14 May 2009

A Brave New World of Custom Brain Augments

How do you want your brain customised? With a brain-machine interface? With genetic treatments? With smart drugs? With implanted nano-circuits? Or with stem cell colony implants ready to repair any damage or deficit?

All of those modifications are on the doorstep, ringing the front bell. The world's neuroscientists and philosophers are finally taking this reality seriously. A group of interested persons met in Berlin recently to discuss the implications of the brave new brain technologies.
The next stage of brainpower enhancement could be technological - through genetic engineering or brain prostheses. Because the gene variants pivotal to intellectual brilliance have yet to be discovered, boosting brainpower by altering genes may still be some way off, or even impossible. Prostheses are much closer, especially as the technology for wiring brains into computers is already being tested (see "Dawn of the cyborgs"). Indeed, futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil believes the time when humans merge with machines will arrive as early as 2045 (New Scientist, 9 May, p 26).

It won't be long before "clip-on" computer aids become available for everybody, says Andy Clark, a pro-enhancement philosopher at the University of Edinburgh in the UK. These could be anything from memory aids to the ability to "search" for information stored in your brain. "We'll get a flowering of brain augmentations, some seeping through from the disabled community," he says. "I see them becoming fashion items, a bit like choosing clothing." Clark says that even today, devices such as head-up displays on spectacles or simply being adept at using computer programs like Photoshop come close to being physical extensions of people's minds.

...There are, however, simple alternatives to technological enhancement that would achieve many of the same goals, says Dupré: education and child-rearing. Moreover, he thinks such changes can be heritable via epigenetics - the reprogramming of gene expression in offspring by exposure to cultural, maternal and environmental influences. Dupré points to a study in rats showing that good maternal care was passed on largely because it permanently altered gene activity in the brains of the pups. _NewScientist
There is a wide range of potential brain mod even without using invasive implants, stimulators, and genetic alterations. Humans have always had access to meditation techniques (including laughter) which may well build useful brain circuits. More recent developments such as neurofeedback expand the options for creative brain modification immensely. Combining brain machine interfaces with nano-implants, crafted meditative techniques, and neurofeedback offers some quite sophisticated possibilities for supercharging specific brain circuits.

Genetic modification (combined with creative stem cell therapies) is the long term goal, once the techniques are improved. The mainstream intent will be to provide a level playing field for all the world's people -- including those populations that seem stuck at average IQs around 70 to 80 points. These people have no hope of developing or maintaining a technological civilisation, and depend upon outsiders and market dominant minorities for their advanced goods and services.

Eventually, advanced germ cell line genetic brain augmentation techniques will be applied to persons who are already above average intelligence. Soon afterward, clear separations in group proficiencies will develop and begin to widen.

It is not likely that such separation will begin along racial lines, but rather along other affiliative lines such as professions or special interest groups. Societies whose more functional and accomplished members work well together regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion etc will probably be the most creative in terms of applying the new technologies.

If such quasi-elites -- by competencies -- have experienced enough societal shocks they are likely to jump beyond today's ethically queasy resistance to brain augmentation in the interest of survival. The threat of a new dark age brought on by incompetent world governments would be enough to focus even the most bleeding heart.

The horses are already out, and they are just now talking about closing the barn door. Someone take them some coffee.

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Blogger Eli Good said...

This is exactly the kind of tech I'm ready for. Plug me in.

Friday, 15 May, 2009  

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