Author R. R. Campbell and I are doing something interesting together. We’re hosting guest blogs for each other. The one I wrote for his site is HERE.
But here, at my place, Mr Campbell wants to talk about science and its role in his new book, Imminent Dawn. While the internet is changing the world faster than we can keep up, his novel imagines a world where you simply think of something and instantly, the world knows your thoughts. Or at least, those hooked up to EMPATHY will.
EMPATHY and the Brain-Computer Interface
During the first round of human trials for an internet-access brain implant, the EMPATHY nano-chip is put to use to resurrect lost love, to cover tracks, and uncover the truth.
Or at least that’s how the four main characters in Imminent Dawn use it, anyway.
But what is the EMPATHY internet-access brain implant truly meant to be about? How thin is the line between fiction and reality when it comes to this technology in our own world, and what might the advantages and consequences be to the implementation of it?
What is EMPATHY?
EMPATHY, according to tech magnate Wyatt Halman, mainlines the internet directly into users’ brains in the interest of truly uniting humankind and machine. That’s why EMPATHY stands for the Electronic Mechanism Purposed for the Achievement of a Truly Hybrid Yield, after all.
Imagine, Wyatt would argue, a world in which humans are connected to one another on a single network, a world where the portal to this site wasn’t held in your hands or resting on your lap or desktop. Imagine a world where, with a simple thought, you could arrive at this post and read it directly in your mind.
Then of course there are your favourite sites, social media, your friends, family, cat memes, news and entertainment. With EMPATHY, all of it would be merely a thought away. Not only that, but your very memories and the sensations of the experiences themselves could be stored losslessly, revisited or shared with others at any time.
And none of this is to mention EMPATHY’s intention to bring people closer together by breaking down barriers and generating actual lower-case empathy between them. We’ve even yet to touch on possible medical applications, which is where we get into how close we are or aren’t to having a true brain-computer interface like EMPATHY in our own world.
The Brain-Computer Interface in Real Life
There are a handful of projects currently underway to create a brain-computer interface, but, to date, none of them have been as successful as Nuro, a startup that has engineered software one can control with the brain directly—without the need for brain surgery. Seriously, check out the video at this post to see Nuro in action.
Nuro’s intention is to use this technology to treat symptoms associated with traumatic brain injuries, which does figure into book one of the EMPATHY series, Imminent Dawn. The book’s main character, Chandra, is an art-school dropout whose wife is locked away in a coma. Chandra enrols in the EMPATHY research study with the goal of eventually having EMPATHY installed in her wife’s brain. Why? To evaluate whether EMPATHY can eventually be used to allow the two of them to communicate, even if only through a server of some sort.
All of this is wonderful, right? Yes, assuming brain-computer interface technology is safe and limited to medical applications. But, of course, the profit motive will or would eventually drive it to be offered to a broad base of consumers, which is where matters could become dire.
Piracy and Privacy
Imagine for a moment that you have the ability to write a novel, to compose a string quartet, to create a digital painting all in your head with limitless storage and lossless recall. Fascinating, right? How incredible it might be to pursue creative hobbies all from the comfort of one’s… well, wherever one happens to be!
Now imagine someone gains access to the drive on which that data is stored. They can see your works in progress, explore the secrets you’ve locked away in your work. Envision now that the same drive from which they’ve stolen this art is the same drive on which all of your personal information is stored, the answers to all your password recovery questions, memories of your happiest moments, your greatest regrets. Worse still, they’ve now taken that art, the most raw bits of you, and broadcasted them out into the world—a real piracy nightmare.
Hacking and Hacktivism
To execute the above, one would need to hack another’s egodrive, the server on which one’s EMPATHY data is stored. In a world where this is possible, we’d open ourselves up to a number of attacks or techniques employed by hackers and hacktivists in our own world: DDoS, trojans, phishing, or, perhaps worst of all in an EMPATHY-like world, ransomware.
For those unfamiliar, ransomware is an increasingly common attack in which the victim’s device becomes locked remotely until they pay the hacker a ransom in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin to have their device’s use restored.
Let’s say you have EMPATHY installed and have been using its servers and storage to save highly personal data, even some so personal as memories. How much would you be willing to pay to have that data returned to you?
A lot, probably, which is what might make ransomware attacks all the more lucrative—and dangerous—in a speculative world like that in which the EMPATHY series takes place. Seriously, consider cyber criminals with the ability to corrupt, destroy, or reconfigure memories and other data on one’s personal EMPATHY server unless a fee is paid. If that’s not terrifying, I don’t know what is.
It’s Not All Bad
The above might paint a grim picture, but remember the medical applications mentioned earlier? Those would certainly be a net gain to society at large, and especially to those who would be helped directly by the existence of EMPATHY or similar technology.
Beyond medical uses for the brain-computer interface, consider what it might do in terms of making information more accessible, creating greater efficiency in the workplace, education and research, and transparency and accountability.
In Imminent Dawn and over the course of the five-book EMPATHY series, readers will have a chance to watch how the advent of the brain-computer interface plays out in their world before we’re forced to evaluate its eventual use and implementation in our own.
To find out more about R. R. Campbell, check out his website HERE.
To find out what people are saying about his new release, check out the Goodreads link HERE.