Aany of us have heard about some of the new nanotechnology that is being developed for use on humans. Researchers are trying to perfect an implant that will be able to transmit directly to the optic nerve center of the brain, allowing people who are blind to “see”. There is also a lot of research being done with rats, using small electrodes implanted into their muscles and nano-transmitters connected to their brains. The idea is that the brain could then control the movement of muscles, thereby maybe allowing paralyzed people to move. This week I heard a researcher interviewed on NPR describing his research into a nanotechnology area that really got my attention.
That this team of scientists is doing is not something that will be used to help heal humans, but something that may transform what a human is. The researchers claim they are making great advances with the technology, predicting that the first devices will be available for human trials in less than 10 years. If the ethical objections certain to be raised can be overcome, they believe people will be commonly using their technology within 20 years. According to the researchers they can make the technology work now, with only two important development hurdles to be overcome. The first a need for much better mapping of the brain, allowing them to know much more than is currently known about exactly what areas of the brain, (on a neuron level), are used in the processing of ideas, memories, and analytical thought. The second is the need to develop even better nano-devices that can be used without any physical effects at all.
So what exactly am I talking about here? Simply put, it is the ability to use a small computer to feed information directly to the brain. This is now the stuff of science fiction, but according to the people doing the research, not all that difficult do accomplish. The end result is seen as a nano-computer, implanted under the skin somewhere on the body. This computer would be wirelessly updated and able to wirelessly transmit information to nano-implants in the brain. Eventually you could have all the information in the world available to your brain. Everyone could in theory, know everything.
My first thought about this was sort of odd…. If it comes to be, what would we humans have to talk about? My second thought was more disturbing…. If you know everything I know, and we both know everything there is to know, well the ramifications of that are too enormous and disturbing for me to really want to think about.
I would normally be quite skeptical that this technology could ever really come to work. But listening to the matter of fact confidence of the scientist being interviewed, and hearing him describe what they can already do with somewhat cumbersome devices, I believe there is a real possibility that, at least from a technological standpoint, this will come to pass. If we have learned anything about technology over the last quarter century it is many people will embrace any new technology that is developed. Within a short few years, most of the rest of the people will come to make use of the technology. If this is made to work, I believe we humans will make use of it. Preparation for this change in what the human mind really is may perhaps be the most difficult societal challenge of the next quarter century.