Friday, April 19, 2013

Aldous Huxley got it right

Item:  Man uses mind to control rat’s tail. 

OK.  Set aside your common sense reaction:  A man decides to use his mind and he uses it for that?  To control a rat’s tail?!   

What about the rat’s breeding habits, or his choice of residence, for example.  Why not use your mind to control one of those more pressing rat proclivities? 

Or how about a man controlling his own impulse to browse the channels for hours on end while the cable guide obscures the picture from other viewers in the room?  What about that? 

Or what if such a man used his mind to remember someone’s birthday, as a suggestion, or her ring size? 

But I digress. 

The point of the news out of BBC Future is that a man in the United States has successfully used his mind to control a rat’s tail in Brazil.  It’s scientifically documented. 

Yeah, me too.  I’m still hung up on the why of it all, but let’s press on. 

It’s a breakthrough, you understand.  The man wired up in a lab here thought “twitch” into an internet connection with the rat’s brain in South America, and voila!  That rodent wagged his hairless appendage as though he thought to do it himself. 

Still feeling a little underwhelmed. 

And they don’t mention any concern regarding reverse signals, from rat brain to man brain.  Nevertheless. 

Very serious grown men with clipboards and grant money, neuroscientists at Duke University, Harvard and the Pentagon, are focused on such brain-computer interfaces.  They are hell-bent it seems, to take steps beyond the already established ability of human brains to commandeer computer cursors, artificial limbs and virtual drones. 

We can extrapolate with confidence that they want that rat to dance to whatever tune is stuck in their heads.  It’s a small world after all.  (Sorry.)  Achieving that pinnacle they most certainly will move on to bigger and more bizarre brain-to-brain interactions. 

Hold that thought.   

Item:  Researchers at the 2012 conference for the International Association for the Study of Dreams report lucid dreamers sending signals to each other over the internet while in the dream state. 

These guys strap on their brainwave headbands and when the EEG recognizes they’re in the dream state via rapid eye movement, it alerts them.  The first one to get that signal becomes lucid - self-aware in the dream state - and signals his pal who’s sleeping in another room, or another state.  

These Avant guard techies even created a rudimentary competition in which the dreamer who signals his counterpart first, wins.  Now they’re exploring dreaming-brain-to-dreaming-brain connections via social media.  What a time saver!  Find your perfect mate while you sleep. 

The dream guys jumped ahead of the Pentagon guys and their pet Brazilian rat.  They established a conscious - at least lucid - contact between two human brains in remote locations.  The difference is that the dreamers aren’t trying to control each other, they just want to play. 

And finally:  

Item:  Google has opened a new service to let people control their email, blog posts and online photos posthumously, as concern grows over what happens to a user’s "digital life" when he dies. 

This service allows living Googlers to set up binding instructions for what happens to their electronic legacies when they pass into that great Ethernet in “the cloud.”  It heralds a common clause in wills of the future.  

And it’s worrisome for those of us who’ve had this experience:  One of my LinkedIn connections died a couple of years ago but he continues to ask for my endorsements.  “Does ‘John’ know about project management?” the screen prompts hopefully.  “Does ‘John’ know about Microsoft Word?” 

It’s creepy.  And by the way, “John” was creepy when he was alive.  I didn’t like him in the first place.  We started out as Facebook “friends” because we worked together and I didn’t want to draw his attention by declining his request.  Twisted, I know.  Then, he never even “liked” my posts or LOL’d one time!  I guess he wants sympathy endorsements now! 

In summary:  Mad scientists work feverishly toward methods of controlling us from afar.  Fun-loving researchers develop dazzling means to connect and entertain us.  And search engines allow us to communicate from beyond the grave. 

We have, indeed, a Brave New Electronic World.