Wednesday, February 16, 2011

future soldier - world-wide mind

NYTimes | Imagine, Michael Chorost proposes, that four police officers on a drug raid are connected mentally in a way that allows them to sense what their colleagues are seeing and feeling. Tony Vittorio, the captain, is in the center room of the three-room drug den.

He can sense that his partner Wilson, in the room on his left, is not feeling danger or arousal and thus has encountered no one. But suddenly Vittorio feels a distant thump on his chest. Sarsen, in the room on the right, has been hit with something, possibly a bullet fired from a gun with a silencer.

Vittorio glimpses a flickering image of a metallic barrel pointed at Sarsen, who is projecting overwhelming shock and alarm. By deducing how far Sarsen might have gone into the room and where the gunman is likely to be standing, Vittorio fires shots into the wall that will, at the very least, distract the gunman and allow Sarsen to shoot back. Sarsen is saved; the gunman is dead.

That scene, from his new book, “World Wide Mind,” is an example of what Mr. Chorost sees as “the coming integration of humanity, machines, and the Internet.” The prediction is conceptually feasible, he tells us, something that technology does not yet permit but that breaks no known physical laws.

Mr. Chorost also wrote “Rebuilt,” about his experience with deafness and his decision to get a cochlear implant in 2001. In that eloquent and thoughtful book, he refers to himself as a cyborg: He has a computer in his skull, which, along with a second implant three years ago, artificially restores his hearing. In “World Wide Mind,” he writes, “My two implants make me irreversibly computational, a living example of the integration of humans and computers.”

He takes off from his own implanted computer to imagine a world where people are connected by them. The implanted computer would work something like his BlackBerry, he explains, in that it would let people “be effortlessly aware of what their friends and colleagues are doing.” It would let each person know what the others “are seeing and feeling, thus enabling much richer forms of communication.”

Cool. Maybe. But beginning with privacy issues, the hazards are almost countless.

In discussing one of them, he cites the work of Dr. John Ratey, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard who believes people can be physically addicted to e-mail. “Each e-mail you open gives you a little hit of dopamine,” Mr. Chorost writes, “which you associate with satiety. But it’s just a little hit. The effect wears off quickly, leaving you wanting another hit.” Fist tap Nana.