A possible future for publishing by Ambit92


									Zapping straight into our brain
Publishing in the future?
By Geoff Nelder At FantasyCon 2009 in Nottingham I was asked to be part of a discussion panel on ‘E-books and Other Wizardry in Future Publishing’. Other panellists included ebook editors from HarperCollins and other publishers. Much of the discussion centred on the relative merits of e-readers including cellphones and Nintendo game machines. I recall Charles Stross allowed his Accelerando novel to be freely downloaded in 2005 before it was released as a paperback and I’d read it on my HP iPaq. At least the modern ebook readers such as the Kindle and Sony ereader give us paperback-sized pages. But suppose we could bypass such gadgets and have the ebook download wirelessly straight into our brain? Does that fill you with horror or intrigue? Of course we read books from the beginning, not all in one go, but just because a whole book exists in memory doesn’t mean it is accessed without sequencing. The concept of transferring data directly into the brain isn’t new, especially in science fiction. Almost every contemporary scifi story and film uses brain-computer interface, a premise used initially by Michael Crichton in The Terminal Man (1972). William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), the beginning of Cyberpunk, explored many other aspects of BCI including genetic modification, coined the term Matrix, and introduced the notion of using brain implants for entertainment. Simstim (Simulation stimulation) was Gibson’s idea where brain implants can record and playback experiences. The connection with publishing must be obvious. It’s not is it possible to electronically port a novel directly into the brain, but when. Of course we could enhance the novel by adding images, smells, sounds, etc, but we kind of already have that with virtual reality games, especially with force feedback tactile senses such as haptic systems. However, the input is external and only in medical situations are internal micro-electrodes used via implants for hearing or vision enhancement. To many readers the joy of reading fiction lies in escapism, exploring new ideas, and in building a world in their heads. They relish using the author’s narrative to create settings and characters. We have films that take much of all that away though enjoyable in their own right. Would novels delivered directly to a subset of our brain’s neuron web be experienced as a film or read as a novel? Does it matter? Leaving that conundrum for a moment, let’s consider the brain. The neocortex, where intellectual activity such as analysis, creativity and decision-making occurs, has plenty of room for new input. Currently we use five senses, maybe six if we count our sense of place, or proprioception: nerves using the inner ear telling us the orientation of our body. There are many gadgets sensing aspects of the environment we cannot but by integrating them with patches or implants it seems we can increase the range of our experiences far more than we thought capable. In fact the human brain is more flexible and capable of changing more than during the child-formative years we previously thought. It seems we could re-program a group of neurons and redeploy them by forming new synapses, remapping them. A property known as neuroplasticity. Recently, grid cells have been discovered in part of the information input to the hippocampus known as the entorhinal cortex. They are arranged in a hexagonal pattern and although much is still to be learnt about them it seems the neural map they control affect chunks of memory. Just what we need to house books. Would it be necessary to have a hard-wired implant surgically placed in our brains? Maybe not, though that would be the easiest way. PCM (Printed Circuit Micro-electrodes) have been made by photo-reducing electronic circuits onto tissue instead of silicone. They are

very successful if short-lived. Current Brain-Computer-Interfaces (BCI) involves medical intervention in the cortex or onto the brain’s surface. It seems unlikely readers would want even a tiny drill into their skull in order to read the latest Charles Stross. Would they slap on a patch containing the novel? Could something like my hearing aids trigger a receptor in the neocortex to download a streamed novel? Maybe but they might be more willing to have a wireless burst of data from their computer or other gadget to a set of synaptic nodes for them to replay at will. This isn’t so far-fetched. It seems possible to retrain parts of the brain with repetitive input from external sensors. Perhaps a group of neurons can be redeployed to accept ebooks formatted for human synapses. Neocort books? Researchers using external sensors have discovered that the relevant part of the brain can be retrained to have experiences not existing before. For example in Osnabrück, experimenter , Udo Wächter trialed a FeelSpace belt developed by cognitive scientist Peter König. (Bains) The belt contained buzzers such as in cellphones. Only the one nearest to facing north triggered. Wächter found that he could find his way more easily when riding around the town on his bike. He said, "I suddenly realized that my perception had shifted. I had some kind of internal map of the city in my head. I could always find my way home. Eventually, I felt I couldn't get lost, even in a completely new place." In other words a section of his hippocampus had been retrained to develop his proprioception sense – the undeveloped sense in humans that tell us where our bodies are in relation to our environment. The future then might not need books, paper or electronic readers. Just pay for an ebook and lean near the computer for it to zap into their heads. Would the ebook use the human’s own memories to add to the read? All books do now but perhaps the sensory memories held in neuron webs could be accessed more directly. Problems could arise if the data provider adds subliminal messages. Could Amazon instruct us how to vote? Lutz Barz, an Australian writer and publisher, suggests that a cortex fictional experience could be so pleasurable – better than drugs – that people will stop going to work. An apocalyptical breakdown of society! If only my own fiction could be that powerful. References Baines, Sunny Wired, 15.04 (2007)

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