Stephen Baker

The Numerati
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My coming novel: Boosting human cognition

May 30, 2013General

Just a few words about my novel, The Boost, which Tor Books is publishing next year. In early 2011, when I finished Final Jeopardy, I was thinking more or less obsessively about the future of cognition. As I saw it (and see it), it was going to be a joint project of the peerless human brain and the machines that we create. And dramatic change was going to come a lot faster than many people suspected.

So I wrote a story. It takes place in 2072, but some of the crucial events--the broad deployment of cognitive implants--occurs decades earlier, in a world that doesn't look that different from the one we inhabit today. I won't go into all the details, but suffice to say that the development of this technology doesn't come from Silicon Valley. 

In my story, almost everyone is "enhanced." All of the information machines in our lives are run out of the chip, or Boost, we carry in our heads. TVs, computers, credit cards, cameras, in short all of the hardware, is embedded in this tiny networked supercomputer. Those who don't have this technology are regarded as "wild." They're considered dangerous, in large part because they're harder to control. They're unpredictable. (It's a condition some might call "free.")

I'm writing this now because I just came across this interview with Michael Anissimov, a blogger at Accelerated Future. He discusses the enhanced brain. It's worth reading. A couple notable points. The brain has been highly optimized over some 7 million years to carry out the jobs to keep us alive: finding food, mating, spotting danger, etc. Chemicals that promise to boost performance are, and are likely to remain, extremely crude (and dangerous). In the next few decades, he believes, the path toward brain augmentation will come from advances in nano-manufacturing. 

One likely side-effect to brain augmentation: Insanity. Short of that, "might include seizures, information overload, and possibly feelings of egomania or extreme alienation."  (That is to say, modern life marches on....) 

A good source for this type of story is on the GlobalBrain link of ScoopIt.


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