Sue Halpern’s articles in the New York Review of Books are thought-provoking introductions to aspects of science and technological development that I need to know about, and this essay is relevant to human relationships, the subject of A Smaller Circle:
Anonymity, which flourishes where there is no individual accountability, is one of its key features, and behind it, meanness, antipathy, and cruelty have a tendency to rush right in. As the sociologist Sherry Turkle observes: “Networked, we are together, but so lessened are our expectations of each other that we can feel utterly alone. And there is the risk that we come to see others as objects to be accessedand only for the parts that we find useful, comforting, or amusing.”
Here is Chorost describing the wonders of a neural-networked friendship: “Having brainlike computers would greatly simplify the process of extracting information from one brain and sending it to another. Suppose you have such a computer, and youre connected with another person via the World Wide Mind. You see a cat on the sidewalk in front of you. Your rigsees activity in a large percentage of the neurons constituting your brains invariant representation of a cat. To let your friend know youre seeing a cat, it sends three letters of informationCATto the other persons implanted rig. That persons rig activates her brains invariant representation of a cat, and she sees it. Or rather, to be more accurate, she sees a memory of a cat that is taken from her own neural circuitry.”
Now, many important details would be missing. The cats breed, its color, its posture, what its doing, and so forth. But it would convey a key piece of information: your friend would know that you are seeing a cat. Of course, if you called or texted or e-mailed your friend, she would also know that you were seeing a cat, and shed know what it looked like, and what it was doing, and that it was a significant enough event in your life that you were telling her about it. Do we want to know every time someone we know sees a cat?