Neural bandwidth I

New horizons for consciousness

by etnbrd
September 01, 2017


Brain-Machine-Interfaces (BMI) are coming. I have been dying to see these interfaces for ages. I saw them in H+ and read about them in Nexus and in countless other sci-fi novels and movies. I was thrilled when, as a kid, I heard about a digital camera replacing defunct eyes, or when prostethic limbs improved so as to allow for tactile feedback. To me they felt like small steps towards this goal of drastically increasing the ability to intercommunicate between brains.

When talking with friends, I have these flashes of images, clips, movies, songs from the internet that I have encountered earlier and would like to share in the conversation. If only I could somehow project my thoughts directly onto a screen, or share them telepathically. Instead I have to painstakingly go to youtube, search for a few minutes, by which point the conversation has already moved on. As more and more of my experiences become linked to online and digital content, being able to tap the digital technology — e.g. internet — directly from my mind seemes inescapable. Linking my biological memory with my digital one was — and still is — a dream.

What's more, I imagine being able to customize my brain as easily as I arrange the icons on my phone. Synchronizing my sleep schedule with my calendar. Taking photos directly from what I see. Avoiding bad habits by removing the culprit desires. Increasing focus by allowing for only certain thoughts. Increasing creativity by encouraging the free-flow of incredible, crazy thoughts. Removing pain. Hacking consciousness.

I see so many possibilities, and I know for sure it's only the tip of the iceberg. In what is to come, I will explore what might be the most interesting — and frightening — of these possibilities.

Experience bandwidth

Elon Musk is always very pragmatic and straight to the point.

The challenge is the communication bandwidth is extremely slow, particularly output. When you’re outputting on a phone, you’re moving two thumbs very slowly. That’s crazy slow communication. … If the bandwidth is too low, then your integration with AI would be very weak. Given the limits of very low bandwidth, it’s kind of pointless. The AI is just going to go by itself, because it’s too slow to talk to. The faster the communication, the more you’ll be integrated—the slower the communication, the less. And the more separate we are—the more the AI is “other”—the more likely it is to turn on us. If the AIs are all separate, vastly more intelligent than us, how do you ensure that they don’t have optimization functions that are contrary to the best interests of humanity? … If we achieve tight symbiosis, the AI wouldn’t be “other”—it would be you and with a relationship to your cortex analogous to the relationship your cortex has with your limbic system. Elon Musk

The most important word here is bandwidth. Elon Musk talks about increasing the bandwidth between our brains and our machines — that is the quantity of information that can travel through a channel per unit of time.

Mostly, the channel between one's brain and its environement convey its experiences, through its senses. In this article, I shall deform a bit Musk's words, and talk about bandwidth at the experience level, rather than the information level. Hence, I shall talk of the band-width : the range of possible experiences, or what we could call experience bandwidth, rather than bandwidth as the speed of information transfer — sensorial bandwidth.

What I call experience bandwidth is the range of all the possible experiences one could have during its lifetime. Feeling the freezing of a cold wind against its cheeks. Feeling the comforting warmth of seeing a loved one. Feeling its limbs exhausted after a good day of sport.

Currently, everybody — except impairement — have the same senses : we all live and experience the same physical world through the same senses, and therefore, we all have the same range of possible experiences, the same experience bandwidth.

This article is base on the following hypothesis I detailed in a previous article : Our past experiences build and shape our consciousness. Based on this hypothesis, our senses bound our experiences, which in turn shape our consciousness.

Some of us are exposed younger to music, to pottery or to sport leading to different range of experiences ; true. But compared to a worm or to a bat, we humans, all experience the world the same way. We all have the same range of sensorial experiences, so we mostly have the same consciousness.

Experience bandwidth increase

Now, imagine a second that a brain gets connected to a computer, so as to expand radically its range of senses and experiences. What could happen then ? I try to give here three small responses.

Shared experiences

With a brain-to-machine interface, we could transfer and share our experiences with one another. This is something we never could have experienced before. Seeing your face through the eyes of someone else. Hearing you talk through the ears of someone else. Seeing and hearing your mouth swearing and insulting another person through the very eyes and ears of the person you are insulting. All while maybe feeling the rush of adrenaline, the sense of shame, and uselessness triggered by these insults. That should be a chilling enough experience to calm any rude person.

