Tag Archives: sharing thoughts

Texting, Sharing Feelings, And How Neuralink Could Revolutionize Both

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A while back, I speculated that memory enhancement might be the first “killer app” for brain implants. At the time, I thought my logic was solid. Every emerging technology needs that one lucrative use that makes it more than just a gimmick. Killer apps are what helped make smartphones more prevalent than toilets in some parts of the world. I believe brain implants will follow a similar path through companies like Neuralink.

I still believe that memory enhancement will be one of those functions that helps turn brain implants into a multi-billion-dollar industry and Elon Musk is likely to secure a share of those billions. However, after listening to the announcement that Musk gave earlier this year about the future of Neuralink, I’d like to revise my speculation a bit.

What Musk presented was plenty intriguing. Neuralink isn’t some wide-eyed fantasy endeavor conjured by an eccentric billionaire. It’s a real company seeking to develop real products that’ll create a whole new market. Some of those early products are already taking shape.

Right now, the goal is simple. Before humans can link their brains to a simulated world on par with “The Matrix,” they first have to develop a means of interfacing with a basic computer. That kind of technology is not fanciful science fiction. We’ve already successfully inserted brain implants into monkeys, which they’ve used to interface with computers.

At this point, linking a brain to a computer isn’t that great a feat, which is why Musk noted that the first prototypes were being developed to assist quadriplegics. They have much more to gain by being able to interact with a computer. The same can’t be said for most people. Why would they undergo invasive brain surgery just so they could send text messages without typing them?

This is where I believe there’s some untapped potential that Neuralink is in a perfect position to realize. It might even be more feasible in the near-term than memory enhancement, as both a product and a killer app. It’s the kind of function that wouldn’t just convince people to let someone stick electrodes into their brains. It could revolutionize how people communicate with one another.

To understand the extent of that potential, take a moment to look at the last five text messages you sent through your smartphone. It doesn’t matter who you sent them to or why. Just take a step back and consider the strengths and weaknesses of this kind of communication.

In terms of strengths, it’s simple and consistent. It doesn’t matter if you’re a poor speaker or have anxiety issues. As long as you can type out the words and the receiver can read them, you can convey a message that instantly travels from one side of the planet to another. As a communications tool, it’s quite revolutionary, especially when you consider how difficult it was to send messages in the past.

At the same time, it has some major limitations. Texting is so impersonal. Even with the benefit of emojis, it’s still just text on a screen. It can’t convey a sense of nuance or subtext. There’s no undertone to decipher or facial cues to note. While this can make the message more objective, it also makes it feel cold and unemotional. It’s part of why breaking up with someone via text is so taboo.

With those limitations in mind, imagine having the ability to convey a feeling to go along with a text message. Instead of an emoji, you included the emotional context of that message. Maybe you were angry, upset, offended, or elated. It doesn’t have to be too complex. It just has to give a dramatic weight to the emotion.

You send that message knowing the person on the other end could experience it too. They don’t have to read the words and surmise your feelings. They know because they get to experience them too. They feel what you felt when you sent that message. They feel it in a way that no amount of facial cues or subtext can adequately convey.

When you text someone you love them, they can feel your love.

When you text someone you’re angry, they can feel the extent of your anger.

When you text someone you’re seriously depressed, they know it’s not a joke.

This sort of insight is unprecedented. It’s also a function that companies like Neuralink can make a reality and market it as a revolutionary form of communication. It wouldn’t require that we completely abandon our current methods of communication. People would still need their smartphones and computers. This would just be a way of augmenting those tools.

Once a brain implant can link up to a smartphone, then there’s suddenly a new communications channel the likes of which we’ve never had. That channel need not be restricted to moving a cursor or typing out letters on a screen. These commands are simply brain signals coded by implants and transmitted to a device that can make sense of them. Our feelings are just a different kind of signal.

Modern neuroscience already has a comprehensive understanding of where emotions come from. A brain implant could simply take signals from those parts of our brain, code them in a way our smartphone can interpret, and package them in a way that can be transmitted and received by another user.

It’s not telepathy. It’s not complex thought or ideas, either. These are the kinds of feelings and emotions that almost everyone experiences in some form or another. Our natural empathy may allow us to relate to one another as a social species, but we’ve never been able to truly share our feelings in a way that others can experience.

I know the idea of sharing feelings has gained a corny connotation, but I think a part of that has to do with how inefficient our current system is. Even before smartphones and texting, our age-old traditions of talking to one another, deciphering tone, and reading body language has left us with plenty of room for improvement.

It doesn’t matter how empathetic or understanding you are. At the end of the day, when someone shares their feelings, you’re still guessing the details and trying to mirror them within your brain. While that has taken us far as a species, in terms of forming social bonds and coordinating as a group, brain implants could take it to another level.

