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What You Think Is What You See

Sep 16, 2019

by Chandra Mouleswaran S, SVP, Customer Success and Murali Babu, AVP, Workforce Management

It did not look like a hospital. I did not see any of what we usually see in hospitals — narrow corridors, long queues near the elevator, a heap of files at the nurse’s station, the smell of Dettol, etc.

Spacious rooms, with sofas and decorative plants and a nice fragrance wafting through the air almost, had me believing that I got into a five-star hotel. 

I had gone to meet my friend from Nigeria, who had traveled all the way to Chennai for his wife’s heart surgery. I was about to knock the door when my phone rang. Stephen, the new ‘Employee Success Officer’ from my office was calling. 

“Hi Steve, good morning. What’s new today?”

“Hi Kris, good morning. We need to talk about the ‘Define the future’ initiative.“

“Is that urgent or can it wait?”

‘It is not urgent, but it’s important”

“Okay, call me after few minutes, please”.

I disconnected the call after hearing an okay from Steve.

My friend opened the door on hearing the sound outside his door. “How is your wife?’ I asked him upon entering the room. My surprise at the level of luxury in the hospital did not dwindle. It’s a suite with a visitors’ room, an attender’s room, and a patient’s room. The visitors’ room was big enough to host a two-seater sofa, a table, a TV, a coffee maker, and an attached washroom. The whole concept is true to the word ‘medical tourism’. 

“She is better now. She wants to eat Garri(1)”. 

I smiled at her and gave him the bag that I had brought with me and said “Ma’am, I can’t get you Garri here. But I have brought some special African rice meal for you. That’s the closest thing to Nigerian cuisine that I could get you in Chennai. But before you leave our country, I will take you to an African restaurant, if not Nigerian.”

While we were discussing their plans, facilities and treatment, Steve interrupted me again.

“Sorry Kris to bother you. Hope this is a good time to speak” 

“Yes, tell me. Is it about ‘Define the future’?”

“Yes, Kris. We need to share our views on ‘Brain Computer Interface’. MB, BC, and CK are very positive about it. What’s your take on it?”

I excused myself from the room and went to the visitors’ room inside the suite.

“Steve, it sounds like fiction to me. Good for sci-fi movies, but not a reality”.

“They are very scientific about it. They say that whenever we think, electric signals are generated and using those we can detect what we think” Steve said.

I smiled and said, “It is more imaginative and less scientific. Let us discuss later.”

I went back to the patient’s room. Upon entering my friend immediately asked: “Are you free today?”

I said, “Of course I am free for you. What do you want to do?”

“We need to go to a temple. It is just outside Chennai,” he said. I did not expect this from him. I am surprised that a man, though his ancestors were from Tamil Nadu, born and raised in Nigeria wants to go to a temple amidst his tense personal time. 

“I am surprised. Is it your wish or your wife’s or your parents’?” I asked looking at him.

“It’s my wish. And her wish too.” 

The doctor came in then and we had to halt the discussion. Though I was listening to what the doctors were saying, my mind was elsewhere. I was thinking about the Brain Computer Interface (BCI) that Steve had mentioned earlier. We held a contest in our organization on the topic ‘Define the future’. The participants had to recommend a technology that would be the most sought after by CIOs in 2025. There have been recommendations for IoT, AI, Digital twins, Cloud, etc. While many have gone with what the analysts predict for the future, one team has predicted this BCI as the future. While I am very skeptical about BCI as the future, I also don’t want to dismiss it without much consideration. I am yet to come to a decision. But Steve wants to close the contest and announce the results soon. That’s why he was following up with me.

I came out of the room and called Steve.

“Tell me, Steve. Is that really possible? It’s a digital fiction, nothing more. Do you think that we should reward and invest in digital fiction?’

“Every wonderful thing that we use today began that way. Smartphones, Internet, autonomous vehicles faced similar challenges, but they overcame those challenges.”

“All those were about machines. But this one is about human and machine.”

“So what? I don’t understand.”

“In all those technologies, humans gave definite inputs for the machines to execute wonders. Here in BCI, the human mind is going to provide inputs. A human mind is unpredictable. Even I wouldn’t think and react the same way every time I think about something. How will it understand different brains, different emotions, different times?”

“You can get a breakthrough innovation for a breakthrough problem. There is no fun in working on an issue for which a solution already exists.”

“I can’t argue with you, Steve. I need to think”.  

