Sunday, September 04, 2005

Brains In a (Google's) Vat

I remember those few occasions in which I dropped some sentences about our new virtual self and waited to see what the reactions would be. Sometimes I could go on with my thoughts; sometimes I saw the puzzlement on the face of my interlocutor.

The axiom I start with is communication. Without communication we don't exist. There's no I without a Thou (Martin Buber, "Ich und Du"), and there's no language without WE. Language is never a single-man creation, but rather a collective one (besides Zamenhof's Esperanto, but still it's a planned language inheriting from existing languages). Reality is defined by language – no one can break the barriers of language – the wall of Words – and experience the objective reality.

So communication is the Universe, and Us inside!.

Most of today's communication is digitized. Correspondence goes through e-mail; messages go through IM and SMS; Voice goes over IP, and so forth. So our "here and now" is digitized.

Yet the Internet, the digital world, went a step further – to Web 2.0, or the Social Internet. Now, every one of us is revealing more and more of his/her own "self": "my" thoughts in blogger, my links in, my photos in flickr, my music in, my books in reader2, my software in ….

All my mails, documents, chats, voice calls, links, photos, music preferences, books etc. are stored somewhere (most probably in Google's), along with the communication artifacts of other humans. If previously only "facts" were digitized (bills, licenses, government & commercial stuff), it is now our own self, through mails, doc, photos, blogs and so on. The Internet has become an alternate Universe, populated by humans and not just by official documents. Our consciousness is there too.

Big Brotherhood has, therefore, become easier than ever. Governmental Big Brotherhood in the form of the NSA; Commercial Big Brotherhood in the form of Google. "Covered" by Forrester Research early this year, the theme of Google's taking over Microsoft's role as the #1 hated company is getting stronger. And it's not just because Google's all over us – it's because they (like the NSA) are storing US; Brains in A Google's vat.

With a bit of an imagination we can envision a next generation web 2.0 startup that reconstructs Selves on the fly. Type a Self name and they'll reconstruct him/her in seconds. You will be able to interact with this Self and it might even show you its photos..., but I'm sure there will be a much nicer option available: they will call it Being John Malkovich. For just 10$, you'd be able to experience this Self, for real (and remeber, reality's just words...).

The next step will be to capture our thoughts, to digitize them in real-time, and to store them in Google' storage, so our nice "reconstruct self" startup could reconstruct a real-time Self. This is not as ridiculous as you would think ("proof" is that Philip K. Dick has written Minority Report 50 years ago, see left side image). Last year NASA announced that it has developed a computer program that comes close to reading thoughts not yet spoken, by analyzing nerve commands to the throat. It appears that when we think, we actually converse with ourselves.
Paradoxically (or not), the NASA experiment linked the thinking human into GOOGLE!

That's communication!

Privacy: I'd say – never worried about it. If they want to know anything about YOU, they would - with or without RSA "1024" bits encryption. So, get into the groove!

NASA scientists have begun to computerize human, silent reading using nerve signals in the throat that control speech. In preliminary experiments, NASA scientists found that small, button-sized sensors, stuck under the chin and on either side of the ‘Adam’s apple,’ could gather nerve signals, send them to a processor and then to a computer program that translates them into words. (Image Credit: NASA Ames Research Center, Dominic Hart)


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