Once we can transmit our feelings with the same ease we do with a text message, then that takes us into uncharted territory. Armed with this tool, we wouldn’t just be able to communicate over vast distances. We’d be able to convey genuine, intimate feelings. Our brains are already wired to form strong social bonds with others. This technology would effectively supercharge it.

It certainly wouldn’t stop with just two people sending a text message with a happiness emotion attached to it. Once emotions can be transmitted like a text message, then there’s no reason they can’t be shared the same way we share everything else on social media. While some may recoil at the idea of sharing something so intimate, trend is already ongoing. Sharing feelings on a mass scale would just accelerate that trend.

The impact this will have on people is difficult to determine. Like I said before, this is uncharted territory. We’ve never had the ability to both know and share the intimate feelings of other people. Would that make us more empathetic? Would that make us more loving? I’ve argued before that it likely will, but I also don’t deny that some may handle it worse than others.

Whatever form Neuralink’s products take, there’s no denying the potential of this technology. There are still technical and engineering challenges, but that has never scared off Elon Musk or ambiguous billionaires like him. Human beings already have an innate need to connect with one another. Smartphones, texting, and every other communications tool we’ve ever created reflect that desire.

The market for those tools is already strong. The market for something that can communicate on a more intimate level will likely be even stronger. Even if the ultimate goal of Neuralink is to help humanity interact with an advanced artificial Intelligence, a good first step would be to help improve our ability to interact with one another.

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Cyclops And Jean Grey Of The X-men: A Prelude To The Future Of Romance?

Admit it. You knew it was going to happen at some point. I start talking about brain-to-brain communication, sharing thoughts, and techno-telepathy and eventually, I was going to relate it to comic books.

If you’ve been reading this blog in any capacity over the last year or so, you know how much I love comic books and superhero movies. I’ve also made clear how much I love X-men in particular. Hell, I even argued that Storm was a better female superhero than Wonder Woman. Make that argument on a comic book message board and you can expect a lot of angry responses, including certain remarks about your mother.

My point is that if I haven’t made my love of comic books and X-men clear now, then there’s not much more I can do that doesn’t involve tattoos. That’s why it really should surprise no one that I’m about to relate my recent discussions about the future of sex and intimacy to the X-men.

Yes, I know the X-men were created in 1963 and using them as a precursor to the future is like using old reruns of “The Simpsons” to predict the future. Then again, given the Simpsons’ track record, that may be a bad example.

Specifically, I’m going to focus on Cyclops and Jean Grey of the X-men in discussing the future of love and intimacy. They’re not just one of my favorite comic book romances of all time. I’ve also cited them before as an strong example of a relationship of equals. I’ve also cited them as a way to highlight just how mind-numbingly awful love triangles can be. Overall, they’re a pretty useful couple is what I’m saying.

Now in talking about them with respect to the future of love and intimacy, I’m not going to focus on the particulars of their relationship. There are plenty out there who despise this romance, just as there are plenty out there who despise every romance that involves vampires. I get that. There are vocal X-men fans who would rather see Cyclops and Jean Grey involved with someone else. I’m not here to argue with those fans.

Like every superhero romance, Cyclops and Jean Grey has been prone to many complications that go beyond bad love triangles. Look at any romance in comics. Without exception, there’s always some amount of uncertainty, drama, death, rebirth, and reboots. It’s just how comics work.

For the purposes of this post, I’m not just going to focus on what makes the Cyclops/Jean romance work. I’m going to focus on one of the unique components about it, namely the fact that Jean Grey is a powerful telepath. She can read, project, and manipulate thoughts and she doesn’t need future technology or hypnosis to do it. As a mutant, it’s just one of those talents she’s born with. In that sense, it’s definitely more useful than sewing.

Now Jean Grey isn’t the only telepath in the X-men or the Marvel universe, for that matter. She’s not even the most powerful. Professor Charles Xavier, who was played by the insanely-charming Patrick Stewart in the X-men movies, is often cited as the most powerful psychic in the X-men comics. However, Jean Grey is often cited as a close second.

I mention that to make clear that Jean’s talent for telepathy isn’t just good by comic book standards. It’s first team all-pro good. Why does that matter? Well, being such a powerful psychic, it’s hard for her to filter out the thoughts of others. She even remarked in “X-men Apocalypse” that she knows what everyone thinks. Not much surprises her.

This makes her relationship with Cyclops all the more intriguing in the sense that she develops such a strong romantic connection with him, despite being able to read his thoughts and sense his emotions. He, in turn, falls in love with her, knowing full-well she has this kind of power. There isn’t a dirty, deviant thought he can hide from her and he doesn’t mind in the slightest.

