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The Genesis Machine
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The result of all this was the Bio-inter-Active-Computer, offering perhaps the ultimate in man- machine communication. The BIAC eliminated the agonizingly slow traffic bottleneck that had always plagued the interface between the superfast human brain on the one hand, and the hyper- superfast electronics on the other. For example, a straightforward mathematical calculation could be formulated in the mind in seconds, and executed, once inside the machine, in microseconds; but the time needed to set the problem up by laboriously keying it in character by character and to read back the results off a screen was, in relative terms, astronomical—a bit like playing chess by mail.

But the BIAC did much more than simply enable data and instructions to be fed into the machine more quickly; it enabled the machine to accept input material of a completely new type. Whereas classical computers had required every item of input information to be explicitly specified in coded form, the BIAC could respond to generalized concepts—concepts visualized in the operator's mind—and automatically convert them into forms suitable for internal manipulation.

It thus functioned more as a supercomputing extension of the operator's own natural abilities, its feedback facilities invoking a direct perceptual insight into complex phenomena in a way that could never be rivaled by merely viewing symbols. The dynamics of riding a bicycle can be represented by differential equations, the solutions to which will tell the rider what to do to avoid falling off when confronted by a given set of conditions such as speed, curve of road, weight of rider, and so on. The young child, however, is concerned with none of this, but simply feels the right thing to do, and with some practice, does it. In an analogous fashion, the BIAC operator could feel and steer a way through the problem. It was the perfect tool for handling Clifford's k-function solutions.

For the first couple of days after arriving in Baltimore, Clifford sat through a series of lectures and tutorials aimed imparting the essential concepts of BIAC operation. "The BIAC becomes an efficient tool when you've learned to forget that it's there," one of the instructors told the group. "Treat it as if you're learning to play the piano—concentrate on accuracy and let speed come in its own time. Once you can play a piano well, you let your hand do all the work and just sit back and enjoy the music. The same thing happens with a BIAC."

Eventually, Clifford found himself sitting before the operator's console in one of the cubicles by the machine room while an instructor adjusted the lightweight skull harness around his head for the first time. For about a half-hour they went through the routine of calibrating the machine to Clifford's brain patterns; then the instructor keyed in a command string and sat back in his chair. "Okay," he pronounced. "It's live now. All yours , Brad."

An eerie sensation took hold of Clifford's mind, as if a chasm had opened up beside it, leaving it perched precariously on the brink. He had once stood in the center of the dish of a large radio telescope and never forgotten the experience of being able to shout at the top of his voice and hear only a whisper as the sound was reflected away. Now he was experiencing the same kind of feeling, but this time it was his thoughts that were being snatched away.

And then chaos came tumbling back in the opposite direction—numbers, shapes, patterns, colors . . . twisting, bending, merging, growing, shrinking. . . . His mind plunged into the whirlpool kaleidoscoping inside his head. And suddenly it was gone.

He looked around and blinked. Bob, the Navy instructor, was watching him and grinning. "It's okay, I just switched it off," he said. "That blow your mind?"

"You knew that would happen," Clifford said when he had collected himself back together. "What was it all about?"

"Everybody gets that first time. See, the BIAC acts like a gigantic feedback system for mental processes, only it amplifies them round the loop. It will pick up vague ideas that are flickering around inside your head, extrapolate them to precisely defined , quantitative interpretations, and throw them straight back at you. If you're not ready for it and you give it some junk, you get back superjunk; then before you know it, the BIAC's picked that up out of your head too and processed it the same way. You get a huge positive feedback that builds up in no time. BIAC people call it a 'garbage loop.'"

"That's all very well," Clifford said. "But what the hell do I do about it?"

"Learn to concentrate and keep concentrating," Bob told him. "It's the stray, undisciplined thoughts that trigger it. Those are the things you have to learn to suppress."

"That's easy to say. But how do I start?"

"Okay, let's give you some easy exercises for practice. Try ordinary simple arithmetic. Visualize the numbers you want to operate on, concentrate hard on them and the operation you want to perform, and exclude everything else. Get it fixed in your mind before I switch you in again, okay?"

"Just anything?" Clifford shrugged. "Okay." He mentally selected the digits 4 and 5 and elected to multiply them together. The torrent of chaos hit him again before he realized that Bob had tapped the key.

"That was a bit sneaky," Bob confessed. "The best time is often when the problem is clear in your mind. Try again?"

"Sure."

After three more excursions round the garbage loop, Clifford sensed something different. Just for a moment, 20 seemed to explode in his brain, impressing itself with a clarity and forcefulness that excluded everything else from his perceptions. Never before in his life had he experienced anything so vividly as that one single number for that one brief moment. The the garbage came again and swallowed it up. For a while he just sat there dumbstruck.

"Got it that time, eh?" Bob's voice brought him back to reality.

"I think so—at least for a second."

