|This is a featured future history!
The Great Project for Unification. Psionics. Collaboration. Merging of the Mind. The Event that Defined the Twenty-first Century. Call it what you may, the Human Mind Project was to forever change civilization. How did it occur, and what obstacles did it have to overcome? What are its consequences? These are issues that the following documentary, following Yunzhong Hou's narrative, attempts to answer.
Documentary: The Human Mind Project
By Yunzhong Hou
===Background to the Human Mind Project===
Given the current sociopolitical and technological trends, we can state with rather certainty the following:
- Technology will continue to increase, and will increase faster and faster (its rate of increase is increasing), and the rate of increase of that rate is also increasing, and so on. Most futurologists refer to this concept as approaching a singularity. For the scope of this documentary, we note that the background technology is much greater than it was in 2006 (the time of writing of this article) and that it increases much faster.
- As nation states continue to adopt peaceable foreign policies and as globalization continues, the state of the nations will not change significantly across the world.
- Society and culture will continue to adopt to new technological and political changes.
- Scientific inquiry will continue. This means development of newer, larger, and more complex research facilities for the pursuit of knowledge following the Scientific Method.
- As a futurologist once put it, the ninteenth century was the age of physics, the twentieth century was the age of chemistry, and the twenty first century will be the age of biology.
At the 2030 World Science Summit (performed through NetMeeting, with every one of us in our own homes), a young speaker named Andarin voiced his concerns over the troubles of the human mind and thought studies. He asked how many of the world's leading biologists would be interested in beginning a project to develop an algorithm that could allow thoughts to be recorded and interpreted. Such a step, he declared, would be one great leap for humankind as like none other. However, he himself was not a leading biologist; in fact, he was not well known in any scientific field. Few had heard of him with regards to science, and those who did, did not particularly like him. Yet his goal was stimulating, and before long some members of the audience had raised their hands. At that time I was sitting near the rear, doing my obligatory duty to pay attention to all new scientific developments so that I could incorporate them into my predictions. I did not raise my hand then, but it aroused my attention.
After the first speakers had finished, the silence was broken by the call to adjourn. Andarin took this opportunity to open a separate, private channel for those who wanted to discuss more on his topic. I entered this meeting channel, and about fifty scientists' video portraits appeared on the desk-computer. The center of discussion: the Human Mind Project, as they called it.
So that was when I found out that it was to begin at long last. A core group of experts in the field of neurology, psychology, physics, and engineering met to discuss the possibilities of performing this project. There were many dissenters among this group, even though they were all interested. They were optimistic, but not overly so; they knew the limitations of their age. But Andarin, unlike the others, was immensely optimistic. One of the biologists asked him how he knew that the project could succeed, and he said, "I have done great things. This would just be one other." It was a statement that gave affirmation to the others that he was determined to do it, and that he already had a good idea in mind.
Andarin at a GlanceEdit
Yet we dismissed it as a serious offence from a bearded rapist. After all, Andarin was known to be the writer of the bestseller Mindplay, a story detailing the adventures of Andarin and Syldarin in manipulating the thoughts, emotions, and reasoning of others in dominating the world. The fact that the names were the same told one much about who Andarin was: an egotistic, aggressive, unfeeling person who aspired to become the first Hegemon. Such a man was dangerous, as we knew.
Yet the novel he wrote also told us much of what kind of person he was: manipulative, insightful, wise, brilliant. One who could do what no one else could, who had a firm grasp of reality. Such qualities made a man who could shake the world with a groundbreaking technological advance. The fact that the novel was THE bestseller--after its publication none had beaten it in sales for over thirteen months now--also told of his capacity to accomplish. Here was a man we could trust. He had all the brilliance that would be necessary to bring such an ambitious work to successful completion. He had all the ambition to see the project through. He had all the wisdom and insight necessary to smoothen the way. He had the manipulative skills to use all that society presented to him in aiding the project.
For the first time, I paid attention to what Andarin looked like: An average-height, sixteen-year-old, handsome Chinese male with a talent for getting things to go the way he wanted, an above-average-sized forehead, and a long brick staff reminding one of a Native American's totem pole, he would certainly stand out in a crowd. It was a sight that I would not see too often, yet never forget. For this was the man that, one may arguably say, forever changed the course of history.
