It can be both exciting and unsettling when science fiction tropes start to turn up in reality. And from the Borg to Skynet to Neuromancer to that hilarious sketch in Portlandia's pilot featuring "mind-fi," the integration of minds and computers has become one of the most feared and maligned visions of our future.
That's probably why, in World Wide Mind: The Coming Integration of Humanity, Machines, and the Internet, Michael Chorost takes pains to lay out recent advances in relevant brain and software technology without sensationalizing them. Offering himself as an example of successful computer integration—Chorost is deaf, but uses cochlear implants—he summarizes fascinating neurological research. There is a reason why science publishing is currently dominated by neurological bestsellers: mysteries of the brain are swiftly unraveling while incredible discoveries are giving way to even more profound questions. 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. It's not easy to break down scientific endeavors like optogenics, wearable computer rigs and EEG "mind-reading" caps while simultaneously examining sociological problems such as the slow dissolution of physical communities in the wake of the internet, chemical addiction to email-checking and the radical redefinition of the words "privacy" and "individual" would undergo in a networked consciousness, all for a general audience. But Chorost is careful to follow every new concept with precise analogs. 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.