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World Wide Mind: The Coming Integration of Humanity, Machines, and the Internet

World Wide Mind: The Coming Integration of Humanity, Machines, and the Internet

by Michael Chorost

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What if digital communication felt as real as being touched?

This question led Michael Chorost to explore profound new ideas triggered by lab research around the world, and the result is the book you now hold. Marvelous and momentous, World Wide Mind takes mind-to-mind communication out of the realm of science fiction and reveals how we are on the verge of


What if digital communication felt as real as being touched?

This question led Michael Chorost to explore profound new ideas triggered by lab research around the world, and the result is the book you now hold. Marvelous and momentous, World Wide Mind takes mind-to-mind communication out of the realm of science fiction and reveals how we are on the verge of a radical new understanding of human interaction.

Chorost himself has computers in his head that enable him to hear: two cochlear implants. Drawing on that experience, he proposes that our Paleolithic bodies and our Pentium chips could be physically merged, and he explores the technologies that could do it. He visits engineers building wearable computers that allow people to be online every waking moment, and scientists working on implanted chips that would let paralysis victims communicate. Entirely new neural interfaces are being developed that let computers read and alter neural activity in unprecedented detail.

But we all know how addictive the Internet is. Chorost explains the addiction: he details the biochemistry of what makes you hunger to touch your iPhone and check your email. He proposes how we could design a mind-to-mind technology that would let us reconnect with our bodies and enhance our relationships. With such technologies, we could achieve a collective consciousness—a World Wide Mind. And it would be humankind’s next evolutionary step.

With daring and sensitivity, Chorost writes about how he learned how to enhance his own relationships by attending workshops teaching the power of touch. He learned how to bring technology and communication together to find true love, and his story shows how we can master technology to make ourselves more human rather than less.

World Wide Mind offers a new understanding of how we communicate, what we need to connect fully with one another, and how our addiction to email and texting can be countered with technologies that put us—literally—in each other’s minds.

Editorial Reviews

Katherine Bouton
Mr. Chorost's curiosity is contagious…[he] is not only a clear and concise science writer, but also a visionary. The coming integration of humans and machines may be a bit further off than he thinks, but he convinced me that we will get there someday.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Brain implants that jack us into the cybernetic hive mind are on the horizon, according to this pixilated primer on the science of mental connection. Journalist Chorost (Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human) sees the future clearly: first, viruses will be used to insert new DNA into neurons; then nanowires and LEDs will be surgically implanted in the brain; finally, wireless Internet links will beam our thoughts and impressions into the brains of others (as long as they've been outfitted with the same apparatus). Though it sounds awful--how long before an implanted live feed from your boss's brain becomes a condition of employment?--the author insists it will be awesome, sparking a "‘re-enchantment of humanity" in which we will be "listened to with compassionate intensity" and become "a larger, fuller species" with a "transpersonal mind" and a "Communion of Souls." Chorost is really into connectedness (he participated in a clothing-optional group hug-in at an intimacy workshop) and though his visionary raptures ring both implausible and unpleasant, his tour of here-and-now neuroscience makes for an engaging account of how the brain communicates with itself and the world. Photos. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
"A fascinating discussion of optogenetics research... Mr. Chorost’s curiosity is contagious... Michael Chorost is not only a clear and concise science writer, but also a visionary. The coming integration of humans and machines may be a bit further off than he thinks, but he convinced me that we will get there someday." —New York Times

“In World Wide Mind, he once again offers an impressively vivid story, and it is a pleasure to follow him on his envisioned future of human beings with directly connected brains… World Wide Mind is a thought-provoking story…”—New Scientist

“The upshot of the research Chorost details is nothing less than a pathway to telepathy, telempathy and a linked world consciousness. The real triumph of the book derives from Chorost's storytelling ability. . . . Moreover, the book is shadowed by a personal arc in which Chorost confronts his long-time disconnect with person-to-person intimacy. The takeaway is that, if mindful of the inevitable problems that will arise in this new step of human evolution, we could become a species capable of aspiring to more than the sum of our parts.” —The L Magazine

"Chorost’s writing is clear, visionary and romantic. . . . Chorost’s book represents the new trend to see technology as more than a cold utilitarian tool, but as a harbinger of good and social harmony if used in the right ways." —The Big Think

“Michael Chorost is one of the most thoughtful writers confronting a major question of the 21st century: how will the ability to engineer human minds change the way we live, communicate, and love? As a cyborg himself, Chorost has a unique perspective that enables him to foresee how mind technologies will impact everyday issues of existence. This is a remarkable book for its ability to ponder neuroengineering through the wisdom of a humanistic lens.” —Ed Boyden, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, MIT Media Lab

“A deeply personal exploration of individuality, connection, and the brain. Chorost does an impressive job of articulating how brain-to-brain communication could become real, and of exploring its implications for all of us. Moving, insightful, and provocative.” —Ramez Naam, author of More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement

“In World Wide Mind, Michael Chorost takes on a daunting challenge: seriously and factually examining what it would mean to connect human minds directly through technology. Until recently in the realm of science fiction, this task is of increasing importance as our inventions even now blur the boundary between the made and the born. Chorost’s greatest achievement is in making his tale not one about transistors and neuroscience, but about the future of humanity and love.” —Joel Garreau, author of Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies – And What It Means to Be Human

"World Wide Mind is a rare pleasure indeed: a smart book about the future of technology that is really about the complexities of the human heart and the universal yearning to be transformed by connection. By combining cutting-edge neuroscience, keen insight into the social potential of networks, and touchingly candid personal anecdotes, Chorost has written one of the most memorable and thought-provoking books of the year." —Steve Silberman, contributing editor, Wired Magazine

Kirkus Reviews

An adroit overview of the progress in joining together computers and humans.

