My research:

In the real world the technology to read and interpret the human brain has been arround for almost a century now and the idea of controlling devices with your brain has been around for around half a of that

''Research on BCIs began in the 1970s by Jacques Vidal at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) under a grant from the National Science Foundation, followed by a contract from DARPA''

Back when programmers were just starting to write code on computers and not on paper cards, people already knew it was possible to control something with your mind.

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Monkey operating a robotic arm with brain–computer interfacing (Schwartz lab, University of Pittsburgh)

In 1969 the operant conditioning studies of Fetz and colleagues, at the Regional Primate Research Center and Department of Physiology and Biophysics, University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, showed for the first time that monkeys could learn to control the deflection of a biofeedback meter arm with neural activity.[33] Similar work in the 1970s established that monkeys could quickly learn to voluntarily control the firing rates of individual and multiple neurons in the primary motor cortex if they were rewarded for generating appropriate patterns of neural activity.

I remember in the news back in 2008 or so, some kids playing ping pong with a ball controlled by their brain and things like that have been around since 1990, nowadays one can play games like world of warcraft or counter strike and any other game using brain electronics.

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What does it mean

That mind control not only was already a fantastical idea back in the years of mythology but the technology required to make it possible isn't that advanced.

nowadays people can make giant computers in minecraft using 2-3 active devices, for control, input and output. One can effectivelly be playing another computer game inside a computer created in minecraft...

The same thing can be mimicked with a giant medieval computer made of wood and metal. (more on that on another question)

What I desire

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More details

-Technology level : scandivian europe first millenia (after christ)

-Earth like planet

-Fantasy, low magic

-European medieval solarcore culture

-Fantasy tropes of early and pre medieval mythology are real, going from the greek griffons and romanian strigoi to the nordic elves and dwarves or the roman cacus and everything inbetween

Those born without magic can learn the language of magic runes, encrypting this language onto objects gives them functions with specified responses based on specific inputs.

The artificial mages learned that they can mimic fire magic by encrypting stones with functions that make them heat surprisingly fast one activated with the desired method.... like when being thrown they will instantly heat up to a specified temperature and consume the energy of the caster to create oily substances...

turning a stone with some writings on it into a powerful re-usable molotov, they can also make other things like self constructing tools that active at will, and pretty much anything they can encode as long as the artificial mage has enough energy.

Ok now that we know how runes work.

I want drones that fly around the Artificial Mage, they keep afloat by spinning in the air. The drones are a swarm, controlled by the brain of the artificial mage, they can be used for self defense, mobility, to scout around or to move objects around like amazon drones.


I want to know what method would enable the user to control as many drones as possible.

Control requires the user to know and decide the tridimensional position,vector and rotation of each drone, if the user has like 1000 drones flying around but can't answer to the question ''what exactly is drone C-33 doing in this moment?" then it means they don't actually control the drones

More research(on the capacity of the brain to process stuff compared to computers)


On the other hand, the brain has about 1e15 synapses, making it analogous to five million contemporary 200 million transistor chip "cores". link

How many GHz is a human brain? Comparing computer and brain frequencies, Bostrom notes that “biological neurons operate at a peak speed of about 200 Hz, a full seven orders of magnitude slower than a modern microprocessor (∼2 GHz).”6 It is important to note that clock speed, alone, does not fully characterize the performance of a processor. link

