What if you could download information directly to your brain instead of interfacing with phones, computers, and televisions? What if you could install a brain implant that would allow you to speak perfect Chinese, as in Neuromancer? What if you could buy a “brain pal,” as in John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, and immediately possess the skills necessary to defeat an opponent in kung fu?
Sure, it might look funny, but if you had a jack in the back of your head Matrix-style, there’d be no end to the information you could possess. How close are we to enhancing our knowledge and skills by downloading information or from a neural plug-in?
Are we really on the verge of never having to study for tests again?
Humans have increased their brainpower since the dawn of man. Gene mutations allow our brains to change to adapt to mental and physical challenges, as well as physical, social, and cultural environments. Because of the brain’s ability to change, scientists describe it as “plastic.”
The brain of the future could be described as “superplastic.”
Cognitive enhancements are nothing new. Prescription medication designed to treat everything from Alzheimer’s to ADD increase focus, recall, and impulse control. There is currently a debate brewing about whether cognitive enhancements are good, right, fair, etc—some people compare them to steroid use in athletics.
It’s about to become even more complicated: Enter technology.
Brain enhancements to help people with conditions such as autism and blindness have been in the works for some time. Neural implants designed to help people speak through computers without typing are also in the works. Paralyzed people can interface with computer screens, televisions, and light switches via BrainGate technology, which was developed by a neuroscientist at Brown University. Implants that stimulate neural nerves could augment sensory perception, recognition, and recall. Although these technologies are being developed largely to help the disabled, anyone will access to these technologies could conceivably benefit and essentially receive a brain boost.
Some people worry that neural enhancements will begin a trend toward the “designer” brain. Theoretically, people with money and access could gain advantage over everyone else because they could boost their brains’ capabilities with cognitive enhancers. They also wouldn’t have to learn or assimilate information–they could simply import existing information. Some futurists worry that neural enhancements will divide the human race. If humans’ obsession with designer products is any indication, those futurists might not be wrong.
Neural enhancements are also one aspect of the singularity predicted by futurist Ray Kurzweil, who believes that humans will merge with machines by 2045.
Cognitive enhancements are coming (though not soon enough to save you from the next math test). What information will you download first? What clip-ons and plug-ins will you buy for your brain? Or will you be a neural purist, relying only on the brain you were born with?
To borg or not to borg, that is the question.