Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Why wouldn't you upgrade your brain?

"But it's just science fiction."

I am fully anticipating that phrase being bounced at me once more when I lecture to college freshman on transhumanism in just a few weeks. It is almost understandable. The sort of advancements transhumanism will offer do sound like something out of the pop culture morass. But they are very real...even telepathic control of technology.

That's just one of the possibilities in the offing. I was reminded of that, and other potentialities, through this article at Techemergence by Daniel Faggella. Faggella's main point seems to be that innovations often get re-purposed into new roles that no one ever quite foresaw. Cybernetic, brain-machine interfaces are likely no different. As he writes:

"Neurotechnology – I predict – will also enjoy a kind of flourishing use well outside it’s original purpose. From memory enhancement, to feeling happier, to adding entirely new senses, there are mammals and humans undergoing procedures that – in the future – might not just help to ameliorate disease, but might redefine “normal cognitive function” by enhancing our minds."

One of these "cognitive functions," as previously mentioned, could be telepathic control of technology. This is already happening to a certain degree. Experiments at Brown University have allowed paralyzed subjects to move a cursor around on a computer screen via a chip implanted in the motor cortex of the brain. Another patient has manipulated a robotic arm to lift a water bottle to her mouth by way of a similar cybernetic implant.

So let's extend this line of thinking with brain implants. Can we at last have the "pacemaker for the brain" that I've been harping about for so long? Such an implant, tucked under the collarbone in this case and with electrodes extending up into the brain (see pic above), would provide Deep Brain Stimulation through electrical impulses. This could be a possible "miracle cure" for depression. Somebody please make this widely available.

Why stop at treating depression, though? Why not get accessible control over all of your emotions? I'm down with that. From there, isn't it reasonable to extrapolate that we could eventually have mastery over our own memories? Either enhance our ability to remember or edit out memories we would really rather not have anymore? Perhaps best of all, why not enhance our ability to think?

"Halt, landloper of the technological frontier!" someone invariably says. "There are areas where humans are not meant to tread. Don't go messing with the brain." Faggella himself has the best response to this all-too familiar bleat:

"As technologies intended to fix the mind begin to allow for it’s enhancement, who’s to say where we should or should not tread?"

Who indeed.

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