In some ways we already are - if people's synthetic limbs can be connected to their brains in order to feel sensation. The US military has used controls wired to an insect brain to get a beetle to fly around with a tiny spy camera attached. They can actually control its movements remotely by stimulating its brain!
But still, these developments somehow feels like useful add-ons. Is there a line which will someday be crossed, requiring us to redefine what it means to be human?
|How far will technology go? Image by The PIX-JOCKEY|
One thing is for certain: this research is only going to go in on direction - it's going to get better and more sophisticated. Systems are going to become more sensitive, and increasingly miniaturised too. With further developments in creating artificial brain cells, it may one day be possible to have parts of the brain bionically replaced as well.
How will it feel to have synthetic brain parts?
In some ways, we already think with more than one 'brain' - our brains contain a primitive 'reptilian brain' composed of the brainstem and the thalamus which is responsible for basic bodily functions and basic emotions, and an evolutionarily newer 'thinking brain' - the neocortex - which is responsible for our more complicated perceptions and thoughts.
Perhaps these parts of the brain could be linked to Freud's ego and id - conscious and unconscious mind (Freud, 1910).
However, to 'think' with artificial brain parts? In some respects our mind can be reduced to the activity of a huge number of brain cells, each fairly simple. But for all our sophisticated modern neuroscience, the question of how this network leads to conscious thought - the 'mind-body problem' - has yet to be answered satisfactorily. It would certainly be interesting to know if people 'felt' different after having a synthetic brain system connected up.
Will it catch on?
At the moment, the new technology described above is helping people with visual or physical impairments. But if the technology became good enough, would it start to have a general appeal? Would we see athletes opt for bionic replacement body parts, for example?
And in terms of bionic brain parts, what would be the implications for personal safety and privacy if our brains had the same vulnerability to hackers as our computers currently have? Food for thought. Clearly there are a lot of questions - please post your thoughts in the comments!
Freud, S. (1910). The origin and development of psychoanalysis. (Translated by H.W. Chase). American Journal of Psychology, 21, 181-218.
This post is part of #BlogFlash2013 - 30 days of
flash blogging - using the prompt 'technology' http://bit.ly/Y2BMEc