Linda Nagata's Attriums

Crosby_M (
Mon, 12 Aug 96 13:32:00 EDT

On Saturday, August 10, 1996 12:13PM Roderick A. Carder-Russell wrote: On
Fri, 9 Aug 1996, Eric Watt Forste wrote: What about the near-future use of
cognitive prostheses? Much agreed! I think that the probability of an
upload is much more practical when approached as a soft incremental

If you haven't read Linda Nagata's "The Bohr Maker" (Bantam Spectra, Apr'95,
ISBN 0-553-56925-2), it's well worth reading even if you normally have
little time for fiction. Her story (with well-developed characters & drama
for a first-time novel) involves a near-future solar system based on
nanotechnology, 'attrium' implants for full immersion into VR and the
transmission of mind copies between distributed attriums. Plus, there's a
libertarian struggle against a 'Gaian' World government that exists for the
primary purpose of avoiding a 'gray-goo booboo' AND proscribing transhuman

If this story is old news, forgive my enthusiasm. The reason I make this
posting is that I find Nagata's 'attrium' ideas to be intriguingly original
and wonder if anything similar is published or posted on the Net somewhere.
Here are some notes I recently took on 'Attriums' after rereading "The Bohr

07/04/96. ATTRIUMS & GHOSTS ENVISIONED. Linda Nagata's 1995 novel "The Bohr
Maker" describes an artificial organ called an 'attrium' grown by nanotech
'makers' in human brains to provide direct immersion in virtual realities,
communications on the Net and remote sensing by linking to similarly
augmented people, animals and mechanical sensors at distant locations.

While it may be feasible that such a device itself could eventually be built
and implanted, a few practical interim questions are (a) how would an
'attrium' interact with the organic human brain and nervous system; and, (b)
how could the necessary wide-bandwidth and far-ranging communications be
implemented, especially given the current worries about the effects on
organic functions of ELF and more high-powered electromagnetic energies?
(When even cellular phones are suspected of having some impact on brain
tumors in certain genetically susceptible individuals, it seems unlikely
that a radio transponder could be implanted in human brains without serious
biological side effects.)

As a communication alternative, there is some speculation in the quantum
physics community over the potential for non-local communication, i.e., once
they have interacted, two quantum particles remain immediately correlated
regardless of their distance from each other. Some progress in quantum
computing based on these principles has been made. What about prospects for
remote sensing and communications without the need for electromagnetic
transmissions? At best, such a method of communication would be a one-shot
deal because once the initial report from the remote sensor had been
observed at the originating location, the quantum isolation that supported
the non-local correlation would have been broken. Even if a large amount of
information, from an extended period of observation, could be 'transmitted'
before it is observed at the 'receiver', this would imply that such links
could not be in real time - the receiver would have to wait for the end of
the 'transmission' before observing it. Such a link would be completely
passive and wouldn't allow two-way communication.

Perhaps it is for these reasons that Linda Nagata envisioned fully-immersive
communication between attriums taking place only via the downloading of
'ghosts', extracts of a person's sensibilities, memories & mind, able to
transmit to another's attrium, reside there 'off line' from the originator's
mind, and able to return the experiences to the originator only by
disengaging and uploading back to the 'home address'.

07/20/96. ATTRIUM DESIGN LEVELS. While Nagata doesn't go into any of the
following, I think there would likely be several stages in the development
of such attriums:

A level 1 Attrium would basically be a thought & experience recorder: able
to replay sensations and subvocalized thoughts; which also implies a
capability to generate something like a 'hypnotic state' for controlled
overriding of sensations from ones' immediate physical environment during

A level 2 Attrium introduces the ability to access & experience sensations &
thoughts transmitted by others: at first this might have to be on a download
basis, until some real-time communication mechanism could be established;
but, in any case, implies the ability of the Attrium to generate an
immersive VR able to integrate host proprioceptions along with guest entity

A level 3 Attrium assumes real-time communication, being able to both send &
receive sensations & thoughts between multiple Attriums; which implies
central nervous system integration for fine motor control of Attrium
simulations and an ability to switch fluidly between viewpoints, perhaps
moving rapidly across an environment in one 'window' while being a
stationary observer in another.

A level 4 Attrium assumes the ability to generate 'ghosts', that is, to
create extracts of ones' mind, personality & proprioceptive sensibilities
for transmission to another Attrium, as well as the ability to host such
ghosts sent from other Attriums.

07/21/96. RESEARCH AREAS FOR THE FIRST STEP. I don't think even Level 1
Attriums would be practical using current brain-scanning approaches
(electrodes or MRI) and might depend on the creation of distributed clusters
of molecular processing agents able to record brain activity from within for
later analysis. It might be possible, for specific research subjects, to
develop a code for certain activities that could then trigger signals that
could be read by external devices. Key areas to be explored would include
agents that could simultaneously monitor 'mood' from within the
hormone-filled ventricles of the brain, along with intra-axial agents to map
neural activity. For early studies, volunteers would probably need to keep
detailed diaries of physical & mental activities and moods (which is an
entire discipline in itself!) Controled experiments should focus on finding
reliable and translatable signal patterns associated with subvocalized
thought streams. A practical goal would be a system for handicapped people
that provides a simulated keyboard in their minds that could be used to
capture mentally spelled-out sentences. This could eventually lead to other
simulated displays that a person could be taught to interpret. With the
addition of a memory & search mechanism, such a system would provide the
beginnings of an Attrium Notebook, a thought recorder.

I know of a few old references to some of these things as well as some newer
references (e.g., Max More's Extropy #16 survey of research at USC); but,
I'm mostly interested in speculations on the software side rather than the
wetware or hardware sides.

Mark Crosby