GONG HAY FAT CHOY!
Growing up in Hawaii, Chinese New Year was celebrated a lot. I remember many Lion Dances in Chinatown close to downtown Honolulu and adjacent to Kalihi where I went to high school. So Happy Year of the Tiger!
I thought for this month’s article, I’d dive into the science behind my science fiction story CYBER FIGHTER. Though inspired by The Matrix, I wanted to explore the possibilities of neuro-learning and how that might work.
So how could we actually implement something like the Cyber Fighter Program? How would a scientist explain the actual physical process by which Cybernetic Instruction works? This essay will attempt to explain how this miracle technology might work in the real world.
First off, we know that the nervous system runs on electricity. Muscle movements are generated by nerve impulses which contract the muscle tissue and allow us to move, and carry out many of our bodily functions. These electric signals originate in the brain, and travel via the spinal cord out to the nerves that control the various parts of our body.
We also know that computers are electronic machines that perform complex functions based on a binary system of 1’s and 0’s. The amazing things that today’s desktop, laptop, and mobile devices are capable of can all boil down to binary code, or machine language. Every computer process can be simplified to a string of those two numbers, the smallest unit being a bit (a single 1 or 0), and a string of eight digits being a byte. Machine language and computer performance is measured in bytes, ie. 512 megabytes of RAM (512,000,000 bytes of memory), an 80 gigabyte hard drive (80,000,000,000 bytes of space), etc.
To further simplify this, imagine that the binary digits represent the position of an electric switch: 1 corresponding to “on” and 0 corresponding to “off”. Thus, a complex computation performed by the most sophisticated computer is nothing more than a series of “on-off” commands.
If you take this concept of “on-off” and apply it to the nerve impulses in the human body, you begin to see a correlation between electronic signals and nerve transmissions. If we assume that “on” is equivalent to a nerve pulse, and “off” corresponds to a pause between impulses, then it is theoretically possible to program a computer to deliver a series of instructions directly to the human brain, translating the machine language into “human nervous language” that the brain recognizes.
A programmer would develop software with which he would code the special motor skills and abilities he wishes to “download” to the subject. The computer downloading the information acts as the server, and the human subject’s brain becomes the “client” in this File Transfer Protocol routine. This is the method by which the Internet works (minus the human brain factor).
Now the challenge is that the human brain consists of billions of neurons. Memories, personality, and skills aren’t stored in any particular location in the brain. Rather, the neurons make networked connections, which is how learning happens. The software would have to mimic this brain “mapping” in order to transfer the skills.
Science has already mapped the human brain; we now know where the logic centers, language centers, pleasure and pain centers, etc. are located in the brain. Experiments have shown that by stimulating various regions of the brain using electrodes placed on the skull, one can recreate different sensations. These electrodes would transmit the electrical pulses from the computer to the human subject, who would interpret them as knowledge.
The trick would lie in the programming. A software engineer would have to learn how to translate a simple motor skill, like a karate kick, into a corresponding binary code that the computer would understand. Once several skills are entered into the computer system, the engineer would create a routine that would send this information into a human subject via neural connections as described above, thus giving them the knowledge they desire.
The result would be a rapid transfer of information between computer and human, cutting out much of the time and learning curve that normal acquisition of knowledge would entail.
As neuroscience continues to develop and discover new things, these theories have to be adjusted as be learn more about how our brains really work. That’s the main reason my novel doesn’t dive into this level of detail behind the software program. I don’t have to worry about “getting it wrong”. It’s just a fun premise to explore the idea of “What if Brian learned martial arts really fast?”
Here’s to a productive and prosperous Year of the Tiger!