to regard it as magical, no evidence of spectral bonds that hold a soul in one head and keep it from leaking into another. And one of the things we do know is that consciousness spreads to fill the space available. Smaller selves disappear into larger; two hemispheres integrate into one. The architectural specifics aren’t even all that important if Tononi is right, if the Cambridge Declaration is anything to go on. You don’t need a neocortex or a hypothalamus. All you need is complexity and a sufficiently fat pipe.


Of course they’ll put safeguards in place, take every measure to ensure that nothing goes wrong. Maybe nothing will. Keep your baud rate dialed back far enough and you’ll be fine. But there are always those who push the envelope, who might actively embrace the prospect of union with another mind. They’re not all that uncommon in transhumanist circles. Some regard it as an inevitable step in abandoning the flesh, uploading consciousness into a gleaming new chassis with a longer warranty. To others it’s a way to commune with the souls of other species, to share consciousness with cats and octopuses. It’s a fine line, though. Keep the bandwidth too low and you lose the experience; edge it too high and you lose yourself."


tags: conciousness,mind_machine_interface,transhumanism,singularity