Friday, March 31, 2017

Uploading and Dowloading Thoughts

Elon Musk's new company "Neuralink is pursuing what Musk calls the "neural lace" technology, implanting tiny brain electrodes that may one day upload and download thoughts, the Wall Street Journal reported." This is interesting, if only because it presupposes a rather naïve view of what thoughts are, namely that they are discrete (software) objects or data structures "in the brain" that can be manipulated in the way in which any digital information can be manipulated.

Biologically speaking, thoughts may well be described as neurons firing together in certain patterns with certain brains. And there may be different patterns for the "same" thought in different brains. These patterns may be more dependent on independent external objects than this view suggests. As Howard Rheingold suggested "[T]he human organism is linked with an external entity in a two-way interaction, creating a coupled system that can be seen as a cognitive system in its own right. All the components in the system play an active causal role, and they jointly govern behavior in the same sort of way that cognition usually does. If we remove the external component the system’s behavioral competence will drop, just as it would if we removed part of its brain. Our thesis is that this sort of coupled process counts equally well as a cognitive process, whether or not it is wholly in the head."

This may mean that notes on paper or the computer are at least as important for "uploading" or "downloading" thoughts than what's in the brain. I am sure this will be figured out eventually.

Just a thought!


Bill Maslen said...

Just a note on "neural lace": very few commentators appear to have noticed that the concept is directly lifted from Iain M. Banks's Culture series, a well-known (to sci-fi readers) series of books dealing with a civilisation managed entirely by hyper-AIs (so intelligent they don't like to be referred to as artificial intelligences, but as Minds). Other interesting aspects of Banks's vision that reflect current neuroscientific thinking: Minds are so vast, they must extend themselves into hyperspace in order to maintain their cohesion. I was reading recently that researchers have – perhaps half-jokingly – posited the possibility that the human brain actually operates in such an extradimensional manner, given the difficulty they are having in pinning down the precise locations of even basic neural building blocks such as memories.

Iain Banks is also known to the more literary class of reader as the author of such provocative novels as "The Wasp Factory", "Crow Road" and others. His best-known science fiction works include e.g. "The Player of Games", "Consider Phlebas" and "Excession".

MK said...

That is very interesting. I had never heard about Iain M. Banks. Will look into it.

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