I disconnected the call formally and stepped into the patient’s room. My friend was waiting.

“Doctor said we could get discharged today. I want to go to the temple first from the hospital before going anywhere”, he said.

“Okay, we can go. Which temple, where is it?”

It is about 25KM from here. You must know about it. It is called Hrudayaleeswarar temple.” 

“Sorry, I have not heard of it. What is so special about it?”

“All the ailing heart patients make it a point to visit this temple either before or after the surgery. “

“Oh, we have a temple for every disease and occasion. Let’s go”

The car was passing by Avadi. I was sitting on the passenger seat beside the driver. My friend and his wife were at the back. He just woke up from a short nap. “The traffic here is much lesser and better than what we see at Nairobi,” he said.

“How do you say that? It’s all very subjective” I said.

“The ratio of time taken to cross a distance during peak and non-peak hours is an indicator. If that ratio is closer to one, then the traffic is good in that city”

“Interesting. Is that ratio bad in Nairobi?

“From Ridgeways where I stay to Nairobi Central where my office is, I take 40 minutes during peak hours and 15 minutes during non-peak hours. It is about 10KM.”

“Oh, that is interesting. For a 30KM distance in Chennai, it is about 90 minutes to 45 minutes. Chennai is slightly better”

My phone rang again.  I thought it was Steve. But this time it was the Chief Innovation officer Ashish.  “Do you have a few minutes to speak?’ he asked.

“Yes Ash, tell me. I know it is for BCI. What’s your take on it?”

“It is not a fiction anymore. You must be aware that Elon Musk’s company is researching on Brain Machine Interface. Also, I recently read that BCI was deployed to help the differently-abled play games.”

“But what Elon Musk is experimenting on is intrusive. It implants something into the brain”

“The question isn’t whether it is intrusive or not. It’s technology. It will get evolved to acceptable deployment.”

“Okay, but is it really possible to know what one thinks?” I asked.

“Whenever we think or feel or remember something, the neurons in our brains start working through the electric signals that flow between neurons at very high speed. These signals indicate human thoughts. It looks like a long shot, but that’s what we need as part of our future.”

“What You Think Is What You See?”

“Right. Think about it. We need to close it soon.” He hung up.

The car stopped in front of the temple. It looked ancient and the board above the entrance said ‘Sri Irudayaleeswarar temple’. Even after having lived in Chennai for the past 25 years, I hadn’t  heard of this temple. But I sensed something strange here. We walked inside the temple. I asked him “Why is this God popular among devotees with heart diseases?” 

“Many years ago, a devotee called Poosalar showed the then King a temple that he had built inside his heart.” my friend started narrating.

“How did he show that?” I asked him

“The king saw the temple built by the devotee in his heart through the communication that happened between the mind of devotee and the eyes of the king”.

I became restless.

“You mean the King was able to see or read what was inside the devotee’s brain?” I asked in utter disbelief.

“Yes, that’s what this temple says” He went ahead inside with his wife.

“How was that possible?”

“The sheer devotion to GOD and the power he got through that devotion made Poosalar convey what he thought”

“So it is not science. It is something else”

“Everything is something else until proved by science”

I was slowed down by my thoughts of Poosalar who had found a way to communicate to others what he had in his mind. This happened thousands of years ago. It can’t be dismissed as a story written by the ardent devotees. There must be some truth in what this story says. If this kind of communication from one brain to other’s eyes could happen long time ago, it could in the future as well. Who am I to suspect that science or power?

I called Steve and asked him to go ahead with BCI.

  • Garri is a Nigerian food.

About the authors:

Chandra Mouleswaran S:

Chandra heads the IMS practice at GAVS. He has around 25+ years of rich experience in IT Infrastructure Management, enterprise applications design & development and incubation of new products / services in various industries. He has also created a patent for a mistake-proofing application called ‘Advanced Command Interface”. He thinks ahead and his implementation of ‘disk based backup using SAN replication’ in one of his previous organizations as early as in 2005 is a proof of his visionary skills.

Murali Babu:

Murali is the Global Head of Talent Acquisition and Workforce Management. He has over 2 decades of experience in Human Resources functions, predominantly in Talent Acquisition spanning across the Asia Pacific, China and Japan regions. Murali enjoys playing badminton with his daughter during the weekends, passionate about evening walks over the weekends, follows cricket and current affairs.