Soma

I continue to be impressed by the foresight of Brave New World. If we are living in a dystopian reality predicted by a book from our past it is the Huxlean version in my opinion. We are not oppressed in the Orwellian sense, but instead pacified by Netflix’s “feelies” and the “soma” dished out by social media. Postman was right.

I uncovered a further link between Huxley’s work and our present condition earlier this week. In learning more about how neural networks (a popular branch of artificial intelligence) attempt to mimic the behaviour of the human brain I discovered that the soma (the drug from Brave New World) is itself a part of a neuron! What’s more, in very simplistic terms, the soma is responsible processing for the information that is passed to the neuron. So, if you were looking to name a drug that modifies the behaviour of your citizenry, this would be a particularly apt name.

Let’s take this a step further.

If the calculations carried out in the “hidden layers” of a neural network are, by design, analogous to the soma in the neurons of our brain. And artificial intelligence via neural networks are already taking decision making away from humans on a daily basis. You see through the metaphors that Huxley himself presented, that we are living in the world he predicted. Soma is not a drug, it is the opaque calculations carried out in the hidden layers of AI that dominate our daily lives and modify our behaviour in often imperceptible ways.

Someone once said to me that reading a great book more than once was more satisfying than reading lots of books.

When it comes to Brave New World, they were right.

Daniel Bower

Blogging about platform regulation: algorithms, interoperability, kill zones as well as other bits and bobs. Read about my research, or read more about me.