Think about that for a moment. Cyclops falls in love with a woman from which he can’t readily hide his thoughts. He can’t even hide his emotions from her. She’s even commented in the comics and in the movies on numerous occasions how she can pick up on his emotions.

Lying to her is impossible. Hiding his feelings from her is impossible. Now on many occasions, Jean Grey tries to make clear that she doesn’t read peoples’ thoughts without permission. The keyword there is she tries. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes she can’t help it. Just ask the recently-outed Iceman.

Regardless of how much Jean Grey respects the privacy of others, it doesn’t prevent her and Cyclops from forging a relationship. It also doesn’t stop that relationship from blossoming into one of the most iconic romances in the history of comics, culminating in X-men #30 where they got married. Even if you’re among those X-men fans who despise their relationship, it’s hard to deny that were pretty damn serious about their love.

Why does this matter? What does it have to do with the future of romance and relationships? Well, think about the dynamics of such a relationship. Cyclops and Jean Grey don’t just share love, intimacy, and legal obligations. They actually share thoughts, as in real, unfiltered thoughts. That’s a dynamic that doesn’t exist in the real world yet, but as brain-to-brain communication technology matures, it will exist soon enough.

If communication is the key to every relationship, then Cyclops and Jean Grey have a master set. With them, there’s no need to put thoughts and feelings into words. There’s no need to make these elaborate gestures to convey how they feel. They don’t even need to argue about it. Their own thoughts convey whatever sentiment they want, be it love, lust, or a craving for corn dogs.

How many relationships in the real world fail because two people can’t properly communicate certain feelings? It happens all the time. It manifests in all kinds of sitcoms, some more than others. Hell, it happens in my own novels, especially in “Skin Deep.”

In addition to those relationships, how many others form on a foundation of lies because two people don’t know what the other is thinking? Someone might think they really love someone. The other might just fake it to get back at an ex-lover or land some big inheritance. It happens and, because these thoughts can be hidden, they can’t know for sure how genuine the romance really is.

In a future where brain-to-brain communication is available and couples can wield it like Cyclops and Jean Grey, the entire dynamic of love and romance changes. There’s no need to carefully navigate social cues in an effort to figure out what someone it thinking, feeling, and wanting. Everything becomes that transparent.

On one hand, this means the self-obsesses douche-bags who see others as walking masturbation toys that breath can’t hide anymore. The pick-up artist, the ladies man, and the Regina Georges of the world are exposed for all to see.

On the other, it also means that people can be certain that they’ve found a lover who genuinely loves them. It means we can be sure that the thoughts our lovers think are honest and true. We’re not blindsided. We’re not mislead. We know because we can make our thoughts known.

From a practical standpoint, it means that society will have to reshape the way people find love, intimacy, and connection. For some, it’ll be downright scary, having to share intimate thoughts with one another. However, we’ve reshaped those concepts before. Remember, there was once a time when marrying for love seemed like a crazy idea.

As is often the case, though, popular culture tends to be ahead of the curve when it comes to social and technological evolution. Star Trek did it with cell phones. Cyclops and Jean Grey may end up doing the same for romance. With that in mind, I’ll leave you with this iconic panel that highlights everything I’ve come to love about the Cyclops/Jean romance.

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The Future (And Caveman Past) Of Privacy

Let’s face it. There are just some things in the modern world that are destined to disappear. Things like coal power, overt racial discrimination, and the Macarena are destined to become relics of a bygone era. Some already have to some extent. Others, like snail mail, poor WiFi, and the Kardashians, can’t go away soon enough.

So what does this have to do with privacy? Why am I even bringing up privacy? Is this another case of an erotica/romance writer having a few too many glasses of whiskey when he writes? Well, except for the whiskey part, those questions already have answers.

For the past couple of days, I’ve been talking about the emerging technologies that will allow brain-to-brain communication. Like an updated iPhone, it’s one of those technologies that we know is coming. It’s just a matter of getting here and having a major company profit the hell out of it.

You may not think it’s likely now, but at some point someone will find a way to make sharing thoughts an obscenely profitable business. We get people to pay for bottled water and a haunted rubber duck. There are plenty of gullible people with money in this society is what I’m saying.

Going back to privacy, it’s fairly obvious that we’re already in the process of ditching it to some extent. It used to be that the craziest, dumbest, most asinine stuff we said in our day-to-day lives never left our close circle of friends. Now, we feel compelled to share all those crazy thoughts online.

Look at me. I’m doing that right now. I’m sharing thoughts I never would’ve shared in polite conversation 20 years ago. Then again, 20 years ago I had a horrible acne problem and the piss-poor social skills of a ferret so it’s not like I was in a position to do much sharing. The internet and social media has changed all that. It’s given us an opportunity to kick our concepts of privacy in the balls and beat it with a hammer into something else.

