Monday, September 20, 2010

The devil made me do it

A strange thing about being sentient is that, sometimes, you get collections of thoughts and ideas in your head that take on a life of their own.

The rest of humanity just sees the one person embodied, and there is no legal, social, emotional or technical way to express our different selves. And that is perfectly reasonable. Total chaos would reign if people could get away with terrible things by blaming the "voices in their heads".

But perhaps we should rethink the situation. We now live in a world where its easy to control an army of flying robots from a thousand miles away, even though we are no closer to controlling our minds than the first upright apes were. I suspect there are people who can achieve discipline, who follow years of a special lifestyle. But what about the rest of us? What is it about our minds that makes it so unique to each of us, so essential to our identity - and yet, it evades our absolute command.

We can learn to fly planes, transplant hearts and deliver perfect yorkers. But if I say "elephant", you think about the animal, immediately. You don't have a choice. Your mind does not give you a choice.

In the ancient and medieval worlds, people could get away (or not) by blaming some supernatural tempting force. But in today's world, we sleepily get up from bed and log onto our brain extensions. How long will it be before the same technology that allows a drone fleet to be be piloted by a kid in Arizona, gives a human mind the power to control a household army of robots, soft-bots and their interconnected paraphernalia?

Now think of the many selves in this human mind, and how they all have on their fingertips, the manpower of a small village and the information from every encyclopaedia. The bar for disaster is low; pretty much any negative or jealous thought in your head needs to grab your mind for just a few milli-seconds, to click on something or send a message that may do the "real you" a lot of harm.

And its not just the damage you could do to others. A recession-hit world filled with scam artists, telemarketers and con guys, all potentially could talk to your undisciplined, distracted mind. This could happen from anywhere in the world and require only a small slip from you.

But I'm optimistic. I'm beginning to feel that all this concentrated social and real power may be a good thing. In the old localized days, perhaps you could start some gossip or be really mean and get away with it. Maybe the thin margin technology gives each of us will put a premium on good, responsible behavior.

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