The new millennium has brought with it a new wave of technology. When I was born in the early 1990s, a phone was just a phone and concepts like genetic engineering and three-dimensional printing were only beginning to be explored. Now, scientists have mapped the entire human genome; my iPhone is a functional computer literally at my fingertips. With the lightning fast speed of technological improvement, it is only natural to ask what is next. As we become increasingly reliant on computers and connected to networks like Facebook and Twitter, we become closer and closer to our technology. One day very soon, we may even physically merge with technology, augmenting our own brains with neural implants.
Soon we will be able to implant computers within our own brains, expanding our intelligence and connecting us all to the Internet (or whatever network will exist in the future). I believe this day is close because of the strides that have been made with not only computers, but also with prosthetics. Prosthetic hands, for example, are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Scientists have created artificial hands that move by the will of the user’s mind. That fusion of neurological processes and artificial movement will eventually allow us to not only replace missing limbs, but directly control and improve the brain’s functioning.
I know that the idea of a computer inside your brain seems frightening, but as with any new technology, there are both benefits and problems. Neural implants have the potential to become the next stage of human development. Our minds will be vastly improved, allowing us to reach new technological and cultural heights. With the digital information of civilization and extra space to store it, we will become smarter and more open to new information. Perhaps our improved brains will even help carry us to the stars. (Even if everyone’s minds are linked to a network, rest assured we wouldn’t become the Borg. If my 19 years have taught me anything, it is that humans are stubbornly individualistic.) Whatever the case, progress is worth taking some risks.
Speaking of risks, I feel I must address a few of my concerns with neural implants. Many dystopias focus on possible problems of having computers in your brain. Some focus on the cost of accessing these devices, which would exacerbate the socioeconomic gap between the rich and poor. Other dystopias focus on the possibility of government using this technology to track our every move. The Matrix went out of the box and made this technology become the means to our enslavement. However, my most pressing concern comes from a novel written in 2002 called Feed. In it, neural interfaces essentially create an Internet in everyone’s head with corporations in charge of administration and content creation. The corporations use their access to people’s minds to bombard them with a constant influx of advertisements and marketing, making the population wasteful, ignorant, and apathetic. With these inherent risks, our society will need to focus on using this new technology appropriately or we might end up like the people in Feed.
Even though I am concerned about the misuse of neural implants, I am still hopeful that society moves technology like this in a positive direction. We just have to be careful. Humanity will only get one shot at “upgrading” itself to this new level. However, this new technology is far enough away that we still have time to consider the ethical implications. We have time, but probably not a lifetime.