"What are the implications of a technology that seems to be converging on the sharing of consciousness?

It would be a lot easier to answer that question if anyone knew what consciousness is. There’s no shortage of theories. Their models – right or wrong – describe computation, not awareness."


Physics describes a world of intelligent zombies who do everything we do, except understand that they’re doing it. That’s what we should be, that’s all we should be: meat and computation. Somehow the meat woke up.

This is all preamble, though, a set‑up to the question posed at the outset: what are the implications of a technology that wires brains together, that in theory at least permits the existence of hive minds?


The local personae are obliterated, absorbed into a greater whole; as the Finnish computer scientists recently declared in the International Journal of Machine Consciousness, ‘the biological brain cannot support multiple separate conscious attentional processes in the same brain medium’. Remember that. It could end up biting us in the ass a few years down the road.

If we do stop short of a hive mind, it’s unlikely to be because we lack the tech; it’ll only be because we lack the nerve. Consciousness remains mysterious. But there’s no reason to regard it as magical, no evidence of spectral bonds that hold a soul in one head and keep it from leaking into another. And one of the things we do know is that consciousness spreads to fill the space available. Smaller selves disappear into larger; two hemispheres integrate into one.

Keep the bandwidth too low and you lose the experience; edge it too high and you lose yourself. Throughout history we’ve communicated via the equivalent of dial‑up, through speech and writing and images on screens. A fat enough neural interface could turn everything broadband, act as a next-gen corpus callosum that fuses we into some new kind of I that’s never existed before.


There’s a machine in a lab in Berkeley, California, that can read the voxels right off your visual cortex and figure out what you’re looking at based solely on brain activity. One of its creators, Kendrick Kay, suggested back in 2008 that we’d eventually be able to read dreams (also, that we might want to take a closer look at certain privacy issues before that happened). His best guess was that this might happen a few decades down the road – but it took only four years for a computer in a Japanese lab to predict the content of hypnagogic hallucinations (essentially, dreams without REM) at 60 per cent accuracy, based entirely on fMRI data.
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