"That's good. You'll find for a while that the shock of realizing that it's working distracts you enough to blow it. You'll get over that, though. Don't try to fight it; just ride it easy. Try again?"

An hour later, Bob posed a problem: "Two hundred seventy-three point five six multiplied by one hundred ninety-eight point seven one."

Clifford gazed hard at the console, visualized the numbers, and almost immediately recited, "Fifty-four thousand, three hundred fifty-nine point one zero seven six."

"Great stuff, Brad. Let's break off now and go have a beer."

A week later, Clifford was learning to cope with problems in elementary mechanics—situations involving concepts of shape, space, and motion as well as numerical relationships. He found, as his skills improved, that he could create a conceptual model of a multibody collision and istantly evaluate all the variables involved. Not only that, he could, by simply willing it, replay the abstract experiment as many times as he liked from any perspective and in any variation he pleased. He could "feel" the changing stress pattern in a mechanical structure subjected to moving loads, "see" the flow of currents I an electrical circuit as plainly as liquid in a network of glass tubes. By the end of the fourth week he could guide himself through to the solution of a tensor analysis as unerringly as he could guide his finger out of a maze in a child's coloring book.

Clifford imagined a single cube. He imagined that he was looking at it from the direction of one of the corners and down onto it. Having fixed that picture in his mind, he opened his eyes and found a fair representation of it staring back at him from the BIAC graphic screen—a bit ragged at one of the corners, and the lines were a bit wavy here and there . . . but not bad. Even as he thought about it, the subconscious parts of his mind took their cue from his visual perceptions and the imperfections in the image dissolved away.

"Try adding some color," Aggie suggested. She was the graphics instructor taking Clifford through the final part of the course. He mentally selected opposite faces red, blue, and green, consolidated the thought, then used the knack that he had developed to project it at the view in front of him. The hollow cube promptly became solid—and colored.

"Good," Aggie pronounced. "Now try rotating it."

Clifford hesitated, felt the first surge that forewarned the bio-link was beginning to go unstable, and caught it before it could run away into positive feedback. The reaction was by now reflex. He settled down again and tried lifting one corner of the cube, but instead of pivoting about its opposite corner, the shape deformed and flowed like a piece of plasticene. He emitted a short laugh, reformed the smear of colors back into a cube, fired a command at the BIAC to lock the display, and sat back in his seat. "Went off the rails somewhere there," he said. "What should I do?"

"You let the idea that it was rigid slip," Aggie told him. "But even if you hadn't, trying to rotate it by simulating external forces is pretty difficult to get right at first. That's what you were trying to do, right?"

"Yes." Clifford was impressed. "How could you tell?"

"Oh . . ." She smiled. "You learn to spot such things. Now, when you try it again, don't think of actually moving the cube. Imagine it's fixed and you're walking around it—as if it were a building and you're in a hoverjet. If you do it that way, rigidity and all the other implied concepts take care of themselves. Right. So unlock it and give it another whirl."

Three days later, early in the evening and after the serious business was over, Aggie showed Clifford some games based on cartoons that she had produced to amuse herself. The difference with these cartoons was that the sequence of events unfolding on the screen could be modified interactively by the players.

Clifford's mouse scurried along the floor by the baseboard with Aggie's black-and-white cat pursuing close behind. He read the speeds and distances, and sensed via the BIAC's responses that the mouse wold just make it. He slowed the mouse slightly to take the corner at the bottom of the stairs and then raced it flat out along the last straight toward where its hole, and safety, lay.

Suddenly, he screeched the mouse to a halt. The entrance to the mouse hole was barred by a tiny door bristling with padlocks. "Hey, that's cheating!" Clifford roared indignantly. "You can't do that!"

"Who says?" Aggie laughed. "There are no rules that say I can't."

"Christ! . . ." Clifford accelerated the mouse away as the cat pounced on the spot it had just vacated. He ran it around behing the cat, who immediately began turning after it. For an agonizing second he stared helplessly, searching for a way out, and then, seized with inspiration, created a second mouse hole in the baseboard and shot the mouse through it.

"Not fair!" Aggie shrieked. "You can't change the house!"

"Where's the rule that says I can't?" Clifford threw back. "I win."

"Like hell. that was a tie."

They were still laughing as they removed their skull harnesses and shut down to finish the day. "You know, Aggie, this really is an incredible machine," Clifford said, shaking his head. "I'd never have dreamed something like this could work."

"It's primitive yet," she replied. "I think all kinds of applications that even we can't imagine will grow out of it some day." She gestured vaguely I the direction of the screen. "For example, I wouldn't be surprised if a whole new art form developed from things like that. Why hire actors to try and interpret what's in a scriptwriter's mind if you can get straight into his mind?" She shrugged and looked sideways at Clifford. "See the kind of thing I mean?"

"Make movies out of people's heads?" He gaped at her.

"Why not?" she asked simply.

Why not? Somewhere, he remembered, he had heard that said before.

 
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