Neuroengineering to challenge what it means to be human

Neuroengineering to challenge what it means to be human

Summary: In a recent interview published on H+ Magazine, a new publication (online and print) that covers technologies that both "promise and threaten to radically alter our lives and our view of the world and ourselves," AI expert Dr. Bruce Katz lays out a lofty vision for the emerging field of neuroengineering (a.k.a. neural engineering).


In a recent interview published on H+ Magazine,  a new publication (online and print) that covers technologies that both "promise and threaten to radically alter our lives and our view of the world and ourselves," AI expert Dr. Bruce Katz lays out a lofty vision for the emerging field of neuroengineering (a.k.a. neural engineering).

One of many cool images on H+ (Credit: H+ Magazine)

One of many cool images on H+ (Credit: H+ Magazine)

Katz, a lecturer, adjunct professor, and author of Neuroengineering the Future, and Digital Design, believes that, "We are on the cusp of a broad neuro-revolution, one that will radically reshape our views of perception, cognition, emotion and even personal identity." He says that advancement in the study of neural systems and intersecting technologies is rapidly moving from perceptual aids such as cochlear implants to devices that will enhance and speed up thought. It may ultimately "free the mind from its bound state in the body to a platform independent existence," he claims.

Technology that one day will allow for uploading of the human mind is highly controversial, helping to fuel the great singularity debate among pundits and skeptics.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, both technically or ethically, Bruce Katz raises some good points.  Armed with a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence from University of Illinois, his ideas appear firmly rooted in the scientific method. And it comes through in the preface of his book, Neuroengineering the Future:

I am not the first, and certainly will not be the last, to stress the importance of coming developments in neural engineering. This field has all the hallmarks of a broad technological revolution, but larger in scope and with deeper tentacles than those accompanying both computers and the Internet...

To modify the brain is to modify not only how we perceive but what we are, our consciousnesses and our identities. The power to be able to do so cannot be over-stated, and the consequences can scarcely be imagined, especially with our current unmodified evolutionarily provided mental apparatuses...

Here are just a few topics that we will cover...

1. Brain-machine interfaces to control computers, exoskeletons, robots, and other devices with thought alone; 2. Mind-reading devices that will project the conscious contents of one's brain onto a screen as if it was a movie; 3. Devices to enhance intellectual ability and to increase concentration; 4. Devices to enhance creativity and insight; 5. Mechanisms to upload the mind to a machine, thus preserving it from bodily decay and bodily death.

Returning to the H+ interview, Katz speaks about cognitive enhancement therapies (there's another article devoted entirely to the subject) and the legal, societal, and ethical issues surrounding neuroengineering. He then points out the "kludgy design" characteristics of the human brain that he hopes we'll overcome in the next 20 years:

* Short-term memory limitations (typically seven plus or minus 2 items), * Significant long-term memory limitations (the brain can only hold about as much as a PC hard disk circa 1990), * Strong limitations on processing speed (although the brain is a highly parallel system, each neuron is a very slow processor), * Bounds on rationality (we are less than fully impartial processors, sometimes significantly so), * Bounds on creativity (most people go through their entire lives without making a significant creative contribution to humanity), and perhaps most significantly... * Bounds on the number of concepts that can be entertained in consciousness at once (some estimate that the bottleneck of consciousness restricts us to one plus or minus zero items!).

"Freeing the mind from this limited, albeit remarkable, organ will allow us to manipulate thought directly, and this will produce the most gains in intelligence, creativity, and in achieving harmony with other sentient beings and the universe as a whole," Katz told H+.

What do you think? Are you satisfied with the cutting edge of evolution sitting behind your eyes and think we should limit performance gain to caffeine, sudoku puzzles and omega-3 pills, or do you agree with more invasive means of brain improvement like the kind neuroengineering promises? Speak your mind in Talkback.

Topics: Hardware, Emerging Tech, Processors

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  • sign me up

    I am definitely interested in any advantages I
    can be given through neural enhancement or
    cybernetics. Obviously early attempts to alter
    the brain will be less effective and will no
    doubt exhibit many flaws but even a dodgy
    upgrade is better than no upgrade if you are
    able to correct the damage later with another
    upgrade. Having the earliest upgrades could be
    akin to being one of the earliest land owners,
    it would give you advantages that would
    accelerate returns in your future.
    Probably safer to go with some kind of
    biological change rather than rely on
    microprocessors as I would imagine a Carrington
    event at some point in the future could leave
    any cyborgs as gibbering vegetables.
    • I'll wait for service pack 1...

