Brain Drain

Join the Final Mind.  Or else.  Published by Legend Books 1990.  Cover illustration by Steven Hunt/Image Bank.  Design by Dennis Barker.

Join the Final Mind. Or else. Published by Legend Books 1990. Cover illustration by Steven Hunt/Image Bank. Design by Dennis Barker.

Linking the human brain directly to the Internet is bound to happen sooner or later.  Whether out of necessity for those unable to communicate in other ways, or just because it would offer enormous practical advantages to everyday users, the obvious benefits of instant access (in the most literal sense) to the entire Web mean that the technology will undoubtedly be with us before long.

And that may eventually have some immense consequences for the human race, as I discussed in a previous webpost – A Connection Too Far.  A collective consciousness for those users involved could well be largely beyond our comprehension at the moment.   The rest of us will end up feeling somewhat excluded from the party.

But until that happy, or perhaps not-so-happy, day arrives, there could be a long period during which the brains of ordinary people remain directly connected in a way that would make our current forms of access look positively primitive.  One of the more significant areas could be the facility to upload or download information to and from the brain, which could be a real boon if you don’t want to have the trouble of remembering huge amounts of detail – simply download it and then retrieve it later when you need it.  (Provided, of course, you can remember what it was and where you left it; maybe a pencil and paper might be a useful supplementary device in order to make a note of it.)

Taking it one stage further, the ability to download the entire brain contents for future use could be especially helpful, particularly if, sad to say, one’s current physical body is failing to function properly any longer.  This has been a regular theme in science fiction; Arthur C Clarke described it in his 1956 novel The City and the Stars.  The central computer of the city of Diaspar stores the minds of the city’s inhabitants and then resurrects them, as required, in new bodies from time to time.

A similar form of effective immortality is seen in Iain M Banks’ novels about the Culture, where the minds of citizens may be transferred and used at a later date.  But there could be a considerable downside.  Greg Bear’s 1988 story Eternity features the highly intelligent, though exceptionally dangerous, alien species known as the Jart, who aim to upload as many other life-forms as possible with a view to storing them to form part of an eventual Final Mind of all species.  Possibly a noble goal, but with no suggestion that the participating species might necessarily want to take part.

And this brings us to the obvious potential disadvantage of linking brains to the Internet.  It’s frighteningly easy to hack just about anything on the World Wide Web if you know how (so I’m told).  Link your brain directly to the Internet and it could, and at some time probably will, be hacked.  A download against your will is a rather frightening thought, similar to the critical element of the story in the 2013 film Elysium, where the main character extracts key information to control the Elysium space station from the brain of the distinctly unpleasant John Carlyle.

But having to use a physical lead to connect a brain to the storage mechanism, as our hero had to do in Elysium, should not be a requirement in the long run.  With wireless technology and ever-increasing Brainband speed, a quick download could be achieved almost before the brain concerned has even noticed it.  If indeed it notices it anyway, since, as with all the most successful hacking enterprises, any information theft won’t actually be noticed until after the event, if at all.

Needless to say, George Orwell’s Thought Police from 1984 would have a field day with this at their disposal.  In the meantime, the security providers’ advertising tagline for all of us ordinary folk would be clear: “Who’s been reading your thoughts today?”

Richard Hayes, Assistant Editor (Odyssey)

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