Re: Extropians in the field

From: Emlyn (
Date: Sun Apr 15 2001 - 20:07:52 MDT

It may be quite a while before we go plugging things into our brains. It's
hard (brains are complex), it's dangerous (elective neurosurgery anyone?),
and who wants to be stuck with the neuro-jack equivalent of Betamax?

Meanwhile, we will continue to become less geographical in outlook. People
will do many more things from a physical distance, although the concept of
being far (tele) will drift away, as our communication technology improves.
You may be working with someone on the other side of the planet, but if you
have a video conference wall screen, surround sound, and highly
sophisticated groupware with which to communicate, you are not going to
*feel* far. All that's still without considering true virtual environments;
the helmet-gloves-etc full immersion scenario.

I think you'll find that, by the time we begin to seriously contemplate
direct neural interfaces, we'll already be a long way down the path to
complete reliance on information systems for most aspects of our lives.
We'll already have been through multiple security-related crises, as
successive steps toward total immersion are made, and the subsequent new
environments are violated. In fact, we've already been through many such

At this point in time, people are moving en-masse from intermittent access
to the net, to permanent connection, and are feeling the pain, en-masse,
associated with that. So we see products like firewalls becoming a
mainstream software consumable; Windows XP apparently will come with a
firewall built in (scary...). We'll be having a lot more security problems,
a lot more accidents, a lot more catastrophes... but on the whole, people
will learn, and the technology will advance, and in general it'll be an
improvement, just as where we are now, in relation to
information/communication technology, is an undoubted improvement on 20
years ago, 10 years ago.

A further point... if you haven't come across the concept of technological
singularity, then it's time to check it out... grab The Spike, by Damien
Broderick, as an excellent starting point. I'd say that, by the time we have
direct neural interfaces, we are going to be existing in an environment that
I might euphemistically call "dynamic".

To the car scenario you outline below... I think there are a number of
things to think about in relation to it...

----- Original Message -----
From: <>
To: <>
Sent: Monday, April 16, 2001 9:03 AM
Subject: Re: Extropians in the field

> I don't necessarily think that neurotechnology is a bad thing. It'd be
nice to have a datajack port installed in my car and another in my head so
that I could mentally drive it to class and be able to eat breakfast on the
way there with both hands free, instead of having to skip it or multitask
between dodging pedestrians or eating my sandwich.
> Such an interface would probably also decrease the number of accidents,
since it takes less time to merely think about stopping your car than it
does to think about it, then wait for the action potential to go down your
leg to your foot, which will then press a gas pedal.

Cars, as we think of them now, will likely not exist by the time we are
plugging things into our heads. I would expect that travel will be less
important in general, and that the cars will drive themselves, by that point
(I damned hope they do; if they are still killing great swathes of people in
twenty years, it'll be even sadder than it is now). It may be that transport
degenerates to a public infrastructure of smart vehicles, summonable on
demand, by that point (particularly in the cities). Psychologically, the
grip of the car may lessen as we no longer need it as much, and as it
becomes automated to the point of not being the extension of ourselves that
once it was.

> I could probably also listen to the radio with such a device, and also
mentally chat on a cell phone with friends.

It would be odd to use a neural interface to listen to the radio, or chat
with friends on the cellphone. Ears work pretty well! It might be an
advantage to be able to synthesise the contents of our aural scratch space
(the inner voice) and pump it into a cellphone, so one could think instead
of speak.. although it would require some mighty self-discipline; direct
broadcast of thoughts is not something I'd go for in a hurry.

On the other hand, new forms of mind-mind communication may become possible
with neural interfaces, depending on what they interface with and how they
work. That would be interesting to hook up to a wireless data connection!
You'd want your car to drive itself, however; I can't imagine concentration
would be too crash hot if you were direct interfacing with someone. It
sounds a bit too personal for my tastes to do in public; a bit like mental
sex (something crass about midf*cking...). We might require considerable
social change (of the type that is likely to occur; breaking down of privacy
taboos) before applications like that could truly take off.

> On the other hand, what if somebody messed with the signal inhibitor in
the port? Suddenly, instead of normal volume, I'm blasted with a wave of
sound (all in my head, of course) so intense that I pass out from the shock,
and crash. Or I'm bombarded with constant ads for products that I can't
turn off, short of disconnecting the port. Maybe even then, it won't be
able to get rid of it, if you listen to a song long enough, it gets stuck in
your head, after all. You find yourself humming it, even when you dont want

What if someone shoots you in the face? Or punctures the wheel of your car?
Or sabotages the volume control of your radio? Or gives you ad-ware that
harrasses you constantly about crap product X?

Sure, there are dangers. But hacking into systems is not like a shadowrun
stat; you don't throw a number of six-siders equal to your stat, and succeed
if you get enough fives & sixes. It's not like the movies...

The problems of potential mind-control attempts by commercial entities? I'd
probably take that quite seriously. The open source folks may have some
things to say on this score. Certainly, once things start going directly
into our heads, and we are considering crossing the line between biological
human, and completely technologically dependent transhuman (to the extent
that maybe we die without our modifications in place), informed people will
want to be very, very clear about what is being made part of them.

> Security in neurotechnology, and the prevention of it's abuse, it going
to be 100 times more important than security in the computer industry, which
is pretty damn imporant.

Nanotech is as scary as it is interesting. I think the best personal
strategy is to watch it closely now, and try to get involved with it when it
starts to become viable. Being informed is going to be extremely important
as these new technologies emerge.

> And with all these viruses, and all the bugs with Windows, etc, etc...
well, we've *seen* just how secure computers are.
> Now imagine the same level of buggyness in something <i>directly wired
to your brain</i>.
> -Manny

Software's going to be pretty different by then; handcoding may be a very
much smaller part of it, for instance. However, I will agree with your point
to this extent.. an internet that evolves into a sophisticated, shared
mental space, is going to see some really interesting nastiness. It'll be
absolutely fascinating, the things that competing people do to try to seize
control or retain control in such an environment. We live in interesting
times, and move toward even more interesting ones. The spike, such as it
eventually is, will probably be most visible in it's early stages in that

Drooling in anticipation...

Emlyn James O'Regan - Managing Director
Wizards of AU
"Australian IT Wizards - US Technology Leaders
Pure International Teleworking in the Global Economy"

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon May 28 2001 - 09:59:46 MDT