The life that they knew was gone. Nothing would be the same. Not now. Maria stared out into the storm, her window thrumming as wind flung rain hard against it. Part of her wondered why they were even bothering to carry on. It didn’t look as if their work would ever be needed. There were bigger things to worry about.
“Maria, I think you should look at this.”
The climate had finally delivered on its promise. Incremental changes had led to this point, but despite warnings of what was coming they hadn’t been prepared. Even now, days after the storm’s peak, the malevolent clouds remained, spitting misery over the country. She’d heard that the evacuation of London had finally started, far too late for the thousands already dead. And still parliament remained divided on how best to deal with the crisis. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.
She got up from her workstation. “What?”
Josh’s screen was covered in blooms of pulsating light. She watched as he expertly manipulated the neural recording, diving into the three-dimensional model, heading down towards the brainstem before spinning back. Neural activity ebbed and flowed across the twin hemispheres of the brain. From this viewpoint it was similar to ghost lights shimmering across the Arctic sky.
Even though she had been studying neural recordings all her adult life, Maria had only a vague idea of what this subject had been thinking. By sight she could read core emotions—whether a person was happy, sad, fearful. What she couldn’t do, looking cold like this, was understand what had caused those emotions. As she’d explained to Josh when he’d first arrived, the human brain wasn’t a book with each word identical from copy to copy. When an individual thinks of an object, that object is intertwined with a thousand other factors. If a person had once owned a dog as a well-loved family pet, when they thought of the word dog the pleasure centres of their brain would activate; if they had been attacked by a dog as a child, fear and pain centres would fire. Maria had spent her life capturing thousands of neural recordings to see if she could identify a common brain language, but after many years of trying she had come to realise that each had its own vocabulary, related but separate from one another, as unique as a fingerprint.
“Have a look at this recording and tell me what you see.”
Maria snapped back from her thoughts and studied the screen. The clarity was truly astounding; each individual synapse captured as it fired. Josh panned out to make the whole brain visible and a familiar pattern emerged. “The subject is thinking about something painful,” she said. The pattern would have looked very different if the subject had been experiencing actual pain.
“Now look at this.” Josh brought up a second recording. “I’ve run analytics and it’s identical to the first.”
The pattern appeared to be the same, although it was impossible for her to tell for sure just by looking. “OK, so they were thinking about the same event. Perhaps somebody repeated a question.”
Josh turned to her, excitement lighting up his face. It was the first time she’d ever seen him smile. “You would think so, but the first is a recording and the second a simulation. I fed the set of recordings into the neural simulator and this is what it produced.”
“I don’t remember saying you could use the neural simulator.” She regretted snapping at him as soon as she had spoken. He shouldn’t have used it without asking—the neural simulator was her baby—but she also knew that Josh had no comprehension of why he would need to ask her permission. There were some things he just didn’t understand.
“I wanted to know if the level of detail captured in these recordings could make a difference to what we’ve been able to produce so far.” He brought up another set of recordings, oblivious to her annoyance.
The second set looked less distinct than the set they had just seen, not as clearly defined. “This information came from our old scanning technology. I fed the data into the simulator then ran both the recorded and simulated processes side by side. As you can see, the two veer away from each other over time.” He brought up another set. “If you look at this recording and simulation using the new scanners, you can see that the patterns of the two feeds remain consistent. The synthetic brain matches the biological one.”
Maria tried to contain her excitement. “How often have you run this test?”
“Five times so far, all from different points in the recording. I know I need to do further tests, but I’m confident they’ll just confirm the results I’ve already seen.”
Had they done it? Had they finally produced a fully functioning neural simulator? Her mind raced at the implications. They would no longer be reliant on human test subjects. They could run millions of simulations simultaneously, condense years of research into a few days.
“Run those tests. I’ll need further confirmation before we can publish, but it looks like you’re on to something. Well done.”
Energised for the first time in months, Maria turned to leave but Josh grabbed her arm, pulling her back. “Wait, I haven’t finished.”
He was pointing at the screen. “I’ve known for a while that the simulator works. All it needed was the right quality of information. That isn’t why I called you over. This is what I wanted you to see.” There were two new recordings running side by side. From a first look, they appeared the same, synaptic blooms ebbing and flowing as if synchronised. “These two sets are identical. The one on the left is the original, the right is a simulation. The analytics say they are the same down to the synaptic level. The point is, they were instigated from two different start points.”
“So the simulator is able to reproduce a known pattern?”
“No, you don’t understand. I started the simulation from a point two minutes before the original subject suffered a fatal stroke. As the simulation isn’t affected by biological weaknesses, it kept running. It’s been going like this for days, way past the point where the original subject died.”
“I don’t understand the excitement. It’s great that the simulator can reproduce patterns that have already been seen, but it just means that the simulator is doing what it was designed to do.”
“But it isn’t just matching the odd pattern. The original recording was taken from months previous. The neural simulator is matching activity seen in the original but never sent through as part of the data transfer. And not just once or twice but hour after hour after hour.” Josh looked at Maria, the smile back on his face. “I don’t think it’s a simulation any more. I think we’ve brought the subject back to life.”
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© Dylan S Hearn 2014