Set in the immediate future, social network evolves with the advancement of 10G network and a major breakthrough in medicine. Giant tech companies raced to develop state of the art VR technology which allows user to experience extreme time dilation in a simulation and it includes powerful features such as multiplayer mode and solo. The tech promised user can experience accelerated passage of time by a factor of 100 times compared to the physical world with the help of a special chipset implants and experimental drug, similar to dreaming it will signal the brain to release chemical to inhibit muscle movement as a safety measure. Before I get too excited to announce the product for crowd funding, I like to know if this whole thing is feasible and if so what kind of side effects must I paste on the back of the packaging?


You cannot trivially overclock a human brain. You are limited by various important things, including the speed at which signals propagate along axons, and the maximum signal pulse rate, limited by the refractory period of nerve cells. You'll need to increase both, and you'll need to increase them proportionally and throughout the brain so that the brain processes like consciousness that critically depend on synchronisation throught the brain continue to function.

What you need for your overclocking VR, then, is not a high bandwidth network connection but a better kind of human brain. The two classic scifi approaches here are either neuron-by-neuron replacement by nanoscale computing devices, where each synthetic neuron perfectly replicates the behaviour of the one it replaces, or Moravec-style uploading where each neuron is replaced by a network connection to a computer where it is simulated in software (I think this might be the ur-example of "mind uploading"). Once you've got rid of the squishy wetware and replaced it with much faster processing and signalling hardware, or a more flexible software simulation, you have much more freedom to up the clock rate.

If you want your meatbag customers to remain meatbags, then you'll need to handwave some nondestructive mind-uploading process, run a copy of their mind in simulation for a while, and then handwave a merge process which would let you modify the original meat-template such that it has had the subjective experience of the simulated copy.

Naturally all this messing around is going to cause all sorts of social and psychological issues, such as handling the rights and responsibilities of an individual who can now exist and act as multiple distinct instances, and the fact that you can now modify a human mind to have an arbitrary set of simulated memories. It probably won't be popular with anyone who believe that souls exist, or meat is special and unique, or has problems with the rather illusory nature of their own consciousness and sense of self. That probably covers quite a large chunk of the human race.

What I suggest you do first is to upload your marketing department and a bunch of philosophers and have them work for a hundred years or so on ways to persuade people that your terrifying mind-devouring borg machine revolutionary entertainment platform is soomething that they absolutely want and need in their lives. Whilst they're doing that, your engineers can be working for a similar length of time on improvng the system. Then one year later, in meat-time, you'll be ready to go and everyone will be happy.

And then you should read The 21 Second God by Peter Watts.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ ...or it could reveal that souls definitely exist, because the simulation just doesn't work. Or the soul leaves the "meatbag" to inhabit the simulation instead. Or... well, there are all sorts of interesting possibilities you could explore! You might want to check out Children of the Mind for some inspiration along those lines... $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 30 '19 at 16:47

Feasible to an extent. Neurons can only fire so fast, and 10G is only so much data. It's unlikely 10G would be anywhere near enough for a true VR experience - especially if you're doing a multiplayer thing. Furthermore, everyone's brain has a vastly different layout of neurons, so the "instructions" for neurons in one person may be different from another.

But let's hand-wave over both of those issues for now; let's say the communication pipe is large enough, and the medical advances are enough to reliably stimulate the brain for a pre-defined experience. Even then, the neurons can only fire so fast, so that will be a limiting experience on that time-dilation factor.

Inside of a sci-fi story there is enough truth here to make this believable. Especially because you're claiming significantly different internet and medical tech that we haven't got to yet. So it's feasible enough for a story, IMO. Now let's talk about side effects:

Potential side effects include:

  • memory loss - this should be a no brainer (ha - see what I did there?). Screwing around with neurons that quickly, especially for prolonged exposure, can result in permanent memory loss
  • temporary or permanent psychosis - I suggest you do research into meth induced psychosis as an example of how stimulants can create long-lasting psychotic symptoms in users which mirrors paranoid schizophrenia almost identically. When you blast that many signals in your brains that quickly, neurons will become "re-aligned" (for lack of a better explanation).
  • death - in rare cases, people may have allergic responses which cause organ failure. Or, some may spend so much time in the unit it disrupts the brain's normal functions to the point of interfering with essential functioning. This may be a quick or slow death (in the sense the brain functioning may become impaired to the point where the brain begins to degrade for days/weeks/months/years to the point of death)
  • depression and/or mental illness - similar to the psychotic breaks, emotional mood disorders like boderline, histrionic, or bipolar disorders may become manifest. Explaining this would take a much longer post than I can write on this site, but anything that deals with rapid emotions or impulse control would be a possible side effect.
  • muscle spasms, restless leg syndrome, etc - both as a result of the chemicals which impair muscle functioning, as well as the actual VR experience itself.
  • paralysis - like muscle spams, just extreme and permanent. Even if your medical tech is solid in 99.999% of people, that leaves 0.001% of the population subject to paralysis or... death.
  • dissociativity and inappropriate affect - enough time in VR may make that your "base reality". This is huge. When people play games it's important they realize they're playing a game - that's why there's no correlation between violence in games and violence in real life. Violent people may seek out violent games, but violent games do not take non-violent people and make them violent. However, if you start to view real life as the game and VR as your reality, then you'll lose the emotional connection to violence, relationships, intimacy, self-care, etc. You'll start viewing VR not as dreaming but as "waking up".
  • PTSD and dissociativity (the other kind) - memories aren't physical things stored in your brain, but patterns of neurons firing. It's possible enough time in your VR space may make it so that situations in real life "trigger" memories from VR. You can think of this like PTSD in war survivors: a car backfiring breaks them from reality and suddenly they truly believe they are back in a trench in the war fighting for their lives. This can happen in a similar way with your VR - a situation, emotion, interaction, etc, could "break" the user into a state where they suddenly start thinking they are in the VR world; they will see, hear, and feel as though they are in VR even though they are not.
  • inability to escape - because your VR is just stimulating the brain (ie, the "VR" is actually the user's mind doing the work, not the tech), then it's possible this may become irreversible, and the user becomes permanently stuck in the VR. Cue The Matrix soundtrack. Or red pill / blue pill. Or Inception. In your story something similar is possible, albeit in rare cases.

Obviously I could go on, but I'll stop there. The impact on social, family relationships, random health issues, are all things that you can probably extrapolate from this list. It's all about how safe you want your fictional world to be ;)


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