When I watched Accel World, I didn’t notice that it was written by Reki Kawahara, or guess that it was set later in the same fictional world as his Sword Art Online. It’s focus on the idea that a brain-computer interface could not connect a person to a computer, but, via a special piece of software (“BB2039.exe”) make them think many (about 960) time faster than normal, causing events in the real world to slow to a crawl in the perception of the user. I found this idea much more incredible than that a little neck-hugging gadget like the series’ ubiquitous Neuro Linker could be support immersive VR/AR.
Okay so what about NeuroLinker from Accel World.
Scientifically, I don’t think there’s any foundation to the idea that input from a BCI could make the brain work faster, perceiving the world as moving slower. The complicated processes that make the brain work can’t be sped up as simply as those that make a computer work can be. Unless our reality is actually being simulated by a computer – that is, the simulation hypothesis is correct – I don’t think the though acceleration depicted in Accel World is possible.
The idea of slowing down time in a virtual reality simulation is an old one – perhaps most famously “bullet time” in the 1999 movie The Matrix ability that allows characters to dodge bullets and other perform other amazing feats. After The Matrix, many video games included this idea to good effect, allowing player to briefly “slow down time” to perform superhuman feats. I’ve seen 2 main flavors of this feature (terms mine):
- Symmetrical, where the players avatar and the rest of the game both play equally slowly. The player’s advantage is not their character being able to move faster than opponents’, but having more time to plan and precisely execute actions. Examples: 1999’s Unreal Tournament’s “slowmo” training mode feature;
- Asymmetrical, where the players character move at faster than the rest of the game moves slowly. Examples: 2001’s Grand Theft Auto III’s “adrenalin pill”; 2001’s Max Payne’s “bullet time”.
I think it’s important to keep in mind that none of Kawahara’s fictional BCIs – the NerveGear, Amusphere, or Neuro Linker – can work as described in their source fiction of fan sources, where they’re described as “high density microwave transceivers are capable of accessing the user's brain”. Microwaves or other RF EM radiation simply can’t do this.
That could work too, I guess before we can make the NeuroLInker we have to create the Nerve Gear.
Kawahara’s fiction makes sense in describing the devices of a fictional technology becoming smaller, cheaper, and better over time, but the fundamental technology is purely fictional. “Microwave transceiver” has a neat ring to it, and are ubiquitous in satellite telecommunication technology, but simple aren’t useful for BCIs.