Watch This Hacked NES 'Reverse Emulate' Super Nintendo Games

The hacker who pulled it off says it could be a preview of what it’ll look like if we start adding new capabilities to the human brain.

by Jon Christian
May 30 2018, 2:00pm

You’re looking at what has to be the ultimate Nintendo Entertainment System hack.

It comes in the form of a custom NES cartridge that grants the 1985 game console advanced technological powers. Tom Murphy VII, the computer scientist behind the hack, believes the technique, which he calls “reverse emulation,” might shed light on the future of hacking the human brain.

A regular 1980s-era NES cartridge contains read-only chips loaded with code and graphics. Murphy, who holds a PhD in computer science from Carnegie Mellon, built a special cartridge that uses a Raspberry Pi 3—an inexpensive yet powerful single-board computer—to feed the Nintendo more sophisticated information by rewriting the locations where the NES looks for data on the fly.

Murphy showed off the console’s new capabilities by using it to display the slideshow in the above video, which included a full-motion clip from Rick Astley’s infamous “Never Gonna Give You Up” music video. His coup de grâce, though, is using the setup to emulate two games: Super Mario World, which is supposed to run on the Super Nintendo and, in an even more meta twist, the NES game Mario Bros.—meaning that, using Murphy’s special cartridge, the NES is emulating an NES game.

In the video, Murphy frames the trick as a “strange loop,” a concept described by the philosopher Douglas Hofstadter that breaks the regular rules of hierarchies. Hofstadter, best known for the 1979 treatise Gödel, Escher, Bach, has written extensively about the relationship between strange loops and human consciousness, and Murphy suggests in the video that the experiment demonstrates how we could come to augment the human brain with technological parts.

“It tells me a little bit about what it would feel like if we were to reverse emulate the human brain,” he says. “Now, I’m not talking about emulation—that’s like uploading your brain into the cloud or something. I’m talking about replacing parts of your hardware, parts of your brain, with technology that surpasses your brain in functionality.”

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