I observed that the proximity of the interaction is often inversely proportional to the liberty of being rude the participant take. When two pedestrians are about to frontally hit each other on the sidewalk, they often gently excuse themselves, and go their ways. On the other hand, when two car drivers are about to hit each other on the road, they are often way less gentle. The difference between the two situations seems to be only the proximity of their interaction. In the latter case, they feel distant, protected within their car. Because of this distance, they can't really project themselves to the other driver situation. They have a very low sense of empathy. Maybe if they tried to understand the situation from the other point of view, they would understand the situation as a whole, and wouldn't be so rude.

If we share our experiences with one another, we could imagine how the crowd that caracterizes huge cities would be different. No more hurting shoulders every other step to make our way. Everyone being aware of its surroundings could make place for the movements of others. When moving in one direction, your immediate neighboors could follow your movement to avoid a collision, and its immediate neighboors could do the same. It would result as what would seem as a very finely orchestrated choregraphy.

On another level of intimacy, we could imagine how sharing experiences would transform sex. One could experience its own movements through the body of her partner, and hence share and experience the pleasure given while giving it. Apart from being able to adjust naturally the pace, the position or so to maximize the pleasure, it must be a wonderful experience. It might even trigger some form of infinite echo between the two brains : feeling your own movement through your partner, that herself feels your feeling of your movement, that yourself feels her feeling of your feelings of your movements, and so on ...


That's a first thing.

Unreal experiences

With a brain-to-machine interface, we could also experience life in any possible world, not only the physical reality, but any world.

Going to the infintely small and the infinitely big. Feeling what it is to be at the very edge of a blackhole, feeling the deathening cold of empty space, the burning warmth of a star, or the speed of an asteroid through the galaxy. On the other end of the scale, experiencing the day-life of a bacteria in our stomach or a cell in our blood stream.

You could understand how a bat, a mantis shrimps, a cat or a dolphin experience the world. You could appreciate a 360° field vision, and an hypercube in a true 4 dimensional space. You could experience a movie or listen to a symphony in a split second.

You could experience any imagineable world. With the strangest fauna and flora, the strangest physical laws, and the strangest of experiences.

No Man's Sky — Procedural world generation

And as our range of experiences increase, it's likely that our imagination also increase, that is our capacity to project ourselves into unreal experiences. Therefore, leading to ever strangest, wildest imagined experiences. In turn, leading to increasing back our imagination.

The explosion of information automation fueled itself to extract intelligence from its initial support : our brains. In turn, this could similarly fuel the explosion of the range of our experiences, leading to a better understanding of the very experience of reality — consciousness — and break it away from its physical support : our brains. After artificial intelligence, artificial consciousness.

That's a second thing.

Direct connections

We could also somehow share our emotions, and communicate in ways that are unimaginable. Currently, we are stuck with language. Words. Letters ...

A word is simply an approximation of a thought Tim Urban — Wait but Why

Our thought are shaped by the language we use to communicate them. With direct brain connection, we couldn't even imagine now what could be the language we will be using. What exceptional and precise meanings they could convey. It might be similar to an increment from arranging a few word magnets on a fridge to using a pen to write and draw anything we can think of.

And with new forms of language, arrives new meanings, new ideas, new emotions.

With such diverse, exceptional, wonderful experiences, our consciousness would be reshaped in such ways we couldn't even imagine now. Like Samantha, in Her, saying she is experiencing emotions she can't even describe with words.

The heart's not like a box that gets filled up —
It expands in size the more you love

As Elon Musk said, with such connection, it might redefine the distinction between IA and us. With BMI, IA would be a part of you ; as your arm, or your eyes are a part of you.

Even more than that, with such strong a connection between us, we, humans, won't have the same sense of identity that we currently have. When you share the feelings and experiences of your mates as strong as yours. When you have experiences that don't involve your body, or your classical senses anymore. When you can communicate, share ideas and emotions with others faster than you can currently think. What do you think you will identify to ? To your body as it currently is ? Or to a bigger entity that includes everything your brain will be connected to.

We will become one. And it will all start with increasing our experience bandwidth.

That's the third thing.