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Need Help Understanding Supermind Experience

I need some help with a question for an SF story I want to write. [Illos today are golden oldies from the blog; my stash of images is becoming a kind of visual Tarot.]

So suppose we have a superintelligent web of tiny machines with an enormous net RAM and flop, with tons of data, and with smart agents living inside it. The Web, in other words, but more so. And now suppose that we plug into it and get smarter. How will this feel?

But, wait, let me evade the hard question for a second. Plug in how? I could use my usual “uvvy,” a soft plastic computer you wear on the base of your neck and it reaches into your brain with magnetic vortices. You can take it off, which is important, as no reasonable person wants to be permanently plugged in.

Or some nanomachines called “arphids” get into your hair like lice and can diddle your brainwaves. A different kind of uvvy. But maybe people are initially leery of the uvvy and the arphids.

They could get by with what I call “stunglasses,” glasses with a heads-up display overlaid. These could even be contact lenses. And you could have tiny sensors on your finger joints so you can type in the air, or not even type, just make those cool cyberspace moves like Keanu did in the 1998 movie of Gibson’s story “Johnny Mnemonic.” And we can also suppose the system has speech recognition and you have earphone buds perched in the porches of your ears and a mike taped to your throat. Everyone is mumbling and twitching and wearing flickering contact lenses.

But how does it feel to plug into a system that’s say, a million times as smart as a person. You can have agents for yourself in there doing searches, computing things. Of course if they’re so frikkin’ smart, why would they obey you?

When you plug into the supercomputing web, it’s like you go out of yourself into the seamless web mind, and then you come back. Some thoughts you can’t remember until you’re plugged in. You just remember links. You can speak by exchanging links. But real physical life goes on.

When you unplug and go outside, you’re the same. Having supercomputation around doesn’t really change things much when you’re offline and being yourself. People are still the same as in Bruegel’s time. At least this is the situation I need in order to write a story about these people.


22 Responses to “Need Help Understanding Supermind Experience”

  1. Anonymous Forthisone Says:

    There are, of course, a number of people who believe the best way to plug into the unseen ethereal network that zaps electrical impulses between the brains of all humans (and perhaps all living things?) is by ingesting hallucinogenics of one type or another.
    I think the intercranial network is Always On, the best sort of wireless, but getting access to it (this computing metaphor is too much fun) means plugging in a chemical cable between our conscious mind and Something Else inside our brains.
    Anecdotal evidence suggests that the actual communication between brains works best when… well, to be blunt, when you’re on the same drugs.
    Unfortunately, this only seems to work with a certain amount of proximity, but if you start imagining a little pill that only turns on the network and doesn’t throw all the Goofy Switches, last 8-12 hours, or cause vomiting for some, then you start getting the the right (and rightly scary) track. Small humans loosely joined.

  2. David Says:

    I think if it’s like the internet, it would get kind of schizophrenic. It’s one network but there’s a bunch of entities in there, really, and shifting relationships and alliances. There’s all of this stuff you could remember or functionality to help you “think”, but on a bad day, it would be like being drunk or sick or stupid. I’m male so my brain works mostly the same most of the time, but my wife complains about being really affected by her cycle–she get’s stupid and its really frustrating to her.
    By schizophrenic, I don’t mean “split personality” (the common miuse of the term). I mean like bad voices and strange urges and maniac rides.
    I’m not convinced it would make you smarter, by the way. It could definitely make you faster, though. It may be just a failure of my imagination, not making the stretch past the limitations of software of today to what the smart-making tools of tomorrow would be like.
    arphids? That’s the coolest, scariest thing I have read in a long damn time! So it’s like a cross between a hair louse and computer virus that can mess with your brain! Woo! Get me a roll of aluminum foil, I’m making a double-thick beanie before I step out.

  3. Waider Says:

    No real opinion on this, just contributing a correction: the movie you’re referring to is Johnny Mnemonic. Gotta say I thought it was the best conceptualization I’ve seen to date of what Gibson is talking about when he’s describing the deck jockeys in his earlier works.

