We're accustomed to seeing digital sensors in cars that improve analog technologies. And in the world of sports, wearables have taken on a permanent role, while the quantified self movement is steadily expanding. There is also a growing number of devices designed to monitor, analyze and even manipulate human brain activity. Muse, a brain sensing headband, makes it possible to play basic computer games using thoughts. This process is still rudimentary, but it functions. Facebook is working on an interface that will make typing and swiping across screens unnecessary in the future. Brain-Typing transmits characters to a computer. It's apparently only a matter of time before this technology becomes as common as today's speech recognition.
Theodore Berger, a neuro-engineer at the University of Southern California, is taking things a step further in his research. For more than a decade, he has been working on an implant designed to increase the memory capacity of the brain. The artificial hippocampus could be used to help people who have difficulty transforming information into memories. Researchers at the Queen Mary University in London have been testing an electrically-charged cap designed to increase human creativity. Neuro devices like these could someday be used to accelerate the advancement of existing technologies.
Telepathy and Endorphins.
In Elon Musk's vision of the future, it will be possible – and normal – to manipulate brain activities. In some ways, this is already possible. Nervana is a start-up that promises to deliver what everyone wants most: happiness. The company supplies hardware designed to stimulate the production of dopamine in the brain. Another start-up, Thync, has come up with a wearable capable of controlling a user's mood. Attached to the forehead, the compact device works with an app to stimulate a mental state ranging from excitement to relaxation. Will we soon find serenity and happiness at the touch of a button? And will this help us improve our performance and become more effective?
A study conducted by a team at Harvard University is as fascinating as it is disturbing. The researchers have managed to successfully transplant long-term memories into mice. This technology uses a wireless prosthesis and can be adapted for humans to help reduce memory loss in the treatment of traumatic brain injuries. Research team member Bryan Johnson, founder and CEO of the tech company Kernel, would like to go one step further and make the silicon memory chip available to everyone as a means of cognitive enhancement.
Biohacking and Cyborgs.
Liviu Babitz is a person who believes in applying new technologies to himself. He develops artificial senses for his company Cyborg Nest. This so-called biohacking is designed to enable humans to experience phenomena that would otherwise be imperceptible – such as magnetic fields or sounds outside the audible range. With North Sense attached to two breast piercings, he now receives a vibration signal when it is aligned to the magnetic North Pole. The waterproof, USB-rechargeable device is available for US$ 350. It is thus possible for something known in the car world as cross-sensory to be transmitted to humans and regarded as a new form of synesthesia. This is also being experienced by Neil Harbisson, the first self-titled cyborg. An antenna implanted in his head enables him to 'hear' 360 different colors. For Harbisson, the fact that the technology and his brain have become fully united is demonstrated by his ability to dream the colors.
Neuronal Optimization Pressure.
In her presentation at this year's re:publica, Miriam Meckel reported on her personal experiences with the latest technical advancements for improving brain capacity. But she also advocates healthy scepticism. The manipulation of human brain performance, which no longer requires intermediary devices, is only the beginning of a new era of mixing and merging humans and machines. There are already examples from medical practice showing how machines can support organ functions. The implantation of cardiac pacemakers is a standard procedure. Why should this advancement not be possible with neuro devices? Perhaps in the future everyone will have a neuro implant that replaces mobile devices, increases performance, or tells a car where to turn?
Neuro-telepathy – Alternative to Speech Input?
In Elon Musk's vision of the future, humans will no longer be able to function without artificial neuronal enhancements. Anyone who wants to keep up with his job and society will be forced to use or buy brain enhancements. Perhaps in the future, enhanced brain performance will determine social status. The technologies described here have already reached the point of commercialization. According to Miriam Meckel, brain hacking may be leading us towards a new form of society, neuro-capitalism. But before things get that far, she advises us to do with our brain what we do best – think. And to carefully consider what it is we want – and what we don't want.