In his first book, Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human (2006), science writer Chorost described his experience with the first practical human-computer interface. After he became deaf in 2001, a surgeon inserted cochlear implants into his skull. He stresses that these are not simple amplifiers but computers that send digitized sound signals from tiny external antennas directly to his auditory nerve. This requires active cooperation from his brain because months passed before he learned to interpret the resulting electronic gibberish as English speech. Chorost explains how we communicate and interviews scientists who are teasing out the brain's mechanism for memory, perception and behavior and studying how to influence them. They are already altering cellular behavior by inserting specific DNA into their nuclei with modified viruses; one alteration allows light from a small diode to stimulate or inhibit the cell's activity. The author points out that, beyond speech, humans communicate with each other through smell, touch, heat and electricity. We've already taken the first step in building computers that do the same. A smartphone touch screen requires a living interface, ignoring a stylus but responding to a finger or even a cat's paw. Unlike the Internet, which isolates individuals, instant communication, perhaps through small implanted microchips, will empower us to intelligent collective activity similar to taking part in a symphony.

Using the analogy that a violinist contributes to an orchestra without diminishing herself, Chorost makes a stimulating case that implanted computers might propel humans to the next step in evolution.

Product Details

Free Press
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Read an Excerpt


A Dead BlackBerry

[H]uman nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love.

—Plato, The Symposium

When my BlackBerry died I took it to a cell phone store in San Francisco’s Mission district. I handed it over to the clerk the way I would give my cat Elvis to the vet. “JVM 523,” I said mournfully. When I’d woken up the screen was blank but for that cryptic error message.

The clerk called tech support while I wandered around the store, peering at cell phone covers and batteries. He beckoned me over ten minutes later.

“It’s dead,” he said.

“You can’t just reload the operating system?”

“They say not.”

“How can a software bug kill a BlackBerry?” I said. “It’s just code.”

He shrugged. He hadn’t been hired for his ability to answer philosophical questions. But, he told me, for fifty bucks they could send me a new one overnight.

“All right,” I said, and walked out, minus BlackBerry.

The stores were full of avocados and plantains, $15 knapsacks hanging from awnings, and rows of watches in grimy windows. Crinkly-faced women pushed kids in strollers and grabbed their hands to keep them from pulling no-brand socks out of cardboard boxes. The world, whole and complete.

Except for my email, and the Internet. Just me and my lone self-contained body. I missed my BlackBerry’s email, of course, but what I missed just as much was having the planet’s information trove at my fingertips. I couldn’t summon Google on the street and ask it questions. How high is this hill I’m climbing? What do the critics say about this movie? Where can I find camping equipment on Market Street? When is the next bus coming?

Most of all, I couldn’t ask it, “Who is this person?”

I had asked it that question a few months earlier while visiting Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf in Washington, D.C. I wanted to see how American Sign Language dealt with fractions and cosines. So I was taken to visit a math class.

The professor was blond and flamingo-slender, with a snub nose. She spoke with the distinctive lisp of a high-frequency hearing loss. It was a warm spring day, with breezes tumbling in through an open window. I soon saw how fractions were done. She signed the numerator using a one-handed code for the numbers 1 through 9, dropped her hand an inch, then signed the denominator. As she discussed slopes, she gestured them in midair in a lovely hand jive of math and motion.

The class handout gave me her name: Regina Nuzzo. I unholstered my BlackBerry, held it under the desk at an angle, called up Google, and stealthily typed her name into it. I scrolled down the results with the thumbwheel. Ph.D. in statistics from Stanford. Postdoc at McGill, on analyzing fMRI data. Progressive hearing loss. And she was a science writer, too. She had just done a story on hybrid cochlear implants.

When I looked up she was sweeping her left hand in an arc, taking in all the students, tapping her thumb and index finger together. It was the ASL “do” sign, meaning, in combination with her tilted head and quizzical expression, “What shall we do now? What’s next?”

Now I knew her background, her history, her interests. It gave her depth, dimension, a local habitation, and a name. I looked at her, thinking: Wow, a deaf science writer. Just like me.

Nosy? Invasive? Perhaps just a little. But I was a visitor from the other side of the country. Knowing something about her would help me smooth my way into a conversation. Anyway, I figured the day was coming when it would be considered rude not to Google someone upon meeting them. One could discover mutual interests so much more quickly that way.

I went up to her after class to ask her about the complexities of teaching math in American Sign Language. It was easy to steer the conversation to our mutual interest in writing. Our conversation began that day, both by email and in person, and it has never stopped.

But when I was standing in the Mission District amidst the ruckus of faded awnings and shouting children, all that was in the past. I missed my BlackBerry. I kept reaching for the holster, expecting to feel the device’s rounded plastic edges and their slight warmth from my body. Forget your Blackberry, I told myself. Look about you. Pay attention to the sights and smells of the world.

I walked about, nosed into stores, and ate lunch at my favorite taqueria. But it troubled me how separate the two worlds of my experience were. My BlackBerry offered me an infinite supply of information and messages. The material world offered me infinite sensation and variety, and the faces and voices of my friends. It seemed altogether wrong that each world could be experienced only by excluding the other. Surely, I thought, there must be a way to bring them together.

© 2011 Michael Chorost

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