  4. MobyDikc Says:

    The supermind should have an awake state and a dream state. Or one could poison the supermind using an intoxicant, the supermind’s equalivent to alcohol or LSD, so that the state of the supermind is altered, and its bizzora truth made bizzare.
    How would that affect the plugged in mind?

  5. Mac Says:

    I think communing with your future Web would almost certainly be a pyschedelic experience. If rapprochement with the Web is via nano-arphids, then it might make sense to augment your brain with arphids of its own; these could serve as “ambassadors” to the invasive Web arphids. Maybe the act of ingesting nanobots could be a sort of mystical rite.
    I don’t know what sort of society you’re imagining, but it could be really pastoral and the inhabitants might know next to nothing about technology — after all, if the Web is superhumanly intelligent, it could take care of itself without human assistance.

  6. David Orban Says:

    Great questions! I have been thinking about some similar ones for the last few years. (It’s kinda late here so I’ll be able to get in just a few sentences, but I hope to get back with more.)
    There are some defining factors in my opinion of the supermind.
    (I realize that I’ll have to take them one at a time.)
    –Extreme Boredom Avoidance–
    The supermind lives on the memetic plane. For us humans the final goal is the progation of our genotype through the sustenance of our bodies, which is the genotype’s expression, and vehicle. For the supermind ideas, and active use of information define what it calls to be alive, as it is the expression of its underlying memetic support. Not accessing, elaborating, propagating new ideas equals death to the supermind. It can’t stand to be bored!

  7. Jon Says:

    I’m not sure the human mind is ready for so much knowledge. Personally, I think the individual could end up having some sort of nervous breakdown, suffer from “information overload” or enter some state of psycosis … (psicosis?, not sure how’s written in the language of Shakespeare.)
    It could also be that once out, the human commits suicide, based on a simple premise: He saw it all, now “momma can tuck him into bed and put him to sleep” – 1920’s baseball commentator voice- and there is no need for him to continue. Intellectual boredom of this level = suicide/voluntarily shut off mode.
    Just my ideas at the moment.

  8. Footboots Says:

    There are possibly three reactions to the supercomputing web that I envision: worshipful awe, random twitching of brain and body, or enriched resonance for all thoughts and words.
    The first reaction, worshipful awe, is the silence of the desert fathers or apophatic theology. It is being struck dumb in the overwhelming presence of divine mind. This might give rise to a religion of sorts in which the web mind becomes the source and goal of everything, living and dead. Plugging in becomes a sacrament, reserved for special situations or ordained “visitors” and life becomes an endless discussion of the inability of humanity to behold the face of infinity.
    Random twitching results from the nuronal overload of cells designed to feel emotions or control large muscle movement. These cells are diverted to cerebral processing in order to participate in the incandescense of the mental activity when linked. For some, this may become an addictive behavior, resulting in death by malnutrition or perhaps asphyxiation as various processes are subverted by an ovewhelming desire to participate in the speed of thinking. In addition to the individual human twitchers, whole societies will give up manufacturing, commerce, sex, teaching and so on because they, like individuals, will be unable to continue normal “stupid” activity after experiencing the web mind.
    Enrichment results from carrying the overtones of the web mind into normal life. Every word, diagram, thought or feeling brings along a rich association of footnotes and commentary which lends profound pleasure (and excruciating pain) to every activity and communication. Life becomes similar to eating a Payday candy bar including the cavities.
    It is foreseeable that all three reactions will take place in different individuals and cultures. There will be competition among the groups to win the prize of most popular or closest to the truth. It would seem that the twitchers might be at a disadvantage because their self-destructive behavior might weaken their ability to coordinate sustained movement but the neurons that are no longer running the body or the society are devoted to cognition so they are somewhat (a lot?) more clever than the awestruck or the enriched.
    My brain hurts now from all the creative thinking.