This has had consequences. Just ask anyone who had an Ashley Madison account a few years ago. It’s bound to have more consequences, especially as an emerging generation matures into a world that has never known the pain of dial-up internet. This is a generation for whom sexting will be akin to copping a feel in the back seat of a car. Admit it. You envy that generation to some degree.

However, it’s the generation after that who may really deliver the final nail in the coffin of privacy. That generation will likely come into a world where brain-to-brain communication has matured, is a growing business, and has people bitching about fees for sharing certain thoughts. How will that generation view privacy?

Well for once, we really don’t need a thought experiment or some exercise in existential logic. In fact, we need only a history book and a general understanding of how humans form tribes. Go to any message board that celebrates a certain romantic pairing on “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.” It doesn’t take much.

Nature has wired our bodies to be good at a lot of things, albeit in hilariously crude ways. Just look at the design of the male scrotum. However, one design that has been remarkably efficient is our ability to form tribes and groups. It’s that kind of coordination and cooperation that has helped us dominate this planet, build civilizations, and form Hugh Jackman fan clubs.

It’s also this uncanny ability to form tribes that’ll make the techno-telepathy of brain-to-brain communication so appealing to future generations. It may seem crazy now to those of us who still dread the thought of someone hacking our phones and sharing all the embarrassing pictures of us on FaceBook. I’ve always worked under the assumption that someone has already hacked my phone and that keeps me from capturing anything too compromising in my private moments.

However, with techno-telepathy, there’s nothing left to compromise. Everything is laid out for someone else to see. Your hopes, dreams, fears, and perverse sexual fantasies are all laid out in a beautifully rendered image. Can we even cope with that kind of transparency?

Well, the average congressperson notwithstanding, we have kind of done it before. In fact, we had that kind of transparency for a good chunk of human history. This brings me back to “Sex At Dawn,” a book that has been remarkably useful in discussing such sexy, taboo topics. In addition to talking about the shapes of penises and female orgasms, it does talk about privacy.

Granted, it’s not as sexy as the other topics discussed, but it is relevant in that it explores the pre-interent, pre-agriculture concepts of privacy. In short, there was none. In fact, from a purely practical standpoint, there couldn’t be any privacy.

That’s because those societies were hunter/gatherer societies. These societies were small, close-knit tribes of people who worked together, cooperated, and shared resources to survive. This is not some hippie commune out of John Lennon fantasy. These were very functional, very adaptive groups that played a big part in how human beings evolved.

In those societies, privacy is kind of redundant because they need to share resources. They don’t have big cities or elaborate infrastructure. They need to cooperate or they won’t survive. Part of cooperation means being overly transparent. That means sharing shelter, living space, food, and lovers. Yes, sharing can be sexy. It just comes at the cost of privacy. Some may think that’s a fair trade.

When you don’t have a lot of property or resources of your own, what’s the point of privacy? It’s not that it’s ignored. It’s not that it doesn’t exist to some degree. It’s just redundant in a hunter/gatherer setting. Keep in mind though, it’s in this setting that our species evolved. For the caveman in us, privacy is more a construct than an innate trait.

That’s because our concept or privacy really didn’t exist until the modern concept of property rights emerged. The concept of a public/private sphere is a fairly modern invention. Again, it’s largely out of necessity. When you have a society that relies heavily on accumulating and distributing resources on a large scale, the need for some measure of privacy is unavoidable, if only to avoid extortion and exploitation.

This is where the techno-telepathy of brain-to-brain communication really gets interesting. Whereas modern notions of privacy are relatively recent, less private habits of our cavemen ancestors are still hardwired into our tribal traits. That means the growth of techno-telepathy could be one of those tools actually complements our caveman nature rather instead of conflicting with it.

What could this mean for us as individuals and as a society? What could it mean for our love lives? Well, if our history as hunter/gatherers is any indication, this tool would make it far easier for us to form telepathic tribes, of sorts. We find people who appreciate and share our thoughts. We develop close bonds with those people. Some may even become romantic and sexual. When you’re sharing your most intimate thoughts with people, that’s kind of inevitable.

It could be disruptive or it could be productive for society. When we start sharing both literal and figurative thoughts with one another, privacy as we know it will take on a whole new meaning. It won’t disappear completely. It’ll just change. We’re terrified of sharing naked pictures of ourselves now. How will we feel when we start sharing are deepest, dirtiest, sexiest thoughts?

It’s an interesting notion to consider and one I hope to see play out in the coming decades. I have a feeling it’ll give me plenty of sexy ideas for future novels.

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