June 03, 2015

The Future of...Brain to Brain Interfaces


This week, we'll venture out into the far-future, to the year 2065. By then, we will have long abandoned our conversations about second (third! fourth!) screens in favor of conversations about no screens at all.

Historically, information has been taken in by our five known senses, and our information output has been restricted to language and gesture. We don't recognize it as such, but in 2015 we are actually living in an age of digital telepathy, where information can be transmitted via direct input. At the University of Washington's Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, researchers built a system allowing one person to transmit his thoughts directly to another person. Using electrical brain recordings and a form of magnetic stimulation, one researcher sent a brain signal to another person elsewhere on campus, causing his finger to tap a keyboard. (You can watch a video of that here.) Scientists at Barcelona-based Starlab fitted a brain-computer interface on a man in Kerala, India and instructed him to simply imagine how he was moving his hands and feet. His thoughts were sent to a man in Strasbourg, France wearing a TMS robot, which delivered electrical pulses to his brain. When the man in India thought about moving his feet, the TMS caused the man in France to see light, even though his eyes were closed.

Meantime, a scientist at USC has been working on a cognitive neural prosthesis that can restore and enhance memory function. This research has a practical and altruistic purpose: to help victims of stroke or traumatic brain injury regain their cognitive abilities and motor function. Rather than having to relearn, they need only reload those memories. But it begs the question, what does it mean to "learn"? What is the difference between having knowledge and simply acquiring it? What does it mean for our minds to exist outside of our brains?

Are journalists of the future people who don't report or write stories, but are instead highly-trained, hyper-intelligent specialists who simply transmit their understanding of world events––in essence, what they grok––directly to us? Are we all teachers and all students, simultaneously sharing and receiving knowledge? Fifty years from now, will we still have devices? The better question is: will we still have visible implants? What we need to know will flash into our visual fields or will be embedded into our consciousness as we need it.

Some of you optimists are imagining great opportunities. In the future, we'll have performance-enhanced thinking. Once we've mastered how to bake a basic loaf of bread, we'll be able to download how to bake Thomas Keller's brioche. Not the recipe, but his instincts, his feel for the dough, his reaction to your particular oven's heat distribution and humidity.

You pessimists are already asking questions about intellectual property. In the future, there will be great fights about what constitutes "intellectual property," since for the first time we will need to address our actual intellects. What knowledge will be open, and how will we verify it as accurate? There will be a informational divide: those with means will have access to download the world's greatest minds. Those who don't will have lesser-quality knowledge. We will question the ethics of using this technology when some propose to use it on criminals, to upload and store their memories in case of future infractions. And what of a very real space-time continium problem, where some of us will choose to erase and rewrite memories from a backup, while others continue living in reality. But at that point, how will we define reality, exactly?



Mind Meld Mix Tape––Downloads

Mind Meld Mix Tape––Uploads

  • Smell of that jasmine wall atop the Hermitage in Monte Carlo
  • My pen flip
  • The experience of sitting in Nontyan Ramen, in the far north of Japan, eating Mika's gyoza ramen and drinking a cold draught Asahi
  • Personal File: first date with Brian
  • Personal File: passing my shodan test in Aikido

     


Future Human Hybrids

The future may not be overrun with androids, but rather with super-powered human hybrids. For example...

  • A policewoman implanted with a canine's sense of smell.
  • A fighter pilot implanted with a hawk's reaction time.
  • A covert agent implanted with a bat's sonic abiliy.
  • A poison control expert implanted with a Catfish's sense of taste.

Unexplainable Artifacts
Archived at FE80::0505:B3FF:FE1E:2117 on December 22, 2019:
Kardashian Upper Left Theigh NanoLipo Procedure. Technique of injecting gold nanoparticulates into fat cells to dissolve excess tissue.

 

Musical Interlude
If you could read my mind, what a tale my thoughts could tell. Just like an old-time movie, 'bout a ghost from a wishing well. ––Gordon Lightfoot

 


Nerdness

Money still can't buy you love. But it'll buy you a better brain. According to science:

A new study led by researchers at MIT and Harvard University offers another dimension to the so-called “achievement gap”: After imaging the brains of high- and low-income students, they found that the higher-income students had thicker brain cortex in areas associated with visual perception and knowledge accumulation. Furthermore, these differences also correlated with one measure of academic achievement — performance on standardized tests.

In other words, we have a lot to think about.

 

IRL
It's Spark Camp this weekend! We're talking about the future of giving and philanthropy. Next week is my annual lecture at Columbia University on the future of media. And then...time to write my next book!

 

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