Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Science, Morality and Philosophy...All in One Post! Value for Money, or What?!?

I watched ‘The Matrix’ (again) today.

You know that part where Neo asks Trinity if she can fly the helicopter, and she says “Not yet.” Places a quick call to the operator, who downloads how to fly the thing into her head.

I have never seen that part of the movie and not thought “That would be soooo cool!”

Big test tomorrow? Download the info into your head. Kiss all that studying goodbye!

Of course, rationality takes over and you think “That could never happen, brains don’t work like that.”

But I, my friends, have far too much time on my hands, and I think I’ve come up with a way to do ‘download’ info into your brain, that falls within the realms of real (if theoretical) science.

Ok, here it is:

The way your brain works is by making connections. In essence it’s a vast, intricate net. Whenever you think a thought, a connection is made, and that connection represents what you’re thinking about.

Now, most of these connections come and go. They erode over time and the synapses that created those connections go off and make new connections when we think or learn something new.

However, the things we learn and know create much more permanent connections. They can still erode over time, but most are almost cemented in there. Like knowing your own name, for example.

Also, every time a single thought is, well, thought, the connection is strengthened. That’s why if you’re trying to remember a phone number, repeating it over and over while you’re looking for a pen to write it down helps you remember it. You’re keeping the connection active, and strengthening it at the same time.

So in essence, if you could get in there, and wire up those connections yourself, you could ‘implant’ knowledge.

Basically, everything I know about, say, computers is made up in a vast net of synapses and neurons in my brain. If you could map what those connections are, and then go into someone else’s brain, and make an exact copy of that net…that person should then know everything I know about computers.

Ah, but how can we do this? Synapses and neurons are microscopic! How can we change them without doing severe damage?

Easy Nano-robotics.

Scientists are currently attempting to build robots so small that they are only a few atoms long. These robots have one purpose, to pull apart other atoms and put them back together in different ways.

Ok, now we need a little High School physics.

Everything is made up of atoms. Atoms consist of a nucleus of Protons and Neutrons, with an outer shell of electrons. These join together to form molecules, which form the things we see.

For example, A particular grouping of atoms makes an Oxygen Molecule. Another grouping makes a hydrogen molecule. If you put two hydrogen molecules together with one oxygen molecule, you get water.

Now, a nanobot would be incredibly difficult to build. However, the good news is you’d only have to make one. Then you could order that one to copy itself. Then they would multiply exponentially. Meaning 1 would make 2, would make 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128 etc, etc.

Basically, in 20 steps you’d have over 2 million, and the next step would get you 4 million.

One is hard to make, but after the first one, they’re easy.

Going a little of topic here, the applications for these things are amazing. You could literally take anything in the world, and change it into something else. The example I read was that you could go to a landfill site, set the nanobots loose, and they could build you a full sized space shuttle, complete with fuel charged batteries and programmed computers.

People have difficulty believing this, as the idea of ‘something from nothing’ is hard to accept…but if you think about it, it’s perfectly reasonable.

Drought ridden countries could turn sand into water. Pollution could be turned into fresh air. Turn a slum into luxury homes…for free!

However, to me the most compelling application is medical. You could be injected with nanobots programmed to destroy any infection. You’d simply never get sick. They could remove cancerous cells on the atomic level, or better still, not permit them to grow. If we were injected with them, you could get a severe cut or broken leg, and they’d instantly swarm to the wound and repair it.

Oh, and they could literally turn fat into muscle. Have all those fats turned into healthy stuff after you’ve eaten them.

This brings me back to my original idea.

If you’ve grasped the concept on nano-robotics, you could see just how easy it would be to use them to ‘copy’ one person’s neural nets into another person…but it doesn’t end there.

You see, all these nets are interconnected into one big net. For example, the net that represents the concept of ‘cookies’ could be connected to the net representing a parent that makes them. Then the net representing that parent is connected to whatever you associate with them, and so on and so on.

This means that crippling phobias are the result of a particular thing or object being strongly connected to your ‘fear’ net. That link would be extremely strong.

But what if a nanobot could go in there and sever that connection?

At that you might think that that wouldn’t work, and that you can’t cure a fear like that. However, once you understand that fears, likes and dislikes are caused by the way our brains are wired, it’s pretty simple.

However, this is where we come to the bad news. Quite simply, Nanobots don’t exist, at least not yet. (There is also the alarming ‘Grey goo’ scenario, where if nanobots ever got ‘loose’ and stuck multiplying themselves, it would take less than 2 days for them to turn the entire planet, and everything on it, into nothing but copies of themselves).

