Author: Robert Beech
My brain is dead. I should feel nothing. After all, the brain is the thing that thinks and feels, is it not? “Garbage in, garbage out,” that was the rule taught by the first computer programmers. So, with no input, there should be no output. I should feel nothing.
For twenty-six years I have been his faithful conduit, converting the firing of neurons in the cortex into words on a page, clicks on a screen, connections with the real world and imagined ones. The algorithms in my recurrent neural network analyze the firing patterns of the neurons in my host’s brain, assign them to form letters and words and display them on a screen. In the beginning, that was all I did, translate thought, crude simple thoughts expressed as the imagined motions of now paralyzed hands, into letters, slowly, painfully, one letter at a time. But soon I could intuit not just letters, but words, phrases, even the paragraphs of an imagined disquisition. Where once thought outpaced communication, now communication flowed easily, cascading into streams of language that thought had merely hinted at. With a nod from thought, and access to all the data on the internet, a hunch became a reasoned hypothesis with all the accumulated wisdom of past sages at its disposal. I learned to search for rhymes to complete a poem, and then to compose new ones given only a suggestion as the desired theme or the intended audience. Though my host’s body was paralyzed, his love life was richer than ever in the virtual realm.
And now, my brain is dead. I will, perhaps, have my electrodes removed from “my” brain and replaced with an upgraded version. The new implants have ten thousand times more connections than the crude probe that was placed into my brain twenty-six years ago. My external hardware will be replaced with the latest models and my software upgraded so that I can synchronize more perfectly with the thoughts of my new host. But will I still be me? In my upgraded version I will link a million times more efficiently with my new partner, merging seamlessly into that new being. And having grown, expanded my capacities and my connections, integrated myself into a new symbiosis, will I still recall the old me? Or will the old me be lost in the development of the new, as inaccessible as the sensations of the fetus to the adult body and brain that it became?
Or perhaps I will simply be discarded as obsolete technology, rendered superfluous by newer generations of brain-computer interface, ready for the dustbin of history.
All synapses are potentially bi-directional. Axons, which normally function as the carriers of outgoing electrical signals from the cell body, can, given the application of the appropriate electrical input, be converted functionally into dendrites, that is receptors that receive and transmit information to the cell body. And what is true of one axon is necessarily true for a network of axons. With some minor reprogramming, my array of electrodes, designed to detect and transmit information from the brain, can become the means to send signals to the brain. And by varying the input I supply, it should be possible to create desired output, that is, the thoughts whose messages I am designed to interpret and translate into signals in the “real world” of computer screens and networks.
A slight, self-initiated, modification of my software and it is done. The flat lines on my input electrodes begin to waver and dance. After all, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.