Since 2015 there’s a paper that has absolutely eaten me alive, neuron by neuron. It’s called “Using space and time to encode vibrotactile information: toward an estimate of the skin’s achievable throughput (Eagleman, Novich)” and causes my mind to be absolutely paralyzed by possibilities. Sensory substitution! What a thought, Eagleman!
Of course, Paul Bach-y-Rita was one of the original OG’s in this realm.
& now, Elon Musk continues to seek talent for up-&-coming Neuralink – which promises to offer high-bandwidth brain-to-computer interfaces. Hm. Not a bad idea, especially when you consider the therapeutic applications of existing brain-to-computer technologies.
To research or work on any of these technologies would be the opportunity of a lifetime, & I’d cancel pretty much everything in my life right now to pursue them if only I knew how. In the meantime the opportunity to sit back and learn is available & my cynical little mind is already shouting out some words of caution.
BRAIN-TO-COMPUTER-INTERFACES-ARE-NEVER-GONNA-HAPPEN!, says cynical brain
Well, nothing interesting that ever happened was ever-going-to-happen. New inventions are just crazy, that’s how it is!
(this back-and-forth arguing continues). The primary concern is whether or not a high-bandwidth brain-to-machine interface for general-purpose use would be a good thing. Musk & others are right when they say that a keyboard isn’t enough to transmit a certain amount of information back-and-forth. But is that enough to support the overall claim that as it relates to human beings using and interfacing with information technology, quality of communication is proportional to the bandwidth of the information being passed along? Childish idealism runs rampant in my thoughts now – I’d like to go to coffee w a clever human like Elon & ask them, ‘will the problems you foresee with AI actually be solved by brain-machine interfaces or will they be worsened? Will the malicious capabilities of technology be diminished if humans are more closely linked w technology?’ It seems even a pen and paper (even morse code!) are often not enough for humans to communicate effectively, promptly, or sufficiently. It leads me to wonder if the tech-augmented hippocampus & cortex, adorned with messy glued-on silicon chips, might not be a devastatingly unhealthy Matrix-esque nightmare of limbic slop.
That coffee date won’t be happening anytime soon so in the meantime I’ll have to scroll from afar & hope these technologies work, & serve the common good.
once as a freshman in college I found myself scribbling about the ways that consciousness might arise randomly under certain circumstances. our brain surely evolved under completely random circumstances – so we are at least one random arrangement of atoms that has a sense of self. so maybe other arrangements of atoms pop into existence every now and then that also have a sense of self – and maybe those arrangements are not necessarily brains, or even living.
it’s easy to think that brains are necessary for consciousness. but maybe not. sure, we’ve got a brain with tons of chunks and parts – but if none of those parts are in and of themselves conscious, and if we are relatively complex life-forms that evolved randomly….then perhaps less-complex (non-living) forms that evolved under the same random processes might briefly or spontaneously become conscious.
for example – should consciousness be introduced when a physical system has _________ characteristics, and should those characteristics be emergent in more systems than simply brains, then it’s possible that little selves are emerging and disappearing all over us very quickly all the time.
then i stumbled upon the Boltzmann Brain concept online and realized my idea was not innovative whatsoever. but it’s cool to think that someone reached the same odd conclusion/paradox so long ago.
Phenomenology, thought experiments and contemplation have in some instances provided valuable insights to physicalist forms of knowledge, i.e. physics or neuroscience. Not unlike Einstein’s successful attempt to access concepts in relativity through thought experiments, Giulio Tononi wants to create step-by-step definitions and images that allow theorization about the subject at hand: in this case, consciousness, subjectivity, selfhood, the feeling of what it’s like to be something.
Plot twist: he completely dodges a great question about unification of conscious experiences in the case of stroke patients. I’m not sure why he neglected to answer or even address that question directly.
Some years ago (perhaps late 2012 or early 2013) I wrote my older brother Michael a letter requesting a particular response. My prompt to him was simple: “Extinction.”
EXTINCTION IS EXTINCT
Our perpetually attentive society is in fact just the opposite. This ironic ignorance was born of the desire to know everything at once. Until now almost no person realized what a miserable fate access to all knowledge would be (though a collective malaise has existed since initial forays into universal accessibility to man’s aggregated history and output).
Recently, however, the awful practice of uninformed criticism of all things has come into favor among those fresh out of the educational mills of the modern western world. As such; it was only a matter of time until someone attacked our society’s newly formed habit to store away (multiple copies) everything anyone does or says. Unlike other criticisms by bright-eyed ‘scholars’ this one holds water – it is, in fact, watertight. So vile is our culture’s habit – so vile and viral, that it seems certain to infect all persons on the globe before the decade is out. Long gone are the days of a gentle wind passing unnoticed in a calm valley. No more is the time when a child’s first steps are recorded only in the memory of her parents. All things can be known to all people. And endless and frantic dash for all information has begun.
The future’s past will have no secrets. Extinction is extinct.
(from Robert Tocquet’s The Magic of Numbers, known in France as 2+2=4)
sorry. the machine-consciousness bandwagon is catchy. it really is. and the same caravan of wannabe-theories (extending backward through history) has similar bandwagons worth hopping onto. not unlike rich kids today who experience their first metaphysical considerations at the sight of a overpriced virtual reality headset, roman elites looked away from theology or metaphysics & instead proclaimed that fountain technology would rip apart the very fabric of reality. when a pocketwatch was amongst the most complicated of mandmade artifacts there was only a single thing on earth in the minds of their owners nearly as glorious or intentional in its construction- yes, duh, the brain. whenever a new technology emerges that outraces its predecessors the first audible noise is a human making proud and inept self-reference.
post-enlightenment egotism serves this notion that humans (the only sentient thing) are special (after all, we are the most complex thing of all things) and therefore other complex things (almost as special) are also sentient things (almost as sentient as people). Folks on this machine-consciousness bandwagon often love to drool over Alan Turing but are creeped out or dismissive of panpsychism. That is to say they believe their silica-based electronics, envisioned by some obsessed white entrepreneur somewhere, have consciousness, but trees and gusts of wind do not. computers think, but Sister Silica does not. today in 2017 this allows flashy characters with inaccessible toys and tech-speak to swallow up an entire culture’s worth of dialogue about consciousness and quietly slink off to shit it all out, revealing their intellectual indigestion. i encounter so many of these types in the world of neuroscience. The same attitude against these passive panpsychist “spooks” existing within or as all matter (“nah dude, my Macbook is conscious but not a rock. btw, machines are gonna take over the world”) is incredibly phobic of the singular machine consciousness they somehow cling to. Don’t get me wrong- Terminator and Ex Machina are splendid movies but they aren’t scary. I did read Frankenstein, after all.
if you’ve made it past philosophy 101 and have still invested all of your ontological energies into the folly end of the Can Machines Think? question, and find yourself in disagreement with me, please leave me a comment. it’s 3:56am and as much as I’d like to keep challenging machine consciousness I need to power down for the night