Sunday, August 12, 2007

Artificial Intelligence: Part 1--Neural Implants

Cannot we let people be themselves, and enjoy life in their own way? You are trying to make another you. One’s enough.—Ralph Waldo Emerson



We used to treat the brain like soup, adding chemicals that enhance or suppress certain neurotransmitters,” said Rick Trosch, an American physician who works with deep brain therapies. “Now we’re treating it like circuitry.”

Ray Kurzweil noted in his book, The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999) that we were increasingly combating cognitive and sensory afflictions by treating the brain and nervous system like a complex computational system. He cited examples of cochlear implants together with electronic speech processors that performed frequency analysis of sound waves so that deaf people could hear and understand voices. Other scientists have worked with retinal implants, small solar-powered computers that communicate to the optic nerve, that together with special glasses communicating to the implanted computer by laser signal, permit a blind person to see.

Research labs are developing a vast array of “intelligent” wearable devices that can enhance memory, awareness and cognition. Digging deeper, microchip implants, such as radio frequency identification devices (RFID) inserted in humans, are gaining momentum.
On May 2, 2002, the first human was “chipped” for security reasons; the idea was that if he became ill or impaired, professionals could access his medical history by scanning his microchip implant. The next step in the evolution of this technology is the ability to track people using GPS and connect to additional personal information of importance such as medical data. Science fiction writer, Robert J. Sawyer calls such devices “companions” as used by an alternative society in his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy. Since 9/11 the idea of national identification has gained much approval by U.S. citizens.

Medical implants are not new; they are used in every organ of the human body. More than 1,800 types of medical devices are currently in use. These run the gamut from heart valves, pacemakers, and cochlear implants, to drug infusion devices and neuro-stimulating devices for pain relief or to combat certain disorders like Parkinson’s.

On October 14, 2003, the Associated Press announced that monkeys with brain implants could consciously move a robot arm with their thoughts. This represented a key advance by researchers at Duke University, who were hoping to permit paralyzed people to perform similar tasks. Paul Woot Wolpe, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, stated that “we’re on the verge of profound changes in our ability to manipulate the brain.” New developments in neuroscience promise to improve memory, boost intellectual acumen, and fine-tune emotional responses through brain implants.

This excites transhumanists, who seek to expand technological opportunities for people to live longer and healthier lives and enhance their intellectual, physical, and emotional capacities through the use of genetic, cybernetic and nanotechnologies. From the transhuman perspective, “in time the line between machines and living beings will blur and eventually vanish, making us part of a bionic ecology.”

The US National Science Foundation and the Department of Commerce initiated a program that “wires together biotechnology, IT, and cognitive neuroscience (under the acronym of NBIC) into one megatechnology by mastering nano-scale engineering.” In a detailed report that projected twenty years into the future, the authors declared that: “understanding the mind and brain will enable the creation of a new species of intelligent machine systems.” The report envisioned technological achievements that would seize control of the molecular world through nanotechnology including the re-engineering of neurons “so that our minds could talk directly to computers or to artificial limbs.” Brain-to-brain interaction, direct brain control devices via neuromorphic engineering, and retarding of the aging process would then be feasible.... I find this all equally wonderful and frightening...

Recommended Reading:
1. Dominguez, Alex (Associated Press). 2003. “Monkeys move robotic arms with their minds,” in the Vancouver Sun, October 14, 2003.
2. Gaitherburg, M.D. 2002. Medical Implant Information Performance and Policies Workshop, September 19-20, 2002. Final Report.
3. Hall, J. Storrs. “Ethics for Machines” in
www.KurzweilAI.net. July 5, 2001.
4. Hutcheson, G.Dan. 2004. “The First Nanochips” in Scientific American 290 (4): 76-91. April, 2004.
5. Kurzweil, Ray. 1999. The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. Penguin Books. New York, N.Y. 388pp. It’s dated but still relevant for his past near-future predictions and commentary.
6. National Science Foundation and Department of Commerce. “Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance: Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology, and Cognitive Science.” 2002. 402pp
7. Pentland, Alex P. 1998. “Wearable Intelligence” in Scientific American Presents: Exploring Intelligence 9 (4) Winter. 1998.
8. Sawyer, Robert J. The Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy. Tor Books.
9. Thomas, Jim. 2003. “Future Perfect?” in The Ecologist, May 22, 2003.





Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.

13 comments:

-Jeane Michelle Culp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
-Jeane Michelle Culp said...

(had to correct spelling on first comment)Hello Nina! Your links and Recommended Readings add volumes of interest to your Writing. I like the quote you began with by Ralph Waldo Emerson and how for the ending you stated that such (neural implants) is “equally wonderful and frightening”. Would this mean your part two will include pros and cons? I personally do not think any machinery, no matter how computerized advanced; can imitate genuine emotions. What is your opinion on this human characteristic?

Jean-Luc Picard said...

It sounds like the development of neural implants is well under way.

sfgirl said...

It certainly is, Jean-Luc--it certainly is, Jean-Luc--it--it...Oh, excuse me while I adjust my implant...There...:) In response to your comment, Jeane Michelle, I admit I'm ambivalent about it all and do find it both disturbing and incredible. My first thought is that it is helping people immensely. Then I think it's terribly intrusive and what it may lead to. In the end it comes down to how we view the world: with hope or with fear; with trust or with cynicism. In Parts 2 and 3 I'll discuss a bit about how attitude forms our vision (and realization) of the future...

Fab said...

I really liked that quote (at the beginning of the post).

Thank you for visiting my blog. You have a very interesting blog. Your review on Casino was great. I'll try and stop by some more.

Bye!

Bill said...

Yep, Big brother will be forcing us all to get implants soon so they can track our every move and do away with paper money. We will all be slaves to the government and the banking system. And people are all happy and cool with it like it's no big deal. Most people think it's actually a great idea. I mean wouldn't it be nice if we never had to balance our checkbooks because the chip in our hand keeps track of all our transactions? Sounds like our laziness is going to allow the government to turn us into slaves if you ask me. Wake up people! The New World Order is coming and you're gonna be their slave! And it's not the world I view with cynicism. It's the government, I mean who provides the main source of grants for our scientists? The government. And if our scientists don't do what the governement says they get their funding cut. So guess who's controlling all this BS? Yep. Our brave and fearless (evil?) leaders. Make sense?

sfgirl said...

Hear, hear, Bill! I'm all for waking up. True freedom comes with responsibility...and work. We must not let ourselves become complacent. We can still be optimistic, just not blindly so...

Kai said...

cool, but freaky! For people who need it, its a good idea (like blind people) but for normal people I think its kinda scary because you never know what could go wrong, and its irreversible.

sfgirl said...

I agree, Kai. It's a balance, isn't it? And a continuum... between the truly wonderful...the freaky...and the horrific...So, where do we draw the line?

Ric Vil Hori said...

Another interesting topic from your blog :))

With science being amoral, consequences do depend on how it's dealt with responsibly. Humans being 'chipped' could easily be a dream-come-true for every Despot, but nightmare for the rest.

With such advancement in technology, holistic approach would be necessary for human survival. Highly advanced technology combined with soul-less culture and lack of spirituality would be a scenario disturbing enough to imagine.

sfgirl said...

You said it, Ric! As always...it depends on whose hands it's in...comes back to reciprocal altruism...

Dar said...

The nightmare Ric mentioned is illustrated in the appropriately-named movie Nightmare City 2035. In this movie, which should be out soon, the implant is used by the despot to track citizens (as Bill mentioned) and to create an illusion of a beautiful city. The latter makes a great excuse for cool computer graphics.

If we all see the same city, what difference does it make? Personally, I'd rather live in truth.

sfgirl said...

I'll have to look out for the film...yes, you bring up an interesting point, Dar...If beauty is only an illusion, is it worth having?