Tuesday, June 30, 2015

One Day Soon, We’ll All Be Telepathic...

by Mattie Dunman

One of my favorite plot devices in SFR is having a main character be telepathic in some way; whether by reading minds or controlling them, using the brain to do something extraordinary has always been particularly fascinating to me.

When I sat down to write my first book, At First Touch, I wasn’t thinking about developing a character who could read minds. I was creating someone who had seen the worst of people and was still fighting. As the story developed, it became clear that my main character’s ability wasn’t the main problem or catalyst; it was how people in power perceived her and sought to use her for their own purposes.

And it got me thinking. There are so many books, movies, etc. about characters who can read minds or other variations on the theme. What is it about knowing the thoughts of everyone around us that is so compelling?

When I was a lowly undergraduate, I majored in Psychology. The real draw for me (apart from all the fun personality tests) was learning how to read people, understand the way they think, why they behave the way they do. In short, I wanted to be a mind-reader.

Everyone is a bit of a mind-reader. It’s how we know to stop asking the boss for a raise when he gets a certain tone in his voice, why we recognize when our significant other is about to end things, or how we know the time is right to ask our parents for that raise in allowance. We base our reactions on a lifetime of memories and precedence, and most of the time we’re right.

So why do we dream about more? Why are we so drawn to stories of cyborgs, characters who can move things with their minds, who can heal with a thought? Some of the best SFR out there involves telepathic abilities in one way or another.

Because it’s a completely awesome idea. And it may not be that far off in the future. There’s some pretty exciting stuff being investigated right now, things writers have been dreaming of for decades. Microchips in the brain that teach us to heal ourselves, that link to others, link to computers. The list goes on. For instance, during a recent neuro-technology experiment at the University of Washington, two subjects actually accomplished brain-to-brain interaction using a brain-computer interface (BCI).

Brain-to-Brain Interface (BBI) is the newest and most exciting development in the field. Unlike BCI, where the interaction is interpreted by a computer, recent advances are in the stages of infancy, but rely solely on mind-to-mind connections. In 2014, Harvard Medical researchers were able to connect a human brain with a rat’s brain (creepy, right?) to move the rat’s tail with 94% accuracy using only direct neural commands from the human brain.

Eventually, this area of research is intended to produce the ability to send a text or email with a thought, to give commands on a video game telepathically, along with other, more practical implementations. Can you imagine if covert military operatives were able to communicate brain to brain instead of relying on whispers or signals? Or individuals suffering from strokes, ALS, or other debilitating conditions that prevent speech being able to hold conversations in their heads? Already the technology is being used in robotics, making robotic prosthetics a very real possibility in the near future. The implications are staggering.

Of course, I wasn’t thinking about any of this when I created my own telepathic character with BCI; I just wanted to see what it would be like if she were burdened by knowing everything about anyone she came in contact with, and how that would change her as a person.

            But it raises some interesting questions, both regarding the good that can be accomplished by such technology and abilities, as well as the harm that can be done. What would the societal ramifications be if we all had computer chips in our brain that interfaced with a larger server? Or if we were expected to work with someone across the ocean using only a neural interface? What privacy concerns and ethical issues would arise if this technology became a reality?

             Readers and authors of SFR may be ready to answer some of those questions now, and in fact, some already have.

             At any rate, synthetic telepathy is a real possibility, and a wonderful source of inspiration, even if we’re not all lining up to be joined with a rat brain!

Really cool info!

Mattie Dunman is a lifelong resident of "Wild & Wonderful" West Virginia, and has dreamed of being a writer since she first held a pen in hand. Mattie has pursued several useless degrees to support this dream, and presently is lost in the stacks of her local library. She spends most of her free time writing, but also indulges in reading and traveling. She is the proud owner of an adorably insane American Eskimo named Finn, and a tyrant cat named Bella, who take up more of her attention than they probably should.

Mattie would love to hear from you! www.mattiedunman.com

The views expressed are solely those of the author and not representative of the SFR Brigade.

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