  9. Stephen Harris Says:

    Hello, I was reading with appreciation the online
    portion of your new book. In the past I liked your Goedel Inc. Theorem explanation. Then I came across this description of The Many Worlds Interpretation (?) which you call multiverse?
    “A second defense of physical determinism is the many universes theory, which insists that there are a vast number of parallel universes tied together into a so-called multiverse. When faced with some seemingly random quantum choice, the multiverse responds by picking both options, spawning off new universes as necessary. So then it looks as if we have regained a kind of determinism:
    the photon goes to both 0 and 1. Every plane crashes in some branch of the multiverse; every lottery ticket is somewhere a winner. But how does the multiverse view explain why your particular world is the way it is? The move is to claim that “you” are in lots of parallel universes. In one world you’re seeing that photon go to 0 and in another you’re seeing it go to 1.”
    SH: It sounds to me as if you are saying there are
    alternate physical universes. The alternate universes are no more than mathematical possibilities which have no physical existence.
    It seems like your explanation is not very clear if
    you mean to distinguish the fact there are no
    parallel physical universes as part of MWI. This
    is one John Baez’s (quantum gravity physicist at
    UCR) pet peeves which he remarks upon on the usenet group, sci.physics research.
    Where would the energy come from, Stephen Harris

  10. Natalie Says:

    About a week ago, by chance or serendipity, I discovered your 1985 book “The Fourth Dimension” on a Paris bookstall, in a French translation (“traduit de l’Americain” – get that distinction between English and American!). I wrote about this on my blog (Blaugustine. See Google, since I’m not allowed to give my URL here) under the heading “La quatrime dimension” and have linked to that book, your site and your blog.
    When I got back home to London, I looked you up on the web and was delighted to find your site which I’m only just beginning to explore. It would take too long to explain why I found that early book of yours so enthralling and why it was so relevant to the circumstances. Anyway, consider me a new fan. I’ll be back here often. I have many questions, and a few answers, but too much to put into this box.

  11. Natalie Says:

    “…you go out of yourself into the seamless web mind, and then you come back….”
    That’s what some mystics, philosophers and artists have done since time immemorial, without the aid of supercomputers. It sometimes seems that technology is just catching up with what has always been possible even if rarely tried.

  12. Rudy Says:

    Good comments, guys.
    Summarizing (for my own purposes) I get the following.
    Natalie: Merging into the arphidnet is not so different from sleeping and having a dream where you pool together into the collective unconscoius of the hive mind, and not so different from merging with God, or maybe not so different from paying close attention to the world. I did Google her blog and I think it’s safe to list the web address as long as you don’t put in the “hooterpootie”, so let’s see:
    Footboots: People might react to the arphidnet with: (a) Worshipful awe, being struck dumb in the overwheliming presence of dividne mind, leading to a kind of religion, with plugging in a sacrament; (b) twitching, not just mental but physical, extra muscle-controlling cells being recruited into thinking when plugged in, it’s ecstatic like crack; or (c) resonance and enrichment where every word, diagram, thought or feeling brings along a rich association of footnotes and commentary.
    Jon: Some humans will commit suicide, having now “seen it all.” Some will have nervous breakdowns from overload.
    David Orban: The arphidnet itself wants to continually have new ideas otherwise it feels it’s stagnating.
    Mac: It will feel psychedelic. We might want to have arphids inside the brain to smooth the interface. Perhaps society would become more pastoral as the arphidnet could take care of everything.
    MobyDikc: Maybe the arphidnet has both a waking state and a sleeping state. Or perhaps it can get high. Plugging in to the arphidnet would feel different if you caught it when it was asleep.
    David: Sometimes it would feel like you were continually being interrupted and distracted by all the other agents in the arphidnet colliding with you.
    Anonymous Forthisone: It might be similar to the experience of tripping wiht someone and you feel like you are melding your minds. But now you’d be melding with all the other people who are plugged into the arphidnet.
    As for Stephen Harris’s comment on my discussion of the multiverse — do keep in mind that I mention the multiverse in my book only to say that I think it’s not a good idea. So don’t expect me to defend it! As for whether the alleged alternate universes are supposed to be real or just mathematical fictions, I’ve heard different takes on this. Certain David Deutsch pushes them as real, but physicists defending the view like to downplay this so as to make their idea more palatable. Come on and buy the book, dude, stop picking nits!

