In science fiction, we love the premise of enhanced brainpower. Wouldn’t you like to be Lucy, the main character in a recently released movie, who overdoses on a synthesized drug and ends up stimulating access to over 90% of her brain capacity to become a superhuman? Or how about Gabriel Vaughn in the TV series, Intelligence, an operative with a super-computer microchip in his brain and the first human directly connected to a globalized information grid.
We’ve been tinkering with the brain for centuries. Ever since cave dwellers discovered certain plants instilled feelings of euphoria, mankind has been on a quest to unlock the mysteries of our human processor, find ways to upgrade its abilities, repair and improve upon original sensory input devices. A recent article on the future of “wired” brains had me wondering if we were pushing a concept destined to backfire on us.
Gary Marcus and Christof Koch of the WSJ, asked the question, “How soon can we expect to see brain implants for perfect memory, enhanced vision, hypernormal focus, or an expert golf swing?”, in their article, The Plug-and-Play Brain. The Gabriel Vaughn scenario comes close to Marcus and Koch’s idea of enhanced humans able to process incoming and outgoing data. Think of technology in which our “minds-eye” will have HUD (Heads-Up-Display) windows for communication and interaction with the outside world.
So what’s the backfire? To paraphrase Newton’s third law of motion, for every cerebral enhancement process, is an equal and opposite potential detriment. Consider the classic dystopian story, 1984, where everything seen and thought is available to anyone with access to your chip. I don’t think Orwell fully comprehended the possibility of big brother residing in your head. Teens will be first to complain when they discover parental access can download what junior has really been up to.
Imagine a chip in your head like the one inside your IPAD or Windows computer, invaded by a hacker’s malware code. We’ll be in the middle of doing something when a product advertisement pops in our brain. Personalities decoded and used against us for behavior modification. Memories stored in neuron cells of your brain, phished by an outsider without your knowledge. Oh, we’ll have individual firewalls to protect us, have the ability to control how much we interface with the grid. How’s that working for us today? What part of the “it’s a two-way highway” did we forget?
Characters make a story compelling, because we get to see what’s going on in a character’s head, but wiring our brains could be a turning point when “head hopping” is no longer a POV term in fiction. I’m going to guess if it does become reality, there will be those who balk at participating. New book premise: A dystopian future where everyone’s brain is wired, your memories and thoughts, monitored by the central grid. A group of renegades, people who’ve disengaged the link, along with children born outside the system, become outlaws hiding in desolate corners of the planet, each with a bounty on their head. Can’t be having wilders off the grid.
Makes for a good story, but I’m worried that wiring ourselves in an effort to make our life easier, will chip away walls preserving the secret garden of our inner thoughts. So, if you think Facebook is susceptible to privacy breach, wait until our brains get wired to the grid.
What’s your thought? If you could get your brain wired, would you do it?