WaitButWhy has long, very long article about the coming future of brain-to-brain communication. It’s great, but it’s long. Maybe read my short essay first…
Okay, still here? So what seems to be happening in the world of neuroscience is that machine-brain interfaces are The Next Hot Thing. Eventually this will lead to people who are wearing devices that turn thoughts into computer code and vice versa. Actually, it is already happening with devices like cochlear implants that let deaf people hear and tongue electrodes that let blind people see.
What I’ve taken away from this vision of the future is that words, especially written words, are in trouble. The auditory cortex and the visual cortex are among the best understood parts of the brain, and the likely entry point for an advanced “wizard hat” machine-brain interface. Hmmm, what form of communication do we already have that’s audio-visual…?
Movies! That’s right, in many ways we cannot fathom how the people of the future will communicate with each other. But at least until the deeper parts of the brain are understood, they are probably going to be sending the future equivalents of movie clips back and forth.
It may be immersive, VR-style movie clips. But it’s going to be audio-visual. Which means people with superior audio-visual skills, a.k.a. filmmakers, are only going to rise in status. Filmmakers are going to be on the forefront of pushing this new form of communication. Filmmakers are going to be creating the brain-movies that will become our shared culture.
That future may mirror the present we are experiencing. Just like today we can still watch a black & white film and be moved to tears — “Zuzu’s petals!” — the flat, low-resolution, non-brain-enhanced films of today should still be able to move future generations, even after the written word has been made obsolete.
Obsolete? Yes. Imagine any text you encounter being performed by a digital Meryl Streep. Or, further in the future, an understanding of what the text means simply being implanted as a memory. When the machine attached to your brain can read text — in any language — your brain will have no need for the long, difficult process of learning to read.
So the machines attached to our brains are going to be turning any text we encounter into audio-visual information. Perhaps this bodes well for Hollywood’s great stockpile of unproduced screenplays. It definitely bodes well for filmmakers who are willing to have their own storytelling intelligence modeled as the artificial intelligence that will be doing the translating.
You’ll be able to send an A/V ‘thoughtgram’ to your friend in the style of Ingmar Bergman or Mira Nair or Busby Berkeley. These thoughtgrams won’t require actors, production designers or really anyone else, just a clear imagination. The American version of the auteur theory will finally be true. Thoughtgrams will have just a single “author,” like the written literature which gave the French originators of the Auteur Theory such paroxysms of inferiority.
Or will they have a single author? With a wizard hat allowing you to network with other wizard hats and various flavors of Artificial Intelligence, perhaps the movies of the future will still be collaborative in much the same sense they are today. A thoughtgram writer’s scenario will be taken up by a thoughtgram producer who will hire talented thoughtgram actors, directors and audiovisual technicians to complete it.
Fan edits of thoughtgrams will compete like memes. Anyone out there who thinks they have a better ending to the latest Marvel story can simply think it into existence and send it out. Then someone else can improve it. And so on. It may become much more like ancient literature, say the oral tradition around the Homeric epics. No longer is there one single author or version, simply a tradition that is constantly evolving and being adapted to the audience and the concerns of the generation.
The films of today will most definitely seem stodgy. But they may provide the kernel for whole libraries of updated variations in the new wizard hat medium. After all, stories have been around in many forms throughout the ages, and the great ones have persisted. There’s no doubt, in my feeble, unaugmented mind, that they will continue to persist.