      You seem to be an early adopter, and i would be too. i would love to
      volunteer for experiments such as that. but i would rather "wait for
      service pack 1" before doing it, because i don't want to need more
      upgrades to fix the original.

      it would be cool though, to have a wifi chip or something like it
      implanted though. imagine surfing the web in your mind's eye!

      (like ghost in the shell)
  • RE: Neuroengineering to challenge what it means to be human

    The Short-term memory limitations (typically seven plus or minus 2 items) refers only to the average human's ability to recall from short term memory. This number has no relevance to our ability to recognize things we have seen previously. So if you were give a list of 15 random words and had to type them back into a form, you'd average 7. But if you were instead given a list of 15 and then had to select the words out of 50 you would probably recognize all 15 random words.
  • RE: Neuroengineering to challenge what it means to be human

    it's amzing need more info thou
  • Implants will kill you

    Do some research into implants causing cancer
  • Microchip implants are not good idea

    Read here
    and google to read articles about implant induced
  • RE: Neuroengineering to challenge what it means to be human

    I guess this just goes to show how important parallel computing is to us all. even with "severly limited" capacity in terms of memory etc. we have come a very long way as organisms.
    sparkle farkle
    • Neuroengineering

      A Humans Brain is a SUPER COMPUTER. It can be stimulated from a distance using extra low frequencies transmitted by microwave. It is also possible to tap into someones mind and download the entire memory of a human and then download that information into another. This has already been developed and has been demonstrated upon myself. It was quite an unbelievable experience.
  • RE: Neuroengineering to challenge what it means to be human

    These technologies have already been developed. They have already been used and demonstrated upon myself. Remote Neural Monitoring has been in use for a long time. It was developed by the CIA and is used by the NSA and other military and security organizations. Scientists in today's world are concentrating their efforts on the development of many technologies that have already been discovered and developed secretly.
  • RE: Neuroengineering to challenge what it means to be human

    A human mind confined to an electric box with no hands, other feeling power, eyes, nor ears may quickly go insane. And do the mind, brain, or both need REM sleep? This raises the question: Does the mind need a body to sleep?
    Eating, drinking, excreting, sex, breathing, etc. seem like small things next to contemplating complex concepts with the mind. But the sum of the supposedly small things may form a large part of the barrier between sanity and insanity
  • RE: Neuroengineering to challenge what it means to be human

    I would much rather remain human thanks very much, wouldn't want some overly zealous corporation DRM'ing the contents of my mind a la Amazon Kindle/1984. nor would i want anyone accessing my thoughts or memories.

    "Dear valued customer, you have attempted to access a subscription-only service, please contact your local Neuralink(tm) representative to discuss our exciting range of consumer and business plans. We hope that you have enjoyed your 30 day obligation-free trial"
  • RE: Neuroengineering to challenge what it means to be human

    It's interesting to learn more about these evolving neuro technologies. There is something called <a style="text-decoration: none; color: #333333;" href="">neurobics</a> which is basically exercise for your brain, which supposedly decreases risk of developing certain neuro-illnesses.
  • McBrain

    So, what will happen to shame? McBrain should have shame! "Do you want embarassment with that?"

    Maybe Hell is a technical location. Like, if God can't be with sin, shame helps us look for redemption. Without shame, will humans become scientifically incapable of uniting with God? Because without shame, we won't know we need forgiveness because of our free will.

    This McBrain stuff sounds like the Devil's false promise of eternal life to me.
  • And Another Thing

    I think all this R&D has already been done, because Aliens 'R Us. They all speak English. They look like mammals. They communicate using clairvoyance and telepathy - in English. Sounds like it's their native tongue. Their design emphasizes what appears to be brain research. Their design de-emphasizes the body. They're grey because they don't have regular blood. Their eyes are big because science and tech has always been real big on visual. They jet around in modern technology, not spiritual chariots! Obviously they are engineered humans. If there really were alien life, do we really think it would look almost just like us? No, these are engineered beings whose huge brains have been highly technologically altered.