Principia Cybernetica Web

Direct Interfaces into the Global Brain

The intelligent Web can act as a kind of external brain, storing a huge amount of knowledge while being able to learn and to make smart inferences, thus allowing you to solve problems for which your own brain's knowledge is too limited. In order to use that cognitive power effectively, the distance or barrier between internal and external brain should be minimal. At present, we are still entering questions by typing in keywords on our desktop computer, after contacting a specifically chosen search engine on the web. This is rather slow and awkward when compared to the speed and flexibility with which our own brain thinks. Several mechanism can be conceived to accelerate that process. The quick spread of wireless communication and portable devices promises the constant availability of network connections, whatever your location. Presently, a lot of research is being done on "wearable computers", small but powerful processors which you can have on you continuously, for example attached to a belt. You would also wear special glasses or a light helmet which allow you to see the information from the computer superimposed on a normal view of the surroundings. Thus, the computer can constantly provide you with information about the things you see, and warn you e.g. when an important message arrives. Rather than a virtual reality, which exists only the computer, you would see an augmented reality: a real environment augmented with information about that environment which is provided by the computer. Such computers would use multimedia interfaces. This would allow them to harness the full bandwidth of 3-dimensional audio, visual and tactile perception in order to communicate information to the user's brain. The complementary technologies of speech or gesture recognition make the input of information by the user much easier. For example, the wearable computers would be connected to a small microphone, in which you can speak, and a glove or sophisticated trackball kept in your pocket, with which you can steer the cursor or manipulate virtual objects.

Yet, even more direct communication between the human brain and the Web can be conceived. First, there have already been experiments (Wolpaw et al., 1991) in which people steer a cursor on a computer screen simply by thinking about it: their brain waves associated with particular thoughts (such as "up", "down", "left" or "right") are registered by sensors and interpreted by neural network software, which passes its interpretation on to the computer interface in the form of a command, which is then executed. Research is also being done on neural interfaces, providing a direct connection between nerves and computer. (see also Gregory Kovacs's Neural Interface Project)

Once these technologies have become more sophisticated, we could imagine the following scenario: at any moment a thought might form in your brain, then be translated automatically via a neural interface to an agent or thought in the external brain, continue its development by spreading activation, and come back to your own brain in a much enriched form. With a good enough interface, there should not really be a border between 'internal' and 'external' thought processes: the one would flow naturally and immediately into the other.

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Copyright© 1997 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

F. Heylighen,

Oct 12, 1997


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