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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Monday, January 13, 2014

Will You Experience Godlike Virtual Psychokinesis?

Imagine walking through a world in which you can control things with your mind. If you come to a closed door, you need merely think to yourself: open. Then the door will open. If you are attacked by someone charging you with a knife, you need merely think to yourself: burn. Then the assailant trying to kill you will catch on fire. Or if you are walking along and need a car, you need merely think to yourself: car, and a car will appear.

You may actually experience such a world in your lifetime, but it won't be real life. It will be virtual reality. But it may be so realistic it will seem just like real life, except for your godlike powers. In such a world you may have an ability to make some things happen just by thinking of them. In this virtual world you may feel like a god who can alter reality just by willing something.

Such a thing may be possible because virtual reality technology may be merged with mind-reading technology. The term “mind-reading technology” is somewhat misleading. It would probably be better to call such a technology “thought correlation technology.” The way it works is that the brain is scanned for some distinctive electrical pattern that corresponds to a particular thought. For example, scientists might get a hundred people to think of a dog, and try to look for a distinctive electrical pattern observed when people are thinking that thought. The scientists might then get a hundred people to think of a book, and try to look for a distinctive electrical pattern observed when people are thinking that thought. With sufficient practice, scientists might then be able to look at the electrical activity in someone's brain at a particular moment, and then guess whether the person was thinking of a dog or a book. 

Scientists have already made significant progress at such a task, as indicated by this link Mind-Reading Technology Speeds Ahead.  

If a great deal of progress is made in such technology, the creators of virtual reality worlds might be able to integrate mind-reading technology into their systems. The result might be a virtual reality system that requires two pieces of equipment. You would put on virtual reality glasses over your eyes. You would then put on some type of electrode cap over your head. The electrode cap would handle the mind-reading.

You would then enter a virtual world, in which you would be like the psychokinetic lead character in the movie Carrie, who can control matter just by willing it to move or burn. We can use the term virtual psychokinesis for such a system, in which you could alter a video game world just by thinking of things.

virtual reality

The ideal implementation of such a virtual reality system would be one in which you could think almost any thought, and it would materialize within the virtual reality world. For example, you might randomly think of Marilyn Monroe, and then, poof, you would see Marilyn Monroe within the video world, as a moving, talking 3D character. But the technology for a system that sophisticated is probably many centuries away. For one thing, we are unlikely to have anything like a general mind-reading system capable of recognizing almost any thought. The best we can hope for is a far cruder technology that simply consists of a few hundred cases (or a few thousand cases) in which we know what brain activity looks like when someone is thinking of a particular thing. For another thing, even if we could recognize almost any thought, it would be too hard to program a virtual world in which almost any thing could be brought into existence by your thoughts.

But developers could still create an exciting virtual reality system that recognized only a small number of thoughts. A user might be advised of a certain limited number of thoughts that the system can accept. For example, an instruction booklet might say, “If you want to destroy an attacker, think of fire or think of the opponent being instantly frozen.” Or the booklet might say, “If you need transportation in the virtual world, think of a car or think of a horse.”

Some might think that introducing such a feature might make the virtual world seem less realistic, but it might not be worse than some things in current video games. For example, let's take the popular video game Red Dead Redemption, in which you become a cowboy in the old West. In that game every time you want to switch from a lasso to a gun, you have to click a button, go to a menu, and choose one of the two items from the menu. That almost spoils the fun by reminding you: this is just a video game. If you had a virtual reality system in which you do things just by thinking about them, you wouldn't have this problem. There wouldn't be any pop-up interface to remind you: this isn't real life.

Let's imagine how you might feel in such a virtual world, in which you can make things happen just by thinking particular thoughts. You might feel like some kind of deity. You might say to yourself: I am the one lord of this domain. I can destroy my opponents merely by thinking of how they should be destroyed. I can make matter change its appearance merely by willing that it change its appearance in some way. Like a deity, I can bring into existence new objects merely by thinking that they should exist. This truly is godhood. I can perform stunning miracles solely through the awesome power of my mighty mind.

And then, when your virtual reality session ended, you would take off your goggles, and go back to your meek little existence as a subservient corporate serf.