Research on multi-tasking for controlling and doing many things at once

One way we can examine the effects of multitasking on behavior and the demands it places on relevant brain networks is by analyzing “task switch costs.” A switch costis a reduction in performance accuracy or speed that results from shifting between tasks. Arich body of research in psychological science has documented that the behavioral costs of task switching are typically unavoidable: individuals almost always take longer to complete a task and do so with more errors when switching between tasks than when they stay with one task. Neuroimaging work from our lab and others has helped to highlight the effects of task switching in the brain. In one functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, we had subjects classify stimuli on one of three dimensions (color, shape, or pattern). In terms of behavior, one finding was that subjects took longer to classify stimuli in switch trials (i.e., where the task had changed from the previous trial) compared to stay trials (i.e., where the task stayed the same). In terms of the brain, we found that frontoparietal regions––including those of the frontoparietal control and dorsal attention networks––were more responsive during switch than stay trials. In fact, consistent with the view that multitasking creates heightened neurocognitive demands, the strength of task representation in the control network was greater when subjects switched to a new task than when they stayed with the same task. This means that when we switch from one task to another, it requires more neural processing because we have to bring back to mind the new task’s representation and then use it to allocate attention to information that is relevant to perform the new task. As a consequence, when we switch between tasks, we lose the benefits of automaticity and efficiency that come from staying focused on a single task. Studies from other labs have reached similar conclusions. One fMRI studyexamined the effects of switching between tasks: subjects performed a single task repeatedly or two tasks intermixed in a block of trials. Response times were slower during task-switch blocks, and brain patterns reflected this effect. Nodes of the frontoparietal control network and dorsal attention network were more active during switch blocks, revealing increased neurocognitive demands associated with switching. From developmental studies, we have learned that older individuals often exhibit reduced abilities to selectively attend to and engage cognitive control in support of goal-directed behavior. Age-related fMRI studies provide initial hints as to what neural changes make multitasking (or task switching) particularly challenging for older adults. In one, older adults’ diminished multitasking ability was associated with reduced connectivity between brain networks of attention, control, and memory, compared to young adults. Psychological science and neuroscience indicate that our minds are taxed by multitasking. When we attempt it, we must engage in task switching, placing increased demands on neurocognitive systems that support control and sustained attention. While engaging these systems can partially mitigate its behavioral costs, multitasking is not free––we pay a price in increased demands on these systems and some performance deficit typically occurs. A Spotlight on Media Multitasking With the explosion of digital media and the commodification of our attention (referred to as the “attention economy”), “media multitasking” has become ubiquitous. Have you ever opened your laptop to check your email or complete a work assignment, and put on Spotify or Netflix in the background? This kind of multitasking––engaging with or switching between multiple media streams––has attracted considerable interest given behavioral trends. We know that American youth spend an average of 7.5 hours a day with various media and at least 29 percent of that time involves media multitasking. Data from other countries show a similar pattern, and the phenomenon extends to adults. In 2009, Cliff Nass’s lab at Stanford developed what has become a widely used index––the Media Multitasking Inventory (MMI)––to quantify the extent to which an individual engages in this practice. The original MMI asked individuals to report their hours of media consumption for each of 12 different media categories (television, music, text messaging, and so forth), along with the extent to which when engaged with one medium they were also engaged with each of the others. Test-retest reliability of MMI is high over a week (r = .93) and moderate over a one-year period (r =.52), and shorter versions and different variants have been developed. The MMI score from the Nass lab represents the mean number of media with which an individual multitasks during a typical consumption hour. A high MMI score means an individual engages in a lot of media multitasking (e.g., checking email while also perusing Facebook and watching Netflix), and a low score means he or she does not (e.g., checking email without any secondary media). In the 2009 study, heavier and lighter media multitaskers were asked to perform a set of cognitive tasks that place demands on attention, control, and memory. This study initiated a rapidly evolving literature that seeks to answer the fundamental question: does media multitasking in everyday life impact our minds and brains, affecting performance even when we are single tasking?

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    $\begingroup$ Holy wall of text batman. I feel like there must be a more succinct way to ask that skips a lot of the fluff and unnecessary backround. Opening with "how many free-flying brain-controlled drones could a human control simultanously" might have been fine. Anyway, judging by how often people trip up or walk into things, the most likely answer is "slightly fewer than one". $\endgroup$ Jan 16 at 18:21
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    $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime Yes. That way is for voters to stop punishing people for terse questions. We're supposed to accept questions in their most generous interpretation, but we all fail to do that to some degree or another. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Jan 16 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Cataphract You might be overthinking this. In someone else's fantasy story, a wizard would control "drones" like that quite effortlessly... they'd be little flying bugs (literally) whose eyes he could see through and perhaps whose ears he could listen through. If you would rather them be artificial somehow, no big deal, have him tether those to some other little animal whom he mind-controls. The answer here is, like my manager has told me several times "learn to delegate better". $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Jan 16 at 18:34
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    $\begingroup$ Most hierarchical organizations, such as armies, navies, or large corporations, consider that the maximum number of direct subordinates an officer can control is about 10, with the recommended number being about 6. Just saying. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 16 at 18:34
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    $\begingroup$ This is a very rare instance where I both VTC and down vote. At least 90% of your post is irrelevant. The magic, the effort to convince the proverbial choir that tech to scan minds exists, the nonsense about comparing the brain to computers (which isn't a 1:1 comparison, ever, the brain is a highly specific state machine, your desktop isn't) and that 5-mile-long copy-and-paste about multitasking. Very badly formed question. On top of that, you're not asking... (*Continued*) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jan 17 at 1:09

4 Answers 4



In my opinion the most impressive armies of the past were those of the romans and mongols. What they had in common was a hierarchy system in which each group within a level had a leader that made the bridge with the next level.

Apply it here. You only have to talk to flying golem prime at any moment. You wanna know where flying golem 33-C is and what it is doing, you send a telepathic query to prime. Prime will ask one of it subordinates, which will ask a subordinate and so on until 33-C reports. With magic telepathic links this can happen within the blink of an eye.

And any form of magical programming is just programming in a different medium, so you can learn network protocols (such as ARP) and search algorhitms (I suggest depth-first search for starters) if you wish to nerd out how to make the network as performatic as possible as well as resilient to losing nodes, as well as learning Domain Name System to see how the delegation would actually happen.


Frame challenege: slightly fewer than one

StarfishPrime has it exactly right.

It turns out that almost all the material covered in the question is irrelevant, because by the definition given for "be in control of," the answer is determined entirely by the human brain's capacity for multi-tasking.

The sad fact is that humans are really bad at multi-tasking. There's even an episode of MythBusters or Radiolab about it.[citation needed]

That isn't going to be changed by asserting that the magic is accomplished with pseudo-scientific rune stuff. The human brain is limited, and them's the breaks.