But the question of Andarin remains. Who was he, we asked, for we could not pinpoint his subject. He seemed to be one of the rare renaissance men--those who were capable in every subject, and excelled in everything. The closest I could think of was Da Vinci, only Andarin flourished even more because his age promoted radical thinking and rationalization much more than that of the Raiassance Church. His novel clearly indicated that he was first a novelist; but since then he had not published another book. That seemed to him complete; he had staked his claim to history in the genre of literature as one of the greatest authors of all time, and earned himself enough money to allow him to avoid menial work for the rest of his life. Now his interest was in biology, it seemed, yet at the conference we held a week ago he had implied that the Human Mind Project was just one of many of his projects. What the others were, we didn't know; my guess was that our particular project was kept secret from the populace, just like everything else Andarin was doing. In short, we did not know if Andarin's main goal was to win his war against society.
The Early YearsEdit
The early years began from that day in 2030 and lasted until 2038. It was the time of inching progress, when many of the unit's greatest minds quit their contributions. It was the time when we encountered stalemate after stalemate while spending inordinate amounts of time and effort in a situation akin to that of World War One. We were, seemingly, getting nowhere. But we were getting somewhere.
Now Andarin proclaimed a "Liberation of the Mind". In effect, he wanted his project to allow thoughts, emotions, and senses to be linked directly to a computer. He set the time of completion at year 2045. And he would accomplish this tremendous feat, starting with a remodeled home known as Veritas Abode, which translates literally into the House of Truth.
In order to decide on a future meeting place, Andarin told us to meet at Veritas Abode fully seven days from the meeting. We would meet whenever there was a scientific, mathematical, or technological breakthrough of significant importance; therefore, we would have few meetings. To top off, Andarin declared that there would be no grant to support our work in the field. We would have to quit whatever other job we had for the duration of the meetings.
We went to Veritas Abode at the prescribed date and time. We knew the location, but until we arrived we did not know how desolate the surrounding land was. It was quite embarrasing in fact for a group of prestigious experts in the sciences to be persuaded by a minor (Andarin was only sixteen at the time) into paying for airplane round trips to go to Veritas Abode--which was also located in the middle of an exurbian wasteland. This house was very small; it seemed particularly old, dating possibly back to the 1980's. Some of us did not want to participate in the project anymore; they were expecting better treatment, and now threatened to leave.
But within the rickety walls of the enclosure, we found a refurbished office with numerous seemingly new desk-computers and wall-computers (integrated technology of course). Andarin certainly did not mean the Human Mind Project to be a joke. While these were not the best technologies available in 2030, they were far from the worst, and would have cost even the multimillionaire that Andarin was a sizable fortune. Only two rooms in the house were empty. Andarin declared one of them to be a storeroom for any other technologies that we would need and the other to be a conference room whose desks and chairs were being delivered but obviously behind schedule. Sales stickers were still on the various appliances that were in the house. It was apparently just loaded into the house over the week we had since the World Science Summit.
The Others: Honor RollEdit
I was a futurologist. With us were neurologists, physicists, engineers, and psychologists; we numbered fifty.
The seats were already occupied by fifty more, who were clearly the programmers, theorists, and mathematicians of the unit. They had been waiting. Andarin was now ready to go.
Our main task was to decode the brain. We began by studying a handful of basic tactics, as we accrued through watching the documentary Codebreakers in which the Polish at Bletchley Park decoded the Enigma. As we watched, we were reminded of the true nature of our work: decoding the mind. And the mind was more complex, more grotesque than anything we had ever tackled before. Such was the complexitity of this wonder that we did not at first appreciate the truly intricate workings of this organ, and therefore our algorithms failed miserably. These troubles were to continuously plague us until near the end of the Human mind Project.
We began by developing algorithms. We quickly understood the importance of gathering a large group of intellectuals of all subject areas; the human mind was revealed to be immensely complex from our first conversations. As I said earlier, however, we made nearly no progress. Our Magnetic Resonance Imaging instrument was utterly inadequate for the job of picking up the signals of the mind. We disbanded after reaching no progress, and I took the flight home, all the way from China to America.
The Theophilus GroupEdit
We gradually formed a Theophilus Group (Group of the Lovers of Thought) which were most capable of revealing new concepts. I was a member of this group, and I used my knowledge of thought as I experienced them and as I had discovered from my work in the field of futurology.
