Society / Technology

Top 5 Reasons to Plug Your Brain Into a Computer

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

– Arthur C. Clarke

In last week’s post, we looked at the emerging technologies that allow a direct interface between your brain and a computer (or machine) – a BCI.  Check out last week’s links if you’re interested in the “how.”  Intracranial wiretaps, hands-free driving and monkey-robot cyborgs are all featured!  Or, if you’re ready to move on to the “are you sure this is a good idea?” question, then read on.

Here’s brief recap: it has been demonstrated that a monkey with wires in his brain can control a virtual arm with his mind.  And he can feel sensations through it, too – it’s essentially an extension of his own body.  This technology is still in its very early stages, but I’m calling it now:

courtesy flickr/bistrosavage

This is a certified, 100% mind-blowing advance.

In fact, assuming they become safe, cheap and widely used, BCIs could forever alter the human experience.  If you’re still skeptical, then please follow along on this quick tour of my Top 5 Reasons to Plug Your Brain Into A Computer.

[Note: These are arranged roughly in order of how speculative they are.]

[Also note: there’s a fair chance you’ll disagree with me, perhaps vehemently, along the way.  The truth is, many of these issues are fraught with complexities and uncertainties that I don’t have room to address.  Please add your thoughts in the comments, and I’ll respond in a future post.]  Now, without further ado:

#5. Defeat Disability.  If you’re blind, color-blind, or even just near-sighted, you could wire your optical cortex to a pair of perfectly functional cameras, rather than your faulty human eyes.  For accident victims like Matthew Nagle, a functioning BCI could one day mean the difference between a relatively normal life and complete paralysis. (Mr. Nagle was one of the first people in history to have a BCI installed). And so it is with deafness, and a whole host of other conditions.

#4. Enhance yourself.  If BCIs can overcome deficits as in #5, why not keep going?  “Not only will your eyes be better than 20/20, but we’ll throw in low-light vision and a built-in camera for one low price.”  Or you could gain a completely new sense!  Use sonar like a bat, or add infrared sight.  If physical strength is more your thing, you could get something like this robot exoskeleton.  And don’t even get me started on prehensile tails that will hold my coffee while I type.

#3. Be in two places at once.  A robot could be outfitted with various sensors (even touch).  If you could mentally control it, while feeling and seeing what it does, you’d be split between two bodies.  Perhaps if you were really talented, you could even be in 3 places (or be an entire swarm of bees).  Or you could have a custom, human-like extra body made for you.  The downside of that scenario is starkly demonstrated in the Bruce Willis movie Surrogates, in which every member of society is completely disconnected from reality.

Cyborg woman painting

courtesy flickr/mtonic

#2. Virtual Reality.  For that matter, if the input into your brain is digital, there’s no particular reason it has to correspond to the real world at all.  Make up any set of sensations you want, or get a scenario custom designed, and pipe it directly into your gray matter.  Take that, 3D TV!

#1. Telepathy.  Finally, note that two minds connected to the same computer might just as well be connected to each other.  Converse and share ideas at the speed of thought, without need for clumsy phones, keyboards or tongues.  Carried to an extreme, you might even get mind-networks: like a supercomputer, but made of humans.  Participating in such a… structure… might be like using Twitter without words: a continuously evolving thought machine.  Imagine what we could accomplish with our mental powers combined!

Well, that’s my list.  What do you think?  Did I go a little too far with that last one?  I think the fact we’re even discussing it demonstrates the powerful potential of BCIs.  But enough about me, already.  If you’re so moved, I’m very interested to hear your thoughts.  One day, you’ll beam them directly into my brain, but until that time, please use the comment box below.

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9 thoughts on “Top 5 Reasons to Plug Your Brain Into a Computer

  1. It’s interesting in itself that most of the concerns one might have with these applications are psychological in nature (most of my concerns at least). Would you become disconnected from reality? Would you loose a sense of self identity or feel your privacy stipped away?

    On point #2: I always found that my desk does a nice job of holding my coffee while I type. But the tail would still be so cool!

    • I agree, it’s amazing that the questions we’re asking are “do we want this?” and “what should we use it for?” rather than “is this possible?” As a trivial example, I don’t think I really would get a tail, no matter how practical, just because of the social problems it would cause. The concerns you mention, about disconnection (or overconnection) are less trivial. But I’m still excited that we’re in a position to even have the conversation at all.

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  3. I agree that some of those things are very possible and I think after all that is achievable we will go much further. So far in fact we will get rid of our bodies, and just be a brain connected to a computer. The brain can live 300 years without the damage that is caused by our bodies and maybe even longer. (Can you imagine every doctor, every scientist concentrating 100% of their time just on just the brain?) We would spend our days walking around in an avatar body. Kind of like the matrix minus the part where if you die in the matrix you die in the real world. It would be very close to living a normal life, getting an education, working, etc. The only difference would be on our days off we could plug into a different computer server, in this server we would be able to do anything, even be anyone we want. Example you want to be iron man for a day. Just plug into the “vacation server” and walk around as iron man lol. That’s just my prediction on the matter.

    • That would be really cool, if we could have various spare “selves” to jump into whenever we felt like it. I’m not sure I’m ready to give up my physical body just yet, but I bet I’ll change my mind once age starts to catch up with me!

  4. I think your last prediction is spot on. At first, it will be kind of like texting is now, but eventually I bet we’ll be able to communicate images, ideas, feelings, without even using words at all. I can’t wait to see the artwork that will come out of it, let alone the science and politics.

    This video is kind of overdramatic, but Warwick was able to directly connect his nervous system to that of his wife. And this was a while ago!

    • Ooh, telepathically collaborative artwork – that’s a really good one I hadn’t thought of! And thanks for the video, it’s very impressive – I’ll throw it up on the main page shortly.

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