To be sure, productive people in the real world are able to effectively multi-task by using a variety of habits and tricks, but ultimately all of those work by slicing their time into separate chunks that are then dedicated to individual tasks in sequence. The habits and procedures and tricks are generally all about minimizing the cost of context-switching: making it easy to switch back to a different task and remember what you were doing and what needed to be done next; and, recognizing good opportunities to set the current task aside to focus on the other.

Nobody multi-tasks by performing two tasks simultaneously.

The concrete case you cite -- positional math -- is something I actually have semi-relevant experience with. For dumb reasons not worth going into, I occasionally find myself attempting to do these two things simultaneously:

  1. simple time arithmetic: adding two numbers to yield hours and minutes; and
  2. simple time record-keeping: writing down the precise time of an event that occurs while I'm doing the time arithmetic

This has been part of my life for over 10 years, and every time I try it I get one of two outcomes:

  • I botch both tasks
  • in the moment, I choose to completely abandon one task and focus on the other

A human can reliably only perform one substantial mental task at a time.

Add to all of this the fact that your human drone pilot is also responsible for looking after their personal body, and that the mind sometimes gets distracted whether we like it or not, and you end up with StarfishPrime's humorously blunt figure: slightly fewer than one.

I haven't been able to find the Mythbusters/Radiolab episode (yet), but I did find this actual scientific data, which is almost as good as television:

According to a study done by the University of Utah, 98% of the public is incapable of performing two mentally demanding tasks at once without incurring substantial costs in performance.

  • $\begingroup$ and what method would you use to control slightly more than one? $\endgroup$
    – user100394
    Jan 16 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Cataphract You're missing Tom's point. There isn't a way to control more than one and that without distraction. Many of the users on this Stack are darn smart cookies and we're all perfectly capable of deciding whether or not we could simultaneously control two drones. And each of us would agree that the answer is, "I can't." If you changed the hard-science tag to science-fiction, then we could use the Star Trek method (Vulcans have highly compartmentalized brains that can perform multiple independent tasks). But hard science? Tom's answer is a Frame Challenge and it's right. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jan 17 at 1:19

Either your drones are smart, they are very well organized, or there aren't too many of them. Let us consider the real problem here - cognitive load. Our brains can store lots of information, but we only have about seven, plus or minus two pieces of information in our brain at a time. The interesting question is what defines a "piece" of information. This changes based on the experience and confidence of the person. For instance, when we first learn to add the simple act of adding 12+17 is very hard and requires a lot information to be kept in working memory (what those numbers are, perhaps how to add individual numbers, carrying or decimal places etc). An adult can probably just look at that and, since they know the answer, say 29 and move on. It reduces to 2 pieces of information (the two numbers) and then to 1 (the answer) because we just have the experience and know the answer.

So, to your drones. There are several options here:

The Drones are Intelligent

If the drones can control themselves, then this reduces to grouping them into sufficiently organized groups that the controller has to keep track of only those 7 drones that handle the communication and ordering the rest around. For a sufficiently well made hierarchy you can probably handle lots of drones this way, but you give up control. Also, you are still stuck with 7 groups of drones that you personally can figure out at any given time.

The drones are well organized this is a little bit different than intelligent. You have come up with a very good way to represent drones, say on a piece of parchment, so that you are actually only worried about their positions when they need to do something. Otherwise you can give an order to one and while it is doing it you move on to another. In this case, a very, very well trained person can probably control as many drones as the speed of the task requires. If it takes me 1 second to issue a command, maybe 2 seconds to survey my map, and then another second to issue the next command, that limits me. If things are happening over the course of hours I have TONS of drones I can figure out. If it's like "the dragon is attacking in 10 seconds" well, I've only got like 3 chances to send out an order. So it depends on what the drones are doing.

If none of these options are available, your human really can handle maybe 7 drones.


If you don't mind a somewhat brutal, Peter Watts-esque approach... consider a corpus callosotomy.

The hemispheres of human brains are effectively joined at two places... the corpus callosum (think of this as high bandwidth) and the brain stem (think of this as low bandwidth). You can sever the corpus callosum without actually killing or totally disabling someone. This can result in split brain where the hemispheres still work together, but their differing opinions can be more obvious.

Given that it is possible to do things like anesthetize or even completely remove an entire cerebral hemisphere, it follows that each hemisphere alone is capable of doing what most of a human can do. Maaaaybe, given the degree of redundancy in the brain, you might even be able to subdivide each hemisphere, if you did it very carefully (or used magical handwaving).

Want to be able to give maximal attention to multiple drones at once? Get slicing into that brain! You could make it temporary, but I suspect that deliberate and permanent modification of the brain and the potential arising of multiple conscious processes (see also: plurality or multiplicity) in it makes for more drama. Maybe these are experienced as other selves, maybe as intrusive things and put down to "demonic possession". Magic should have a cost! Magic users should seem downright unworldly! Grumpy old single men with long wispy beards just don't cut it anymore.

A character in Watts' book Blindsight did this to herself to increase her congitive abilities. The book is available for free on the author's website, and is well worth a read when you have the time.