Sunday, January 31, 2010

A prosthetic memory?

In a recent blog, Charles Stross mentioned the idea of a "prosthetic memory". The idea blew my mind. If you read my post from a couple weeks ago, you know I believe the future advancements will have tremendous impact on how we think (and how well). I posited that, through wearable technologies, such as goggles and mind-readers (really!), we could access the internet via devices such as the iPhone, or a Google droid for all you open-sourcers out there.

In a fairly recent conversation, my co-author Joe, talked to me about some amazing research done with prosthetics and the control of those prosthetics using neural sensors. Let's say a person is using a prosthetic arm. The could learn to manipulate that arm (flex it, extend it, make a grip) using other parts of their bodies. For example, a flex of the left toe could send the message to the prosthetic to make a fist. Now here's the kicker. After a few months, it seems that people don't even realize they are flexing the toe anymore. The brain has rewired itself in a way that is similar to stroke victims who have re-taught themselves to walk or talk again.

You know this from experience. When you reach over to your right and move the mouse around, you don't think about the mouse or your hand, unless the mouse isn't working. As long as it works, you're only thinking about the pointer on the screen. It's rather amazing.

But what does this have to do with the technology-making-us-smarter discussion? Imagine using the mind-reading google option often enough that you no longer think of this as an act separate from your own thought. Without the actual bio-technical integration, you would start to become part meat, part machine. "Googling" information would become synonymous for thinking.

But what if we became completely reliant on our prosthetic memory? How dull would we be without our Google-enhanced meat brain? How poorly would we think when left to our own meager head?

And God forbid the wifi goes down...

I'd love to know if this both excites and terrifies you as much as it does me.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting story, thanks!.

    This is the official Symmetric Engineering Group blog page where we will blog to discuss IT issues and Stories.
    We are IT company based in Tampa Florida.

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  2. Thanks, John! We appreciate the feedback. I'll be checking out your blog, as well. Looks like good coverage of some current tech products. If you geta chance, check out our book (Inflection Point - above). It's a fictional look at just where some of this technology might be taking us. Both optimistically and, well, not so. :)

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