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SimStim

SimStim is a concept first created in the VR novel Neuromancer, penned in 1984 by William Gibson.

Cowboys didn't get into simstim, he thought, because it was basically a meat toy. He knew that the trodes he used and the little plastic tiara dangling from a simstim deck were basically the same, and that the cyberspace matrix was basically a drastic simplification of the human sensorium, at least in terms of presentation, but the simstim itself struck him as a gratuitous multiplication of flesh input. The commercial stuff was edited, of course, so that if Tally Isham got a headache in the course of a segment, you didn't feel it.
William Gibson's
Neuromancer, page 55

Then he keyed the new switch.
The abrupt jolt into other flesh. Matrix gone, a wave of sound and colour…She was moving through a crowded street, past stalls vending discount software, prices feltpenned on sheets of plastic, fragments of music from countless speakers. Smells of urine, free monomers, perfume, patties of frying krill. For a few frightened seconds he fought helplessly to control her body. Then he willed himself into passivity, became the passenger behind her eyes.
William Gibson's
Neuromancer, page 56

SimStim is literally Simulated Stimulation, and is a logical parallel to VR. Rather than experiencing a full VR or AR experience in which your mind is placed inside a metaverse matrix, a completely simulated reality; or the joys of physical reality -meatspace- with additional VR components grafted on, SimStim opens up a third possibility.

Viewing the world through another person's eyes, hearing with their ears, feeling with their skin, smelling with their nose. Full sensory stimulation of another person, total passivity.

It is a fascinating concept, and one which retains the passive entertainment drive of TV, within a VR capable world.

You would still 'watch' a TV program, but experience it through the senses of one of the main characters. Of course, a large degree of VR editing of the TV broadcast would be necessary for dramas, and soap operas, but for events such as sports, feeling the adrenaline rush of one of the players, or the despair of defeat the losing player(s) feel themselves at the moment of loss, would be immensely powerful.

The film Strange Days, is dedicated to the concerpt of SimStim. Time and again through the film, you see models of a helmet-like interlaced affair, almost like a hair net, but rigid, which fits snugly over the cranium, from the top of the forehead to the back of the neck.

Small enough to fit under a wig or hat, the device is connected by a thin wire to a computer pack elsewhere on the body. It is designed specifically to record and playback brain impulses. It records the electrochemical composition of many key areas of the brain carefully, to the point that all sensory input is recorded and preserved, along with emotional responses, activation of the pleasure centre, and more. All continuing in one long recording, for the duration the active recordiong array is being worn.

A Strange Days SimStim Recording array
A Strange Days SimStim Recording array

The resulting file can be played back through a different array, this one designed not to record, but to superimpose, and create electrical patterns just like those on the recording, in the recipient's brain. Their nerve pathways fire the same as the original did, their sensory pathways, standard, hardwired in the brain fire, giving them the smells, the tastes, sounds, sights and touches of the originator. Basal emotions from the most primitive to the complex form as they feel just how the recording person felt. They see what the recorder saw, feel what the recorder felt, for the duration of the recording.

A Strange Days SimStim playback array
A Strange Days SimStim playback array

Many examples throughout the film show how good this technology could be - at one point a wheelchair-bound both-legs amputee man is given a birthday present of a recording of someone running along a beach, looking at their feet as the waves lap across them. Via this technology, every sight, smell and feeling is bypassed from the senses and played directly into their brain. What a wonderful gift it would truly be.

On the flip side, all media covering SimStim does explore the darker aspects of the technology. You could never guarantee completely, a conversation with one individual is just between you and them. If the individual has prosthetic enhancements in their brain, one of them could be a SimStim connector.

Strange Days covered the potential ability to fry the neurons in the brain from a blast of over stimulation from a carefully prepared fake recording. Such a blast could realistically fry the synapses, taking out the higher functions, leaving a subject a mindless vegetable, but not legally dead.

This technology is made all the more real by recent developments in neuroscience that point to what the device offers, actually being possible, if not quite with us yet. Crude versions of the Strange Days recording array already exist, and, as the ability to manipulate electrochemical fields emerges and fine tunes in resolution, it is not far fetched to see playback arrays in the not so distant future.

It is only a snall step from the film Strange Days, with it's purely prerecorded tapes, to the book Neuromancer, with recorder streaming signals over the internet, to the reciever, experiencing as they experience, in real-time.

With the technology being theoretically possible, the issues addressed with it throughout cyberpunk fiction, and quite likely, eventually our reality, are potent, and certainly worthy of serious thought.

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