Future Culture

Futurist Writer Lei Kalina writes her tongue-in-cheek musings and ramblings on the growing worldwide phenomenon of the growth of the Future Culture in the 21st Century

Future Culture In The 21st Century

Future Culture In the 21st Century

Futures Studies, Foresight, or Futurology , according to Wikipedia, is the science, art and practice of postulating possible, probable, and preferable futures and the worldviews and myths that underlie them. Futures studies (colloquially called "Futures" by many of the field's practitioners) seeks to understand what is likely to continue, what is likely to change, and what is novel. Part of the discipline thus seeks a systematic and pattern-based understanding of past and present, and to determine the likelihood of future events and trends. Futures is an interdisciplinary field, studying yesterday's and today's changes, and aggregating and analyzing both lay and professional strategies, and opinions with respect to tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Year 2020: Brain Waves Operating Computers, TVs, Cellphones

Year 2020, a future with a cyborg-populated world.

This could well be the vision of global computer industry giant Intel , with its Pittsburgh lab reportedly aiming to develop brain implants controlling all kinds of gadgets via brain waves in year 2020.

When we heard about the story about Toyota recently demoing a wheelchair controlled with brainwaves, and University of Utah researchers creating a wireless brain transmitter that allows monkeys to control robotic arms, we may have guessed what's in the offing : a peek on things to come, accelerating changes in the not-so-distant technofuture.

Check out Computerworld.com's report:

"Scientists at Intel's research lab in Pittsburgh are working to find ways to read and harness human brain waves so they can be used to operate computers, television sets and cell phones. The brain waves would be harnessed with Intel-developed sensors implanted in people's brains."

"The scientists say the plan is not a scene from a sci-fi movie -- Big Brother won't be planting chips in your brain against your will. Researchers expect that consumers will want the freedom they will gain by using the implant."

Intel Labs Director of Future Technologies Research Andrew Chien observes that since human beings are remarkably adaptive , the idea of having brain implants would soon be an ordinary occurrence. "If you told people 20 years ago that they would be carrying computers all the time, they would have said, 'I don't want that. I don't need that.' Now you can't get them to stop [carrying devices]. There are a lot of things that have to be done first but I think [implanting chips into human brains] is well within the scope of possibility," he explains.

Intel research scientist Dean Pomerleau was also quoted to say that people will get bored with having to depend on computer interface, and will get more bored with having to manipulate computer interface with their fingers. Excitement will happen when they start manipulating devices with their brain waves.

Pomerleau and his research teammates from Intel, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, currently working on decoding human brain activity, points out: "We're trying to prove you can do interesting things with brain waves," said Pomerleau. "Eventually people may be willing to be more committed ... to brain implants. Imagine being able to surf the Web with the power of your thoughts."

Meantime, there are ethical and policy issues to be dealt with. This, according to Ellen M. McGee, Ph.D , Director of The Long Island Center for Ethics Long Island University, and Sweden's Gerald Q. Maguire, Jr., PhD from the Royal Institute of Technology -- on the issue of implantable brain chips.

In their position paper , they wrote:

"The future may include the reality of science fiction's "cyborgs," persons who have developed some intimate and occasionally necessary relationship with a machine. It is likely that computer chips implanted in our brains and acting as sensors or actuators may soon not only assist the blind and those with failing memory, but even bestow fluency in a new language, enable "recognition" of previously unmet individuals and provide instantaneous access to encyclopedic databases."

"Used for therapy such as remediating retardation, replacing lost memory faculties, or substituting for defective sensory abilities, implantable brain chips are noncontroversial and desirable interventions. The issues that arise with such therapeutic uses of implantable brain chips primarily involve questions of equity and the costs of implementing this technology."

Both McGee and Maguire contend that a myriad of technical, ethical and social concerns should be considered before proceeding with implantable chips, and the most obvious and basic problems involve safety.

And aside from the concern on surgical and long-term risks, the question of long-term usage of non-toxic materials implanted in the brain, there is also the issue of whether there should be a higher standard for safety when technologies are used for enhancement rather than therapy needs public debate, they pointed out.

Digital Dress Up
And the burning question arises: Will the use of computer-brain interfaces change our conception of man and our sense of identity? What about the sociological and psychological effects of enhancing human nature?

McGee and Maguire write:

"If people are actually connected via their brains, the boundaries between self and community will be considerably diminished. Not only may the boundaries of the real and the virtual worlds blur, but the pressures to act as a part of the whole, as a "collective consciousness," rather than as an isolated individual would be increased."

"The sense of self as a unique and isolated individual might be changed. Modifying the brain and its powers could change our psychic states and our understanding of what it means to be human. The borders between me "the physical self" and me "the perceptory intellectual self" could change as the ability to perceive and interact expands. Whether this would lead to bestowing greater weight to collective responsibilities and whether this would be beneficial are unknown."

And these brain-implanted cyborgs, these superhuman androids with supersensory capacities and capabilties would therefore change the "norm" for humans; and as they grow stronger in numbers, " today's normal might be seen as subnormal, leading to the medicalization of another area of life. Thus, substantial questions revolve around whether there should be limits placed upon modifications of essential aspects of the human species."

"Changes in human nature would be-come more pervasive if the altered consciousness were that of children. Will parents in our intensely competitive society be able to secure implants for their children, and if so, how will that change the already unequal lottery of life? Will the inequalities produced create a demand for universal coverage of these devices in healthcare plans, further increasing costs to society? Or will implanted brain chips be available only to those who can afford a substantial investment, thus further widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots? Of major concern should be the social impact of implementing a technology that widens the divisions not only between individuals, but also between rich and poor nations."

Further down the road, they contend that combined with cloning technologies and given the possibility of continually recording and editing our lives, novel meanings of the self would be generated. And the most frightening implication of this technology is the grave possibility that it would facilitate totalitarian control of humans.

"Using such technology, commercial interests or governments could control and monitor citizens. In a free society this possibility may seem remote, although it is plausible to project initial compulsory usage for children, for the military or for criminals. Policy decisions will arise about this usage, and also about mandating implants to affect specific behaviors. A paramount worry involves who will control the technology and what will be programmed; this issue overlaps the uneasiness about privacy concerns and the need for secure communication links. The prospects for sinister invasions of liberty and privacy are alarming."

"Certainly, it appears that moving towards implantable brain chips can be a positive step in the evolution of humans. Nevertheless, the issues as described in this paper are weighty and need international consideration. Public debate and multidisciplinary evaluation from thinkers in the fields of computer science, biophysics, medicine, law, religion, philosophy, public policy and international economy are urgently needed."

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