Stephen Baker

The Boost
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Brain-squinting: How to operate a cognitive implant

February 14, 2018Marketing the book


This is an excerpt from Dark Site: Boost Trilogy--Alissa's Story. In the scene, Alissa, a 16-year-old from Washington DC, has just gotten a cognitive implant in her brain. It's a powerful networked computer, though only the size of a fly's wing. But she needs help learning how to operate it...

 

A therapist came in. Noli. She was Japanese and extremely nice, though she treated me like a baby. First, she told me how lucky I am to have blue eyes and blond hair. Then she lifted up my hand and patted it for a while, the way I do when our poodle, Gilda, puts her paw in my lap.

Noli taught me a lot about how to operate the Boost.

“Look at a space behind your eyeballs,” she said. I tried. It took a while, but eventually I could make out a dark screen. A black dot seemed to float in the middle of it. She told me to concentrate on that dot, and to move it up and down with my thoughts, and to one side or the other. I did, and it moved.

“Now squint with your brain,” Noli said.

I didn’t want to be rude to her, because English wasn’t her native language. But I explained that we squint with our eyes, not our brain.

She insisted. I should stare at the dot and try squinting with my brain. So I tried to give it a contraction. The dot seemed to jump in place.

That was a click, Noli said. By steering that dot with my mind and brain-squinting on it, I would navigate entire worlds with my new chip, she said. For starters, she had me follow the dot down what looked like a corridor of applications. She told me to stop at one called Life Diary. I did, and with more clicks, I filled out a little menu and clicked OK.

What did that accomplish? I asked.

She told me that from that moment, every minute of my life for the next 20 years would be recorded. Everything I saw, every conversation, every meal I ate, it would all be there. (In fact, I’m looking at that conversation right now. It’s easy to find, because it’s at the very beginning of my records. Noli has my hand in hers and is explaining that it’s hard to find certain scenes. She says that search is “a work in progress.”)

I asked her about words. How was I going to send messages with my thoughts? She told me to be patient. The Boost needed some time to link up words with what they mean to me. She said it was a “learning algorithm” and I laughed, because she had a cute way of pronouncing her Ls.

As she left, Noli told me not to obsess over the Boost, just to forget about it. It would adapt to my brain, she said.

“You can’t turn it on by thinking,” she said. “It just happens.”


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The psychology behind bankers' hatred for Obama
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"Corporations are People": an op-ed
- August 16, 2011


Wall Street Journal excerpt: Final Jeopardy
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Why IBM's Watson is Smarter than Google
- January 9, 2011


Rethinking books
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The coming privacy boom
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The appeal of virtual
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