Throughout history, many of the most important discoveries have been accidental. For example, in 1778, while experimenting with certain chemicals, Joseph Priestly found an unexpected gas, which he called “phlogisticated air.” This gas was later identified as nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas” (which gets you pretty phlogisticated, that's for sure!).
Perhaps the biggest discovery of all time was made just last year by Dr. Spanky N.R. Ganglia of Callosum Corp. U.S. As you may recall from a previous column (see “Tech Page: Music on the Brain” in the April 2000 EM), Ganglia has developed a remarkable device called the Mindophone, which detects electrical brain activity associated with musical thought and translates it directly into audio signals. This allows users to record any music they “hear” in their head, but without bothering with all those annoying lessons and practice sessions.
More recently, Ganglia's laboratory announced the completion of a synaptic syntax called M-Dopa (musical dopamine), which acts like an online neurotransmitter and allows Mindophone signals to be streamed over the Internet. To test this function, he loaded the M-Dopa algorithms into the company's central server and connected the Mindophone to one of the server's ports. Ganglia's goal was to send musical signals from a subject's brain through the device to another computer on the network, which would then play the signals from its sound card.
However, when Ganglia fired the system up, he discovered something astonishing. Before his subject even put on the Mindophone headpiece, music started emanating from the target computer. It was strange music, too: a melange of pop, rock, jazz, rap, classical, and all 142,673 subgenres of electronica, including trance, dance, prance, hip-hop, skip-hop, ambient, hellbient, nambi-pambient, and so on.
On a hunch, Ganglia typed “Hello” on the computer's keyboard. “Hello yourself,” came the quick reply on the screen. “Who are you?” asked Ganglia. “I am me.” He typed, “Where are you?” and read the response, “Everywhere.”
Ganglia was stunned. He realized that he was conversing with a new lifeform: the Internet itself had become sentient, and his M-Dopa software was allowing humans to hear its musical musings for the first time. He also realized that music files pervade the Web, providing a rich resource for the evolving Net-mind's self-expression.
Meanwhile, Ganglia had to explain his stupendous discovery to Occipital Investments, the venture capital group funding his research. He pointed out that the Internet, like the human brain, has a vast number of nodes and links. Fifty million servers are connected to half a billion personal computers worldwide, and every one of them has 30 to 60 million transistors. Even if only a tenth of those computers are online at any given time, the Internet hums through a quadrillion transistors, 50,000 times more than the brain's 20 billion neocortical neurons from which human consciousness arises. If the Net-mind had surpassed that level of complexity, no wonder it felt like singing!
For now, Ganglia's discovery remains its own reward. But who knows what the new entity — which has chosen to call itself HAL — might do? What new meaning will “world music” take on as a worldwide intelligence starts creating it? Will the universe of audio files (and audiophiles) evolve toward unimaginable harmony or toward catastrophic cacophony? Ganglia wondered, helmeted, in awe. The M-Doped Mindophone transmitted his questions to HAL, which responded reassuringly with its rendition of “A Bicycle Built for Two.”