This group met with each other using software similar to MicroSoft's NetMeeting--we conversed through our desk-computers and gradually those of us who were more capable rose to the forefront of the discussion. We drafted ever longer theories of how the mind could work, and debated over the matter periodically. We were not tired, as we had this strong love of thought and thinking. However, after all our discussion we concluded on only one primary aspect: that the mind was too complex to be decoded with current theorems. In other words, we were proving that we could get nowhere.
Theory of InterferenceEdit
During this time some of my friends in the Theophilus Group developed the Theory of Interference. While I cannot give away future secrets--doing so will radically change the future--I can say that this Theory explained some of the troubles that we were having: the neurons were interfering with each other and not working anywhere near optimal condition. Such was the state of the human mind: many thoughts merging together, overwriting, splitting, modifying... So that in the end, despite the intricacy of the brain, its capacity for thought was extremely limited. Thereafter, we sought to develop newer algorithms that could explain this phenomena and compensate for the variations in the data that we were receiving.
Meanwhile, the engineers of the unit had gotten together at Veritas Abode with the best technologies that they could obtain and produced the first and only Colossus machine. There was only one, and it was extremely costly to construct. Millions of times more sensitive than the previously developed technology for imaging the brain, it was of cylindrical construction with a cylindrical orifice that allowed people to be inserted into it. The sizes of the Colossus were fourteen feet in each direction.
Over the course of years, the engineers found many people that they found suitable and willing, and rolled them into Colossus in the same way that they would have done for an MRI. My engineer friend in the unit kept me up to date regarding this machine and later ones; from what I learned, Colossus was depleting energy so fast that it could only be used once per week despite Andarin's network of electricity suppliers. The local power plant was spared the drainage that Colossus caused; the numbers would imply that one use of Colossus for a few seconds would drain all the power that this one plant could generate in a month.
Colossus was used to capture immense amounts of data concerning the neurons in the mind. The activity of each neuron was individually monitored for thousands of times each second, and the entire brain was monitored. In order to single out the activity of one particular neuron, we of the Theophilus Group had devised the algorithm Knickebein.
Its concept was deceptively simple: triangulate the position of each neuron, and sort out the signals according to the process of neurons' sending signals across axons and dendrites. The data would first be collected and stored into immense servers, and then analyzed by the various computers working together for the next seven days. This was only possible due to the immense improvement in processing data made in the last few decades.
We had as our goal the simplification of the stimuli that the mind was provided with. If we could reduce the various forms of stimuli that our scan subjects were to undergo, we could then make more sense out of the data that Colossus was producing. Fewer things to think about would result in more uniformity of thought, allowing us to more effectively work with various concepts that we so far had barely been able to explore much less counteract. The problem was how to reduce the stimuli.
This problem was apparently solved by one of my friends in the Theophilus Group. He suggested the use of electrical shocks to deliver pain to the test subjects. The reasoning was that pain signals would cause the neurons conducting pain signals to conduct signals much faster, thereby singling them out as pain neurons. In addition, the pain would eclipse all other thought, in the same way that a victim of a gunshot would be unable to move on his/her own will--the ability to think had been denied. In such a way, we would be able to gain the first step in the Human Mind Project, which had for several years now been fruitless.
Those working at Veritas Abode shocked their test subjects while they were in Colossus, and recorded the data, as we wished. Yet something was very wrong. Sometimes, in decoding, one obtains the sense of nearness, as when some things are explained but others are not. But in the case of the human mind, there is no such thing as nearness.
As a result of our studies, we found that the pain stimuli, even when by itself, was too powerful, too complex to analyze in detail. When we reasoned through Pain's Tip, we finally managed to discover why. Pain, we found, causes a feedback loop, negative for the reception of pain as in buildup of tolerance and ignoring the stimuli, and positive for the body's response to the pain. It seemed as if mind and body operated separately and yet intertwined. In addition, the pain signals were not able to cover up the other neuron signals; instead, they influenced them, in a way that could not be easily explained (and which I cannot, or else face giving away future secrets). The conclusion being, Pain's Tip was a dead end.
The Theophilus Group returned to its drawing board, and pondered alternative stimuli. Yet nothing turned up that was even close to harboring the possibility of success as Pain's Tip once did. And Pain's Tip turned out to be a deception. Meanwhile, we explored other methods, yet nothing seemed particularly worth investigating. The state of our knowledge of the mind had not yet become detailed and expansive enough to breach the truth.
