Brain Implants

from the lousy-idea dept

Interesting article by MIT’s Michael Dertouzos on why brain implants are a lousy idea. Makes for some interesting reading, though the arguments are all pretty obvious. Sensory overload. Difficulty in understanding how to express complex concepts in simple electrical impulses etc.

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Comments on “Brain Implants”

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Mark Gallagher says:

Brain implants

Actually, most of the sensory overload stuff could probably be avoided by including an off-switch and using a connection protocol that allowed a brain (server) to refuse connections based on a combination of real-time interaction and black-list settings (i.e. no connections when I’m asleep, etc.)

As far as communicating abstract concepts, I’d be satisfied with simple recording and playback of sensory data, simulating sight, taste, touch, etc. There are several movies (some good, some stinky) that explore this stuff, like Brainstorm, Strange Days, and eXistenZ.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Brain implants

Fair enough. Where there’s a technology that causes a problem, there is almost always another technology that solves the problems (and perhaps causes new problems). That’s the way it works, and trying to stop it is usually a lost cause.

I wonder, however, what it would mean for learning in general. Would people “learn” in a completely different manner. Would they become reliant on the data supplied through the brain implants? One of the coolest things about learning is understanding how to infer something. Does that go away, when we can simply access the grand master database of all information with a simple eye blink?

Mark Gallagher says:

Re: Re: Brain implants

I dunno about the inferntial stuff. As I understand it, the brain remembers stuff by creating a logical representation encoded by establishing a series of connections between neurons. When you remember stuff, the brain tries to re-create the experience on the fly, with all of the associate emotion, etc. intact. This might be unique to each individual, so that there would be no way to download memory from one brain and upload it to another. All of those associations would be lost.

On the other hand, if you could just intercept sensory data before it gets processed into memory, then record and play that back, you could do some really cool things. Imaging having astronauts equiped with recorders during a Mars landing and being able to simulate a first hand experience here on Earth. Cool.

P.S. Love the site.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Brain implants

Interesting… though I wonder how people will react to “seeing” something that someone else saw and “reliving” the moment, since it’s not real, and you can’t react to it. Part of our learning and experiences is learning how to react to different stimuli… using someone else’s experiences forces us into their responses. I don’t know if it’s really a big deal. I guess it could just be like watching a movie, but I see the potential to rely on others’ experiences in trying to determine how you should react as a huge “group think” issue, in that it will enforce the lowest common denomenator of action. Just a possibility… Depending on how things are set up, I’d imagine that most people automatically default to their own reactions, but over time it could be an issue.

I guess I’m just a little nervous of using such a system to enforce a “group think” mentality. Everyone else reacts like “so”, therefore, I must react like “so”.

Anyway, thanks for the encouraging words about the site. Please let anyone else you know who might like it know about it. We rely solely on word of mouth these days.

John Aulgur says:

Re: Re: Re: Brain implants

Mark – I like the concept of the sensory data intercept. But not being even an amateur in this or related field, I have to agree with (Mike, I believe) on that being a problem when it comes to self experiencing a situation. However, for situations such as learning the technique of something (for example – martial arts, chemistry, Math, programming, etc…(Things or information that require only memorization as an initial basis) ), or facts and figures your sensory data intercept idea seems to have validity. Am I wrong in the assumption that when the brain is processing a thought, memory, etc… at it’s most basic level it is using electrical pulses at some value and frequency… Does that value and frequency change depending on how something is being perceived?? learned/experienced?? What the actual information is that is being stored or processed?? An if it is an electrical pulse, why then can’t it be converted to a high/low signal state (like that of a computer)and put into a storage medium such as a ram chip (of sorts) or hard drive to be save for later recall?? Just some thoughts…..
One more thing I agree with you on, and that is this site.. really love it!!!!