There is also the small fact despite that we know that our thoughts and memories are made up of connections in our brains, at present there is simply no way of knowing which net controls what. Right now we know which part of the brain is in charge of, say, motor control and involuntary and voluntary actions…but we don’t know which part of our brain contains things like the concept of penguins. The simple answer would be to have someone think of a particular thing, and see which neurons fire, but then again, most people think more than one thing at once, and because of the interconnected nature of our brains, one connection instantly causes others to fire, and new ones to be created.

In other words, it’s a right bastard to figure out.

Nanorobotics would, quite simply, be the biggest advancement in the human race since fire, the wheel or electricity. We would literally have the power to turn anything into anything else. There would be no more hunger, pollution or disease.

There are, however, other considerations to take into account.

Going right back to my original topic of being able to download information into a brain, we enter (if you’ll pardon the pun) a very grey area.

Would we be able to copy the information alone, or would the understanding of that information go with it? For example, I know that “When a wire is passed through a magnetic field, a potential difference is set up across its ends”. I know that this explains how electricity is generated. This little informational nugget let me pass my physics exam at high-school.

However, do I actually understand it, or know what it actually means?

Nope, not a sodding clue.

There is also the point that this technology would render schools obsolete. We could do whatever we wanted until we passed puberty, then have 15 years of education downloaded into us at a single sitting. Forget school days, more like school day.

However, school is where we learn the other ‘rules’ and develop social skills. Our experiences there shape the person we become as an adult.

This leads to a bit of a problem.

The easy solution is to say that social skills and societal ‘rules’ could be downloaded at the same time as the actual ‘education’. However, children are obviously going to interact and learn themselves before going for their ‘school day’.

Everyone develops differently, and what if these social skills and societal rules conflict with the child’s own ‘natural’ understanding of them?

Imagine that a child grew up as a bully knowing for sure that because they’re bigger than everyone else, they can take whatever they want, and no one can stop them…and they know this as an absolute. It’s the cornerstone of their personality. Then imagine them learning that this is wrong and unacceptable as an absolute also.

You see, if a child is growing up anti-social, and is punished, counseled or whatever, what is actually happening is the one form of thinking is brushed away to make way for the new one. The neural net that says it’s ok to hurt people for their lunch money is slowly broken up, and replaced with the new net that says that this is wrong and unacceptable.

For example, if a child got caught stealing, and got his butt whupped for it, the net for stealing would become interconnected with the one for pain, teaching the kid that ‘stealing = pain’. (Again, this may have to be repeated a few times to make that connection strong and as unbreakable as possible). The nets begin to interconnect and the child learns that the way to avoid punishment is to avoid stealing. The ‘punishment’ net is connected to the ‘Things that are wrong’ net…meaning that eventually the child won’t steal because they simply know it’s wrong.

That’s the way to a healthy, well adjusted adult.

But if a sense of ‘right and wrong’ was ‘implanted’ in a brain, this means it would be possible for a child to believe that something is perfectly fine and absolutely forbidden at the same time.

Think about that for a second. Everyone has a well defined moral code of what is acceptable and unacceptable for them, but now imagine that you believe both ends of the spectrum at the same time.

It would be like being mentally ill. Schizophrenic.

Now, the bright ones among you might solve this by saying:

“These nanobots can change anything into anything! Why don’t they just erase whatever moral code is in there, and implant the new one?”

Well, this is problematic also. Who is to say what is right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable? A standard moral compass would have to be decided upon, and opinions vary amazingly. Some people think it’s fine to smoke, drink, watch porn and have sex outside of marriage…other people think that TV, movies and rock music is the height of depravity.

Morality is something that can’t be decided by consensus…and also, this would be like every single person having the same upbringing. We’d all be the same, and we’d think and act the same way.

A world of bi-polar schizo’s, or a world of cookie-cutter robots. Not much of a choice, really.

Anyway, I think this ramble’s gone on long enough, so I’ll leave you to your own opinions.


MC Etcher said...

Yep. Can't wait.

MC Etcher said...

Although, what about the Haxors?

You download the "How to Speak Swedish" brain patch from Amazon, only to discover you're actually speaking Swahili, and then nothing but swear words.

To say nothing of the brain-viruses.

How about digital roofies that make poor unsuspecting girls pass out? Hmmn

OzzyC said...

I'd definitely be a brain haxor.

Paulius said...

Just as long as Microsoft don't handle anything to do with it.

MS Brain 2545 : Service pack 48 now protects you from dribbling.

Microsoft would like to announce an upcoming patch for the Tourette's Syndrome bug that plagued previous version...although we're still gonna hawk it as a feature

MC Etcher said...

Yeah. No brain implants for me, thanks. As cool as the benefits would be, the negative aspects would be too daunting.

We can't even make software run bug-free on computers, let alone brains.