Scientific skepticism is Dr. Steven Novella’s bread and butter. As president of the New England Skeptics’ Society, his mission is to promote science and critical thinking. Novella casts the light of evidence on a range of complicated topics on his blog and his podcast, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe.
In his latest book, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Future, Novella, also a Yale neurologist, looks ahead with a critical eye, attempting to realistically forecast the future rather than falling for the hype that commonly accompanies futurism. Among the panoply of topics he touches upon is the notion of neural reality, which would be the ultimate expression of virtual reality.
“With neural reality, you don’t have to strap on glasses or deal with issues of safety or a disconnect between the physical and virtual worlds,” he wrote. “Neural reality [uses] a brain-machine interface to directly feed the virtual world into your mind.”
There would be no clunky headset nor handheld controllers.
It “completely replaces your sensory input and motor output with a virtual world, while you, for example, lie safely in bed,” he described.
Neural reality sounds too futuristic to be possible. But Novella, an expert neurologist, says it’s certainly coming.
“There is no reason to think that this technology is not possible; it is only a question of how long it will take and how good the technology will be.”
One could imagine this tech being used compassionately at first. People suffering “locked in” syndrome might be the first to use it, followed by quadriplegics. Then it might be the old and infirm who live out their final days in fantastical worlds inside their minds. Eventually, however, neural reality could turn dystopian, or utopian, depending upon how you want to look at it.
“There’s no question it will be seductive to live in a virtual world where you can have literal godlike power,” Novella commented.
Eventually, almost everyone might decide to “take the blue pill” and choose to live in neural reality.
As Novella notes, this may be the answer to the Fermi paradox, which calls attention to the lack of evidence for intelligent alien life despite how common it should be in our Universe. Maybe aliens are safely ensconced underground, being cared for by robots, whilst contentedly dwelling within their own minds.