The breakthrough came one night in 2036, when a group of the engineers decided to stay behind because they had a subject. The subject herself was immensely tired, and fell asleep immediately before the engineers were about to wheel her into Colossus. They waited patiently until dawn, and then gave the project leader Andarin a desk-computer call. As a friend recounted to me the dialogue that took place that day:
Engineer: "We have a subject due to enter the Colossus, but she has fallen asleep and we don't know what to do now-"
Andarin: "Put her in!"
Engineer: "But she's asleep! Our results would be thrown off! And then we will have wasted a week--"
Andarin: "Put her in, you fools, put her in!"
The engineers did as they were told, and scanned, all the while angry at Andarin for being so insensitive. Colossus aspirated the data and processed it over the coming week. Meanwhile, the programmers developed additional algorithms based off what the biologists had taught them. For this particular occasion, Andarin had summoned all the one hundred of us to Veritas Abode. The algorithms had been applied to the results, and one of them succeeded in explaining the situation. Everyone clapped, and a renewed interest in the project entered them. Now, the Human Mind Project was getting somewhere. Now, we knew the basics of how the neurons worked.
Andarin said exuberantly as soon as the success was found, "Ha! I told you so, you fools!" No one seemed really to mind. Even the engineers were happy that Andarin had stood strong when he had to.
Why had Arousal's Tip worked, whereas Pain's Tip had not? The answer lies in their effects on the mind. Pain's Tip had been explained earlier. Arousal's Tip is based on the fact that in the morning, as the mind gradually wakens up, neurons are turned back on, in a fashion resembling a lock and key, forming a cascade allowing other neurons to awaken. This pattern follows the same form as that of neuron and thought signals, and therefore the way the neurons awoke in the few seconds of the scan were enough to explain the problem explained in the Theory of Interference. Now the algorithms had made a breakthrough, but it was not readily applicable to everything else. Now the mathematicians spent their time analyzing this particular algorithm.
Arousal's Key was not fully understood until over a year later. When it was, it opened the way for the next phase of the Human Mind Project.
Immediately during our celebration, most of us were too joyful with the discovery that we neglected to protect Colossus from malignant influence. It just happened that at precisely this time, a group of underminers within our group tried to destroy Colossus. They succeeded. Colossus was up in smoke immediately, and computer after computer had a virus that caused their hard drives to melt down. The entire server at Veritas Abode collapsed. There was nothing left. All our work--it was totally lost. These people were subsequently chased out of the building, viewed by the rest of us as the greatest traitors of science yet. But they had done what they had come that day to do. They had ensured that we could not continue on with this project.
Why they had done what they did was explainable in two ways. One, they did not want to see Andarin lead this effort, for it could certainly mean his ascent to control over the whole world. With an ambitious man like Andarin, this was entirely possible. Therefore, it was dangerous to let Andarin continue on with such a project. This view would later be proved by ulterior occurrences.
The other explanation was that they were unsure of the future, and did not want to see things changed. Had the Human Mind Project succeeded, who knew its ramifications? One was that a totalitarian state could use it to ensure control of the world for ages to come--what then? The list goes on and on, and with such a radical scientific advancement no one knew if they could adapt to the new world order that Andarin was in effect espousing.
But the rest of us did not follow their example. We were too drawn in to Andarin's siren song of liberating the thought from the mind, and had poured too much energy into this project that we could not turn away. It was to Andarin's credit that we had just then rallied to his side, when his cause was most unstable.
We were simply devastated. We had done what amounted to eight years of sporadic contribution to this effort, and we were just...devastated. And you would think that our leader Andarin would be even more so. But he just snickered.
Andarin: "I knew that this would occur. This is why I had you all come here, where you were working with slipshod equipment. Don't you think that, multimillionnaire that I am, I would have given you experts something better to work with? Yet I provided you with this. Those people who tried to sabotage our work were stupid, because they failed to realize that their time for sabotage had not come."
Someone said: "What do you mean, 'tried to sabotage'?"
Andarin: "As I have just implied, I knew that this was going to occur, and as soon as I knew that there were results, I immediately transferred them to my fan so that the data would not be lost. As for Colossus, it's out of date anyway."
As Andarin then revealed to us, his fan was electronic and was built out of quantum recording technology--that is, every eight atoms could store a byte of information--and that he had immediately aspirated all the data from all the computers in Veritas Abode into this one fan. This project was getting more and more exciting. Andarin seemed to get weirder and weirder.