The inevitability of jacking in
I was going to rant about something fairly ho-hum today. Then this happened.
When I was in high school, I read a short story about a person directly tapping into a virtual world through a jack in their brain stem. Assuming you haven't been maintaining a domicile under a comfy boulder a la Patrick Star, you'll remember that this technique is utilized in the Wachowski siblings' Matrix trilogy, and appears, really, all over sci-fiverses.
Maybe for some, it still seems impossible that we'll ever access our tech so directly. But really, this next step is inevitable.
Technology is the intercessor by which we access new frontiers. Consider the Internet: just a few decades ago it only existed in certain SF novels, yet now an entire virtual universe pervades and overlaps with our daily existence.
Ultimately, each of these interactions involves a subject (you) using technology to access some desirable alt system, such as an information superhighway. In each case, the technology also acts as a firewall against that alt world backwashing into your head.
Think about it: pop-ups are bad enough on a 2D screen, but it would be a living nightmare if your brain got infected with some nasty Trojan advertising bigger/faster/longer whatever. The computer is a display terminal, an externalized apparatus that acts as a disparate lobe, and slower for its non-integration with the rest of your mind.
But if there's one thing we've learned in the past half-century, it's that tech is evolving at an exponential rate. What used to be "blazing fast" Internet now lumbers like a cephalopod out of water. Living room-sized computers can fit in the palm of a child's hand.
Devices are getting faster, smarter, and less invasive - not to our daily life per se, but to our individual and collective continuums of consciousness as we access both tangible and abstract arenas. What we call real and what's purportedly insubstantial are merging - and fast. Pretty soon the safeguards are going to be available in more subtle forms, allowing us to directly "jack in" to all sorts of virtual realities with relatively little risk...and what's more, no one's going to think anything of it.
One of the most fascinating aspects of these new frontiers is going to be the ethical ramifications. How are we going to decide what's acceptable and what's abhorrent? If rat brain cells can - evidently - grow together to form a neural network, does that comprise consciousness? What will be our most internalized safeguards of all - our fundamental beliefs about what is right and wrong, sentient and worthy of protecting versus able to be sacrificed in the name of exploration?
Don't be fooled, kiddos: we're standing on the verge of transhumanism. And even here in Midcoast Maine, which can sometimes feel like the end of the earth, those changes are already rolling on in like high tide.
Courier Publications reporter Bane Okholm received her M.F.A. in Screenwriting from U.C.L.A. Email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @MediaHeathen.