by MacGregor Campbell
04 June 2016
no natural conception,
no mind of your own...
Imagine a world without sex and disease,
and where all of our brains are
It sounds wonderful,
but it will bring
a new set of moral questions...
YOU have your own mind, right? You have
your own thoughts and you experience the world in your own unique
way. In short, you're an individual.
Maybe future generations won't enjoy the same privilege.
If you believe some futurists, technology will make telepaths of us
all. We will live every day in a vast network of brains that
communicate directly via sensors and implants.
could enable true global consciousness - but it might also
obliterate the individual, transforming our existential landscape
Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle have already
demonstrated a human brain-to-brain interface.
Rajesh Rao wore a
sensor-studded cap to measure his brain's electrical activity, while
Andrea Stocco sported a device that stimulates brain regions
using targeted magnetic fields.
By imagining moving his hand, Rao was
able to send a signal to Stocco's brain, causing him to move his
Miguel Nicolelis at Duke
University in Durham, North Carolina, and his colleagues have gone
further with rats and monkeys. Last year, they connected the brains
of three monkeys, showing that the
primates could synchronize brain activity to control a
But the leap from monkey brains coordinating an action to a
global shared consciousness is massive.
"You cannot transfer minds,
emotions, memories," says Nicolelis.
We don't know how to measure and encode
such higher-order brain functions.
Anders Sandberg at the
Future of Humanity Institute at the
University of Oxford, UK, says that even if we could establish
connections with the required fidelity, we will have a translation
"My mind doesn't work like your
mind," he says.
Creating software that can translate
different mental representations of various concepts might be as
challenging as creating human-level artificial intelligence.
There may be a workaround. The brain's plasticity allows it to
incorporate and interpret new sensory information. Sandberg thinks
that with the right technology we might train our neocortices, the
regions of our brains responsible for consciousness, to adapt to
more complex signals coming from other brains, rather than from
What might life in the hive mind be like?
Acting as part of a group can be joyous
and fulfilling, and the larger the group, the greater the benefit.
So joining a global noosphere could be a profound and
We might all share the joy of holding a
newborn baby, multiplied by the 350,000 born around the world every
day, say, or marvel at how quickly billions of coordinated hands can
fix the environment.
could be a profound, joyful
But there is a dark side.
"If technology makes it easy for the
good ideas to spread, it can also make it easy for the stupid
ideas," says Sandberg.
False accusations, for instance, could
rage through our shared consciousness like wildfire, supercharging
the worst that mob rule has to offer.
Advanced neural filters that automatically block the most dangerous
thoughts might prevent the worst-case scenarios, says Sandberg. The
same goes for securing our minds against brain-hackers seeking to
influence or even directly control our thoughts and desires.
But such filters would have to assess
the content of neural signals to understand human thought, a
staggeringly complex task to say the least.
If all such hurdles are overcome, the hive mind might
operate at different scales, says Sandberg.
Our local individual experience would
still be ours, as long as the security measures hold up, but we
might choose to switch viewpoints, as in a video game. And we might
modulate signals coming from higher levels - family, city, regional
and global - so that we experience them as our own preferences or
even gut feelings.
However, as in the early days of the Internet, you will probably
have to get used to buffering. Nerve impulses move more slowly than
the signals between computers.
Multiply the inevitable lag by billions
of brains, and the hive mind might feel positively indecisive.
Even in the deepest future, the speed of light will impose limits on
what a hive mind can do, says Sandberg.
"A universe-scale hive mind might
take billions of years to think a single thought."