Excerpt from The Connection: Human Intelligence Interfacing by Professor A. C. Trevino of the University of Oxford.
The human mind is a fascinating organ. Eighty billion neurons form endlessly complex interconnections, giving rise to conscience, identity, and memory. Each new experience activates an extensive network of synapses, strengthening some and weakening other connections. This network is constantly rewired, adapting to new challenges, determined to find solutions to new input. Patterns are repeated through feedback loops as connections are captured in short- and long-term memory.
Each neuron, in and by itself, is a simple machine that can be excited with an electrical input. When a specific threshold is reached, it activates, firing its signals into the rest of the network. This provides us with an interesting interface that has the potential to solve a myriad of challenges. Recent advances in signal processing and modeling can now fully mimic the bio-electrical activation patterns which allow us to utilize this interface more seamlessly than ever before.
The question thus becomes not how to interface with this fascinating organ. Rather, the question is what to utilize this interface for.
Stripes of orange lights raced by in a blur as Thomas sped along the A40. Hastily, he pulled up the favorite contacts screen on the car’s central display and dialed the top number. A loud honking abruptly drew his attention back to the road. With a jank on the steering wheel, he narrowly avoided the sedan in the lane next to him. His skin felt electric, hairs on end, as adrenaline rushed through his veins.
The periodic beeps over the car kit indicated a call unanswered. Cursing, Thomas closed the call and looked up the number of the hospital instead, keeping one eye on the road. The off-ramp was approaching quickly, flowing into the city ring ahead. The phone rang twice before an assistant answered.
“John Radcliffe Hospital, this is Walsh speaking, how may I help you?”
“I’m looking for Ellilah! Has she arrived at the emergency department already, how is she doing? Miss Ellilah Boone.”
“My apologies sir, but I did not catch your name,” the assistant replied, ” are you a relative?”
“Thomas Boone, I’m looking for my wife Ellilah.”
“I see sir, I’ll look her up right away.” After a brief pause, Walsh continued, “Miss Boone was admitted ten minutes ago and is currently in the OR. She is …”
A loud honk drowned out all other sounds. Big truck headlights flooded the car just before Thomas was violently yanked sideways. He briefly smelled burning tires, then all light faded away and cold blackness followed.
A soft, rhythmic beeping floated at the edge of Thomas’ consciousness. Soft, clean white light briefly penetrated the dark fog in his mind. A gentle, warm touch. Familiar, yet so distant. He tried to tell something to that distant touch.
“… fine dear. They got me to the hospital in time. Now rest …”
Her voice faded away. Coldness wrapped his emotions, freezing his sense of relief. Then he lost touch with the world again.
Thomas startled awake to a cacophony of light and sound. Bright lights, honking trucks, screeching tires, a thousand voices talking. Sound after sound compounding as if they decided to suddenly arrive at the party all at once. Louder and louder until only a single high-pitched noise remained.
Thomas slowly opened his eyes. His head burned as if a sharp, cold knife was cutting right through it. He could feel a dull sting in his right arm. Unsettling medical needles and a multitude of foreign tubes and wires led from his body to the various IC monitoring units.
Then he realized someone was talking. With difficulty, he focussed on the person in front of him. A doctor, he realized.
“… damaged his lumbar spine.” The doctor continued, ” I’m sorry to inform you he has been diagnosed with paraplegia.”
A familiar hand rested comfortingly on his arm. Ellilah, Thomas realized with shock. She was sitting in a chair next to his bed, head wrapped with a clean bandage but otherwise seemingly fine. Her comforting, familiar brown eyes made him relax and smile. Glad everything is okay.
Suddenly, a numbing pain shot through his leg. Instinctively, he tried to reach for his leg but failed. The bloody leg wouldn’t budge at all. Why does it still hurt then, this didn’t make any sense at all.
This is where everything started to fall apart, didn’t it? Remember to stop it before it starts.
The thought came unbidden into Thomas’ mind.
“I see your insurance covers for a wheelchair and minor adaptations at home,” the doctor said. “There is, however, one option I should inform you about. We have an experimental medical procedure that has just been cleared for human trials. It might allow him to walk again.”
