Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Neuro-prosthetics and the end of the human race

A few days back I wrote a post called "It's the End of the World as we know it" in which I shared a few thoughts on what I consider to be the inevitable progress of technology towards our imminent extinction, at least as a biological species. Within that post I mentioned that if computers don't just replace us immediately, which I think is highly likely, that we will be forced by competitive necessity and even by desire to embark along the route of upgrading ourselves, component by component, until there is nothing left of what we originally were. I thought you might be interested in one of the first steps towards the mental upgrade process when I stumbled upon an article over on about Ted Berger, a man engineering brain implants that can re-create thoughts.

Srinivasan [a co-worker of Berger] explains that the chip is sending electric pulses through the needle into the brain slice, which is passing them on to the screen we're watching. "The difference in the waves' modulation reflects the signals sent out by the brain slice," he says. "And they're almost identical in frequency and pattern to the pulses sent by the chip." Put more simply, this iron-gray wafer about a millimeter square is talking to living brain cells as though it were an actual body part.

The article deals with Berger's creation of the world's first prototype memory implant, intended to replace damaged brain tissue and it's a fascinating read, full of interesting quotes like

Can a chunk of silicon really stand in for brain cells? I ask. "I don't need a grand theory of the mind to fix what is essentially a signal-processing problem," he says. "A repairman doesn't need to understand music to fix your broken CD player."


"It's the type of science that can change the world," says Richard H. Granger, Jr., a professor of brain sciences who leads the Neukom Institute for Interdisciplinary Computational Sciences at Dartmouth College. "Replicating memory is going to happen in our lifetimes, and that puts us on the edge of being able to understand how thought arises from tissue—in other words, to understand what consciousness really means."


"We'll prove we can replace a central part of the brain that has lost a higher cognitive function, such as memory, with a microchip," he says.

So if you didn't believe me before, read the article and ask yourself how long you think it'll be before we are upgrading our brains since it's not long now until we are replacing damaged parts of them?

Not long also I think. Nice to have shared a species with you – good bye :)

If you enjoyed this article please feel free to digg it down below.


Stew said...

You make it sound like a bad thing?

In yesterdays french newspapers there was an article about a guy who has had a hearing prosthesis put beneath his skin, consisting a microphone, a processer, a battery, and a delivery mechanism to the inner ear. The patient was born with a defective left ear.

Go science! For me, the biggest problem with "upgrades" is that the rich will be able to afford them, and the poor won't. This will cause divisions within countries and between countries.
On the other hand many hundreds of thousands of people, even in the poorest countries have mobile phones these days . . . (Thinking of the story of the thousands of Iraqis who SMS text messaged their candidate to vicory in the Middle East version of Pop Idol)

Sacred Slut said...

I read about this in Popular Mechanics. It sounded like a great boon to humankind. In that article, they were touting it as a remedy for Alzheimer's. My only hope was that they had it ready to go by the time I get that old.

chooseDoubt said...

Stew, I don't think it's a bad thing at all anymore than I would think it a bad thing that our less capable ancestors were replaced by us. I justt hink people don't realise it's coming at all and are thoroughly ignorant of the probability that it is coming soon. There's not really much point debating it either or trying to prepare. Our opinions will be extremely basic compared to those that will be formulated by upgraded minds.

The only reason to recognise it i
as the very likely future is to accept it and facilitate it. I think at first there will be a rich poor divide but that the technology will spread so rapidly that the divide will not last for long.

chooseDoubt said...

Sacred Slut, I don't know how long it will take to arrive but it will be like other technologies where the rate of progress is continually accelerating. I think there's a pretty good chance that if you are under 50 you'll live to benefit from this and maybe even live for ever because of what comes after it. Who knows? Not me, but it's a realistic possibility now.