Friday, September 16, 2016

IIT & Pacific Rim

I'm going to start posting short observations of how IIT would explain or be problematic for certain ideas in sci-fi movies or books.

To start: The film "Pacific Rim", a sci-fi action movie where the main characters are pilots controlling gigantic robots. The pilots control the robot through a direct brain-machine interface, but the job is apparently too much for one pilot so there are always at least two pilots. The two pilots have their minds joined by a "neural bridge" - basically an artificial corpus callosum. While joined, the pilots seem to have direct access to one another's experiences in a merged state called "the Drift" - it seems that their two consciousnesses become one.

This scenario is the predicted consequence, according to IIT, of sufficient causal linkage between two brains - at some point, the connection is sufficiently complex that the local maximum of integrated information is no longer within each pilot's brain, but now extends over both brains. What would be necessary to achieve this? The movie doesn't attempt to explain how the brain-machine interface works, but it must involve a very high-resolution, high-speed parallel system for both responding to and stimulating neurons in each pilot's brain.

One way of doing this would be cortical implants, where high-resolution electrode arrays are installed on the surface of each pilot's brain; this is at least plausible (if not possible) given existing technology. However, none of the pilots show signs of a brain implant, and the main character Mako Mori seems to become a pilot on pretty short notice, although she has apparently been training for a long time - maybe all trainees are implanted? A big commitment.

A more hand-wavy Star Trek kind of technology would involve some kind of transcranial magnetic field system that is powerful, precise, and fast enough to both stimulate individual neurons (current TMS systems certainly cannot do this) and measure their activity on a millisecond timescale (current fMRI systems absolutely cannot do this); however, the pilots simply wear helmets while piloting the robots (although Dr Newton, who almost certainly does not have any brain implants since he is not a trained pilot, does use some kind of transcranial setup to drift with a piece of monster brain), which I think makes a transcranial system very unlikely.

If I had to guess, wireless cortical implants are the only plausible means of establishing the Pacific Rim neural bridge, but some sort of transcranial system hidden in the pilots' helmets and based on some unimaginable technology is not excluded.

Verdict: Pacific Rim's "drift" is IIT Compatible