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Monday, December 1, 2003

The Online Brain

Carl was not the first to try out the technology. But he was the first in his town. Connecting the brain to the ’Net was still quite new and not yet fashionable.
When people asked him “What time is it?” he fired “12:32” or “11:20” back at them, without as much as the blink of an eye. When he wanted to know when the bus would arrive he just fell into a split-second of self-contemplation and knew the answer. Much like looking for a memory it needed a bit of conscious training to become part of his subconsciousness.

Carl was not the first of his kind, yet most started at him with a mix of awe and laughter. They saw guys like him in the news. To them he was a modern day wizard; idiot savant; part techno-geek, part omniscient. Always surprising to bystanders who didn’t know his secret (there were no visible signs on his head or anything).

“What’s the birth-date of Einstein?” - “14 March 1879.”
“What day did Lincoln become President?” - “In 1860.”
“How big is the earth?” - “That’s around 24,000 miles in circumference around the equator.”
“Who won the Oscar for best actor in 1940?” - “... James Stewart.”
(Instead of Einstein’s birthday, they could have asked him to point out errors in the Theory of Relativity, but they would stick to trivial facts. Carl realized no outsider could ever understand what virtual memory retrieval was all about.)

After a short while, Carl’s brain synapses fully embraced the chip. He integrated the system so completely is became hard for him to truthfully answer his wife:
“Did you know that, or just look it up online?”
“I forgot. What’s the difference?”

Carl’s wife was not the first wife to go through these stages of alienation. Others had been there before with their partners, family or friends. In fact Carl could recite many stories, word by word, reading out loud from what was online – what was in his head. Until his wife would get enough of it and close the light. Which wouldn’t let Carl stop his reading. Darkness was just what he needed to sort through the daily mails which arrived in his brain.

Transferring thoughts (images, sounds, fragrances) back and forth; swimming the shared waves of world consciousness; being a part of, and helping to build, this eternal soul; merging peacefully with others who once were offline identities, like Carl once was. Like his wife still was.

It didn’t take Carl much to convince her to get the brain implant, to become connected. She felt she was losing him, the man she loved for all her life; losing him to a future of a world she was scared to be a part of. If only she knew before what she knew now. She would have done it earlier. It was all so easy in the end.

Nietzsche. Kant. Hegel. Wittgenstein. Checking, reading, understanding, comparing. Cross-checking; validating; linking; feeling. 200 books, 300 books. Knowledge - freedom - control - relaxation. Wisdom. That was only the first hour. Many more would follow.

No, Carl wasn’t the first, and by far his wife wouldn’t be the last to try out this technology. She grabbed for his hand and he for hers as they walked the park, and sat down on the bench. Shielding their eyes from the evening sun, looking up to the birds drawing circles above them, and then looking down again and at each other; smiling, understanding, and loving each other. There was no need for communication anymore when you know just what the other knows – what the rest of humanity knows.
They knew.
And they smiled.

Google Word Stemming

Barry Welford reports on Google’s new Stemming technology. Searching for “smoking detector” will return top results including “smoke detector”, the word “smoke” being highlighted. This is a radical change and what’s interesting: when you exclude a dummy word, stemming won’t be used. (Looking for “smoking detector -ueoneru” will not find “smoke detector”.) Which gives a new spin on many of the recent Florida theories.

Similar to Google synonyms (using the “~"-operator), you can find out all words Google uses for stemming by excluding bolded words during the next search. E.g. “smoking detector -smoke -smoking“ shows there are no more words in the list.

Also see the official Google help on the topic.


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