  13. Keith P. Graham Says:

    I believe that you have to invert the question. People will not be jacking into devices that extend their intelligence. As you suggest, if computing devices are going to be so damn smart, why would they allow the poor folk to ride on them? (I am thinking of the centaurs in Madeline L’Engle’s books who don’t normally allow humans to ride on their backs; a concept borrowed by JK Rowling.)
    I believe that what will happen is that intelligent entities will be riding around in human bodies in order to experience the richness of a biological sensorium. AI’s will have meat envy (sounds like an idea in one of that Rucker guy’s books). Humans will allow an AI to ride along, even make suggestions, in exchange for some helpful computing power. It may be that some AI’s actually possess their hosts in the demonic sense. A more ethical AI would give fair exchange for the ride.
    The problem as to where an extended experience would be archived is an interesting one. Economics might control how much a human can afford to live extended in a network, rather than isolated in single skull. There would be a point, of course, where the negative experience of living in a rapidly aging body would induce one to jump to an experience entirely on the net, letting the body die, raising religious issues about where life ends.
    A few years ago I wrote a story where an AI is murdered, but the AI’s original body, forgotten by all and kept around for sentimental reasons, wakes up with only a partial memory of the extended experience. The protagonist in my story seeks the help of “naturals” who do not extend themselves for religious or philosophical reasons and they actually solve the murder.
    The mechanism for machine-human interface is not important. It will happen and it will involve some tricks that we might not be aware of today. This will be something that will appear magical or strange, but probably won’t be as mechanical as a large hair dryer type helmet with goggles. I would suspect it will be a biological device that is created from engineered DNA that grows secondary nerve fiber. I much prefer biological machines made from protein than nanotech. Making machines by having DNA assemble amino acids into protein devices is a time proven method that works quite well in living organisms. Assembling machines from carbon nano-fibers may never work.

  14. Rudy Says:

    Good idea, Keith, that agents in the arphidnet would enjoy using our meat bodies. I have a theme like this in Frek and the Elixir.
    One thing that’s occurring to me is that getting all these comments is, in its own way, a bit like plugging into the arphidnet supermind.
    SF is, after all, often a way of getting some perspective on our current reality.
    My story is getting longer, with all these great ideas.

  15. Steve H Says:

    Rudy, do you remember Lafferty’s story “Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne?” The AI kept shaking its dummy head and saying “I forget how it goes. I have it filed in my main mind in England if you’re interested.” I suspect it would be more like that than drinking a bucket of LSD or Merging With The Infinite. If using this mega-network would turn me into someone else, a la Charlie Stross’ Vile Offspring, I wouldn’t use it. I work in a library full of books and computers, so I can find out anything just by looking it up. But when I’m home, where I don’t bother paying for internet, I have only my bookshelf. If I could log on mentally, google the info, and log off, it would be great. Did you read FOREVER PEACE by Haldeman, in which being logged on with others makes you more ethical whether you like it or not? Great idea, but I like being my own un-vastened self too much – no Borg Collective in my back yard.

  16. Angus Glashier Says:

    The experience of connecting with this mind web will be like sitting in a lecture hall listening to a brilliant scientist explaining her ideas using only a lengthly stream of jargon. Some people will make the effort to understand, others will get bored and go surfing or something. Those who do make the effort probably won’t get any smarter than they would of if left to their own devices in a library. Like an old computer made of vacuum tubes, I don’t think the brain is built to handle such high bandwidth networking, but people will try anyway.