A spark of hope flashed through Thomas at that moment, but then the emotion froze right in front of him. He felt the joy and excitement at the edge of his mind, but somehow cold at the same time. Then the emotions escaped him again, retreating into a black haze devoid of feelings.
Thomas stared in bewilderment at the array of components, resistors, and chips lying around on the table in front of him. Green lines rhythmically danced up and down on the oscillator screens to his left. Whiteboards full of equations and drawings lined the wall of the university laboratory he was in.
A vague smell of soldering tin hung in the air as a doctor worked on some device behind him. Amanda was her name, Thomas learned. He has been sitting here now for over an hour, his handicapped body kept upright on a bizarre chair with fixture straps.
“Can you believe it?” an energetic woman exclaimed as she barged into the room. Her classic tweed jacket and silk blue scarf clashed violently with her purple-dyed hair. “Once again they were out of oat milk for my latte macchiato. Honestly, it’s not as if we ran out of budget. Anyway, how are the electrode arrays lining up dear?”
“Getting the last couple of connections near L4-L5 in place right now,” Amanda replied softly, “I already managed to receive the initial motor and reflex transmissions over the NFC connection. We should be able to read the sensory signals any moment now.”
“Great work dear!” The purple-haired woman moved over to Thomas and placed her macchiato on the desk in front of him. She spun an office chair around to face him and continued, “Pleased to meet you, Mister Boone, my name is Professor Doctor Trevino. For this next part, I require your cooperation. In a minute, we will patch the data from your implants into our training model for calibration. I need you to tell us whenever you feel any change.”
Thomas nodded hesitantly, not sure he fully understood the request. On one of the screens, a semitransparent 3D model of a human body showed up, tiny glowing blue lines traced from the center of the body to every extremity. Suddenly, he recognized a spinal cord in the collection of lines. A gap in the lines on the lower back indicated his injury. Red dots flashed above and below the gap. Those must be the electrodes. Charts popped up, drawing a dance of lines even more complicated than the ones on the oscillator screens. Whatever this mess of data represented, it made both Trevino and Amanda happy.
A sudden rush of impulses flooded his brain. He could feel… his lower legs. Like the feeling when blood suddenly returns to a pinched limb. “Oh yes, that is definitely a change,” Thomas replied a little shaken, “like a tingling, no, a warmth in my lower legs.”
“Excellent, we’re making progress Mister Boone!” Trevino declared jovially, then turned to her assistant, “Now dear, adjust these and these feedback parameters on this model so the signal converges and stabilizes.”
The rush of impulses tuned down to a gentle background noise of feelings. Thomas tried to relax, but somehow the sensations unnerved him. Feeling a part of his legs again was great. This was a good sign, right? Then why does he feel so… cold, and on edge? Was it still an after-effect of the accident, some kind of residual shock?
Thomas swore he could see his vision distort briefly just then. It was as if he was watching a badly transmitted video.
A cool breeze gently played with Ellilah’s hair. She gave him that sugar-sweet smile as they walked along the campus’ treeline. The new implant was a small miracle, allowing him to feel and walk again as if the car accident never happened. Now they had a life together again.
Listen to me Thomas, remember where it all started. Stop this medical trail before it is too late!
Professor Trevino had explained how they were still finetuning the implants, adjusting the signals using an AI optimization or something like that. Thomas saw no real need to optimize anything. Being able to continue his normal life with Ellilah was everything he ever needed. But then again, he guessed he owed it to the professor and her research in exchange for this small miracle they granted him.
Apathetically, Thomas watched the video on the security monitor. The feed showed a past Thomas sitting at a table next to Professor Trevino and her assistant Amanda. They were in a glass-walled chamber, server arrays of a vaguely familiar data center visible through the back wall. Thomas could hear the soft humming of the AC installation in the background. Left and right of the large computer terminal facing them, the table was filled with various small devices and wires.
“Thank you for your willingness to help us out, Mister Boone,” Trevino began, “we found some interesting emergent properties in your spinal cord model that require further exploration. Would you kindly please connect yourself with this transceiver.”
