Brain structural modification using social media

Ah, you thought this was a how-to. Modify your customer’s brain to thirst for your product. Sorry, you are about 20 years too early.

It was a simple enough thing: change the news feed ordering slightly and look for the impact on your users. In this case, induce an emotional state. The response was blistering:

Of course it raises the question: how many experiments of this type have been conducted? What might it lead to? It’s how I came to write 2043.

Many years ago I was a researcher in Japan. On my way home from work I would ride my bicycle past the Pachinko parlours. Pachinko roughly corresponds to slot machines, with associated gambling. The Pachinko parlours would be full to the brim with (mostly) men watching the balls fall, and playing long into the night. I asked my colleagues: “how can it be so fascinating? why do people play this?” They looked at me incredulously: “.. the industry hires the best PhD’s in psychology to design environments that are maximally addictive.”

When Google set it’s goal of “don’t be evil” it sounded a bit cute. They were seeing further ahead. What is possible is breathtaking.

In 2043, there are no terminal devices. All of the stuff we carry today (phones, ipads, laptops) has been replaced by the implants. You don’t need the clunky headset, it is all connected to brain pathways. No need to verbalise to communicate, just imagine the words. See the related article: Three reasons for a rapid uptake of implants. Once the implants are in place there is no reason why they can’t be bi-directional. Listen to the latest song, watch the latest holographic movie. At the same time the service provider can be taking neural feedback on a range of assemblies. Mind reading? No, much more powerful than that.

Population Effects

Want to know the addictiveness of a game feature? Time was you had to organise a development team schedule, go through a release cycle and watch for uptake. Now you have your whole population to test in real time. Dream up the feature by the start of the day, you might have a whole population result in an hour or two. It makes for rapid improvement. For a service, it can give dramatic improvements in stickiness. Meaning of course that the flow of money from users to you is enhanced dramatically. For a political campaign or an advertising campaign, the same.

You and I are aware of it, but we regard it has basically harmless. I don’t think it is. When you have a whole population to experiment on, you can do things that are just not possible with sampling.

Neuroscience + Deep Learning

I’ve often thought of neuroscience as the modern incarnation of phrenology. It was the 19th century study of cranium shape as an indicator of all sorts of things: intelligence, behaviour, criminal tendencies. Yes, there is rubbish here. Those studies that label areas of the brain with capabilities. It is as if they are trying to study a city by looking only at the patterns of energy consumption. Over the period to 2043 though, it benefits from new tools. Really powerful new tools.

Already there is such a thing as neuro-marketing. How to get the desire for potato chips to persist? Experiment with various stimuli while the subject has their brain scanned for activity.

Real revolutions come from bringing together two disparate fields. In this case human brain science with artificial brain technology. How to close the loop here? You funnel messages out, they strike at neural assemblies. Some parts of the brain are enhanced, others wither. It’s an optimisation problem, a deep learning problem. Over time it can be re-made. It is a capitalist’s wet dream. You make your own consumer perfectly adapted to the product you provide. Forever the product and the individual are intertwined and co-dependent.

I have often wondered what George Orwell would make of the internet. He would have even more difficulty understanding the world of 2043. In essence though, he knew the answer as to why the cow never charges at the fence. The thought never arises.

2043 (Amazon) is a fictional account of the internet in 2043. It is soft science fiction in the tradition of 1984.