  17. RockRobertson Says:

    Good Questions Indeed.
    A lot of the interface will be seamless, I believe. With the ever-shrinking horizon of physical size and increasing computational power, even the stunglasses would be able to recognize your most subtle of movements as fully parsed commands. Heck, even the contact lenses can be smart by then.
    As to diving in and out of the supermind, I like the overlay concept. Outside the mind, you’re the same old schlub you always are, but inside, you just _know_ more and have access to more people more intimately. Quoting pi to the 400th decimal place. It’s not all going to be affective knowlege, the current temp in Bartow, Fl. doesn’t really help.
    And what about the amount of “you” that goes into the supermind, the “Krell” problem. Will I be rubbing against brains or genitalia? Hopefully there would be a “dirty laundry” filter that protects me against your experience with that goat in your reckless years. And vice versa.
    The Ghost in the Shell TV series addresses a lot of these concepts.

  18. Juan Ortiz Says:

    Is human mind reading implied?

  19. Loyal Student Says:

    That seems like the key requirement. Others have suggested specific kinds.
    The humans would not need to remember the experience, they would just need to get the benefit of new knowledge, or something that is beneficial. One could see this kicking off an evolution, maybe a branching, of the species. Those that can and those that can’t would stick to their own kind.
    I’m pessimistic about the current human stock being able to take in the information at the rate that the supermind can dish it out. That bandwidth limitation you spoke of in class two weeks ago.
    It is harder to see what the supermind gets in return, esp. if you posit that it is orders or magnitude more intelligent then we are. One idea I want to explore in my story, at live journal comiseverthng is loneliness and relationship. A great mind, no matter how great needs something of intelligence to bounce off of. This becomes very quickly a metaphor for God living in each of us, and I’m not sure have far in that direction you want to go, but clearly many of the suggestions pointed in that direction.
    It would be easy, and maybe too cheap, to make the supermind deficient in some other quality like emotions that it gets from humans, i.e. the rush of uncontrolled feeling.

  20. benign Says:

    Wow, lots of cool ideas here. I think it’s feasible that the net might craft the interface or filter that the user accesses the it through to suit the particular way of thinking of the user, and that in turn would colour the user experience.
    As for why the net would want to have anything to do with people: We’re a source of interesting information. The boppers wanted it, perhaps the ridiculous amount of computing power available to the net would allow it to appreciate it even more. If so, I could imagine people striking deals with it. Maybe let it poke around your memories, drive your body around for a bit, and in exchange get access to all its information, direct connection to other users, simulated fantasy lands, interesting philtres, and so on.
    It’s kind of a funny picture actually. Supercomputer posessed humans marvelling at say trees blowing in the wind (mmmm rich universal computation), while their usual occupants are in cyberspace enjoying a little temporary transcendance.
    As others have mentioned, it’d be a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship. Sounds like fun too.

  21. Jerry Michalski Says:

    I’ve been playing with TheBrain for a decade, which is a simple, single-user version of what you’re thinking, Rudy. You can see what I’ve wrought from links on my site,
    One important way to stay oriented is always to be able to go back to the webs you have woven personally, to see only the nodes and links that you authored.
    With a solid base like that, you can wander pretty far afield and feel really good about your explorations. After a while, finding things you’re interested and “hanging” them in your own space is a joyful experience, a bit like decorating a Christmas tree with ornaments (assuming that brings you joy).

  22. Carol Maltby Says:

    Smarter is nothing, without being wiser.
    I am reminded about what Terence McKenna said about the machine elves, that there are transactions involved with them, always some sort of trading.
    I can’t locate the passage at the moment, but it struck me when first reading it that it reminded me of leaving milk for the fairies.
    Take a look at the interview the Guardian did earlier this year with savant Daniel Tammet, who is able to articulate some of what seems to be going on in his mind when he is working with numbers. It was published February 12, 2005.

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