Sample PagesThe 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
"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?"
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
"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
"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.