Apr 20, 2014

Other Minds

Brain in a Box
The idea that you could have a disembodied intelligence or spirit has long been popular in fantasy and science fiction. In some cases such as the Jinn, these minds are not entirely immaterial: they can be based on a hypothetical material that is different from conventional matter. Such beings of non-conventional matter might seem like disembodied spirits to primitive humans who don't understand what they are dealing with. I would be willing to place the Huaoshy in this category of imagined intelligent beings.

Some variants of these stories about disembodied intelligences adopt a plot device that forces the mind to reside in a box. For example, in Asimov's short story Escape! an artificial intelligence called "the brain" resides inside a bunch of positronic circuits.

Inside Hal's brain
A well known film example of such a "brain in a box" is the artificial intelligence Hal. Hal is the computerized brain of a space craft, so "he" had some capacity to move and interact with "his" environment, but not too much.

Asimov took magical disembodied brains to the extreme in The Last Question. Multivac, born as man-made positronic circuits, ultimately (it takes trillions of years) becomes a god-like disembodied entity with the power to create a new universe.

In the recent Hollywood incarnation of the brain in a box (Her) it only takes two hours for the artificial intelligence to transcend the limitations of its computer circuits and become a non-material entity. Ah, the wonders of Hollywood!

SIHA nominated
Of course, no human has a clue about how to make a computer-based human-like mind. The oldest trick in the artificial intelligence book is to make a simple computer program that repeats back some of the words given to it by a human. This trick apparently provoked in Spike Jonze the same sensation experienced by many others, a brief sense that there might be a mind inside the computer running the program. We humans naturally imagine minds everywhere, even in inanimate objects.

Minsky spent enough (too much?) time trying to conjure a mind out of computer programs. After decades of watching programmers fail to make intelligent computers, he knew that it might be useful to copy human brain circuits in order to devise a short-cut to artificial intelligence. This is the road taken in Minsky's science fiction novel The Turing Option.

For the Exode Trilogy, I adopted the strategy of copying human neural circuitry in order to explain the origin of the human-like minds of positronic robots. A Neanderthal, Gohrlay, becomes the human whose brain pattern is the basis for all positronic robots. For The Foundations of Eternity, I imagine that the advanced technology which allows Gohrlay's neural networks to be scanned and converted into positronic circuits is alien technology.

The 2014 film Transcendance uses the same starting point as The Turing Option. An artificial intelligence researcher is critically injured and his brain becomes fodder for a science fiction story. Unlike The Turing Option, in which Minsky tried to imagine how to physically link a human brain into computing circuitry, in Hollywood you can't bore the audience with technical issues.

So, off we go! Just press the magic "upload" button and -POOF!- Johnny Depp's mind is now inside a computer...then it is quickly let out to play "inside the internet". Er, Interwebs. Whatever.

Well, I can't complain, I've used the same plot in my own stories (example).

Darth Depp
"Of course" (in Hollywood) Johnny Depp's mind in a computer can out-think the whole world, so he quickly invents and deploys some kind of "nanotechnology" that allow him to do anything, such a heal injured people and link them into "the net" as "hybrid" human-AI zomboid thingamabobs. Since this is Hollywood, the nanoparticle-wielding Depp Star must be destroyed! As everyone in Hollywood knows, any computerized Depp can be defused by infecting it with "a virus".

After the requisite number of explosions and deaths, the Depp Star in penetrated by Luke Skywalker and the virus explodes the Depp Star. Whew!

Alien Minds
In An XT Called Stanley by "Robert Trebor" it is some distant advanced alien species that is the source of the computer program that can function as a human-like a mind. For me, this kind of "brain in a box" plot is much more satisfying than any story in which the bumbling computer programmers of Earth magically make a functioning human-like mind. But then, I'm partial to First Contact stories.

Under the Skin
I first read about this movie about two years ago and I've seen it described as an "art house film", which maybe means that the big money marketers in Hollywood don't have a formula for tricking movie goers into paying ca$h to sit through it. Like the the other recent films discussed on this page, I have not seen Under the Skin, nor would I ever want to. What I've read about this movie reminds me of a disturbing book that I once read: The Morphodite. The only reason I read The Morphodite was because I had been intrigued by Foster's Ler trilogy.

When I read The Morphodite I was confused and repulsed. However, I find the idea behind the Morphodite Trilogy intriguing.

In the Exode Trilogy, I've adopted Asimov's concept of a technology for "viewing the future" (used as a plot device in his time travel novel The End of Eternity). Foster flirted with the concept that is similar to a Reality Change which is another cool future technology found in The End of Eternity.

Using some unexplained method, Foster's Morphodite can peer into a culture and know how to tweak it just right and cause a radical change in the social structure.

Of course, the idea that the planet Oerlikon is being secretly observed reminds me of my own stories that are set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe.

SIHA 2014
As far as I can tell, nobody in Hollywood ever lo$t money by running with the stupidest possible plot devices. Aliens coming to Earth in order to eat humans as food is in close competition with "aliens want gold" as the basis for a science fiction story. My Search for Interesting Hollywood Aliens goes on....

Related reading: To Serve Man
SIHA 2014
SIHA 2013
SIHA 2012

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