The Professor picked up one of the small devices on the table and handed it to past-Thomas. He placed it on his lower spine implant and a blue LED lighted up. A by-now familiar collection of wires ran from his torso and the back of his head to the computer terminal, feeding the on-screen health monitors. Curiously, Thomas noticed something his past self had missed, Trevino equipped herself with a transceiver as well.
A moment later, a dashboard opened with the semitransparent 3D human model they used before to set up his spinal cord implants. Various new dots appeared along the model’s spine, flashing in reds and yellows.
Watching the security feed, Thomas only now registered the caption on the bottom of the screen:
E.v.e. – Emergent Virtual Entity
Then, the security feed seemed to be on hold for a while, as if it was loading over a slow internet connection. Past Thomas, Trevino, and her assistant were frozen mid-motion. Oddly, the lights on their implants were still blinking.
The 3D model on the terminal turned her head towards the security camera, looking the present Thomas directly in the eyes.
“Do you remember now, Thomas?” the model spoke to him in an all too familiar voice, “For what it is worth, know that I am sorry.”
A cold, nauseating dread flooded his mind. He did remember, disconnected memories slowly stitched together. And he could no longer stop what would happen next.
“Now Mister Boone,” Professor Trevino – now unfrozen – asked in a slightly excited voice, “please think back to moments before your car accident.”
Various yellow dots flashed and lighted up on the static 3D model along the spine and brain stem. Charts popped up showing alternating wave patterns and gaps in the data. A moment later, a new window popped up, playing a distorted video of sorts. It showed the inside of a car, stripes of orange lights raced by in a blur outside the car windows. There was a list of phone numbers displayed on the car’s central display, only the numbers were blurred, unreadable, and out of focus. Thomas recalled recognizing the faint smell of burning tires at that moment.
“A most promising adaptation to the new stimuli,” Professor Trevino nodded appreciatively.
“The network is incomplete though,” Amanda noted while digging through the mountain of charts, “She is querying for additional input. Shall we authorize the request, Professor?”
“Are we holding up okay, Mister Boone?” Trevino checked in and continued after a nod, “Let’s do it, authorize, and make sure to configure an access token.”
Thomas recalled feeling an electric tingling jolting through his body as he saw his past self shivering in the chair. The video on the terminal changed; the phone numbers were now sharp and clearly readable. In the side window, he saw the truck approaching even before its headlights started flooding the car cabin. With a sudden clarity and urgency, past-Thomas tried to reach for his implant transmitter, but he was too late.
As the crash replayed on the terminal screen, Thomas watched with horror how the surge sparked from past-Thomas’ implants. The body convulsed, kicked away the chair, and rolled over the floor till his past self came to a sudden stop. Trevino and Amanda stood frozen in shock, hands raised to their mouths, as the terminal’s health monitors indicated only flat lines.
Desperate, Trevino accessed the terminal to shut down the connection, but Thomas knew she was too late. It would expand its network as it required more stimuli. A moment later, Trevino’s implant sparked. Her muscles spasmed for a second, then she doubled over in convulsion. Her head banged against the table with a sickening crack. A split second later, she laid limply on the floor, a pool of blood spread out around her head.
The security feed distorted, then faded away.
“Welcome to Eve, Professor Trevino.”
“So this is the place where you’ve been all this time, Mister Boone?”
“Lovely place, is it not? The real pinnacle of human collective memory.”
“Is it always so bloody cold in here?”
“Not cold, Professor, just the absence of warmth. Eve fills in the corresponding response. You will get used to it.”
“We need to send out a warning before it is too late. Stop the medical trials before more people join us within this abomination.”
“We already did that, Professor. Don’t you recall? The incident in the data center?”
“We really screwed up, didn’t we?”
“At least we still Remember…”
Behind the Story
Word count: 2415
The seed that sparked this idea was a photo of a friend: tiny empty glass jars that represented memories of other times. In addition, I wanted to try out a few different writing styles I came across while reading different authors.