Zach says:

Re: Brain implants

As I see it, brain implant technology can be one of the most important developments that can ever be made. It is a long way off, but imagine being able to look at some object, say another human being, and knowing their mass, or being able to track an object as it passes you without a flutter. Even better, being able to solve complex math problems without the aid of external computers. With a well integrated system, you wouldn’t have to access the system and “think” of a question to ask it, you would just know the derivative of a function the way you know how to move your arm.
Very far into the future I can see it being possible to transmit your own thoughts to another person via a device of some kind but this would almost have to be custom made as no two brains are laid out in the same way.
As far as sensory overload is concerned, I think it depends on the person. Take a librarian for example, I doubt this person would react well it they were placed in to a combat situation in an advanced fighter jet. Fighter pilots, however, can handle this situation quite well. Perhaps it is a matter of getting accustomed to the way information is presented to you. After time and training you will get used to it. I am sure you could find a way to shut it down or reduce it in some way. The quickest way to stop yourself from getting sick from looking at a disgusting sight is to shut your eyes. Your body does this anyway as you sleep. Taste, smell, touch, and sight are all ignored when you sleep unless a certain limit is met and you awaken with a jolt. Hearing remains active though reduced.
I think it will all come to pass soon, but not before some very important discoveries about the physiological aspects of the human thought process are made.

Paul Lucian says:

Re: Re: Brain implants

Per your 2000 comment about brain implants… I ma doing som research on the feasability of a “Brain Storms”-type technology which I have come to call “prosthetic knowledge,” and “temporary knowledge”. Where is there anything even remotely close to this in the real world? Feel free to pass this ? along to others. THX

Paul Lucian says:

Re: Re: Brain implants

Per your 2000 comment about brain implants… I am doing some research on the feasability of a “Brain Storms”-type technology which I have come to call “prosthetic knowledge,” and “temporary knowledge”. Where is there anything even remotely close to this in the real world? Feel free to pass this ? along to others. THX

Anonymous Coward says:

Interesting (if skewed) perspective this guy has..

Imagine that you and I and a couple of other people are successfully interconnected via brain chips. We might look cool with sockets and plugs adorning our heads. But we wouldn?t be able to start or sustain a single thought: Everybody else?s thoughts would be distracting us, screaming for attention within our heads.

Um. What is this, Ethernet? Everyone’s thoughts are not going to be streaming through your head all the time, at least in a well-designed system. Plus, there would have to be a way to shut it out… which would neatly take care of our ‘need for isolation’.

I get the impression that the author is equating the notion of a brain implant with telepathy. I would think of it more like an internal computer (which, I suppose, it would be). Just like an ordinary PC, it could enhance our thought processes, if in a much more direct manner… and, when we wanted to, we could use it to communicate with other people.

As to his final point: certainly, there are people who won’t want to have one of these shoved into their skulls. In fact, I will be one of those people until brain implantation becomes a mature technology. (Which will probably not take place within my lifetime, but oh well.) But by his logic, since there are people who don’t believe in using modern technology, everything from the internal combustion engine to the microprocessor is a ‘lousy idea!’

I’m sure I had a point around here, but I seem to have lost it. =^) I guess what I’m trying to say is that anything looks like a ‘lousy idea’ from a certain angle, but that doesn’t make it inherently bad.

Caro Beveridge says:

lousy idea department

Mike-In your entry on Thursday, August 19th,1999@ 05:42PM: ?from the lousy idea department?, you wrote ?Interesting article by MIT?s Michael Dertouzos on why brain implants are a lousy idea. Makes for some interesting reading, though the arguments all are pretty obvious. Sensory overload. Difficulty in understanding how to express complex concepts in simple electrical impulses etc.?

This ?article? was followed by several days of replies and comments, and right up until 2003, you were publishing entries on brain implants.

My question is, Does anyone know the name of the student who originally approached Michael Dertouzos with this ?lousy idea??

The article which Dertouzos published on the internet says only: ?a young man approached me and said ?What I really want is a brain implant so that I can move massive amounts of information rapidly and painlessly in and out of my head.? Unfortunately Dertouzos died in 2001 so I can?t ask him who the student was.

Mike, if you or any of your readers know, please help me out.
Thank you, Caro Beveridge

Anonymous Coward says:

unofficial cranial rape via brain implantation

I have been subjected to rigorous government testining against my will. To explain what they,ve done to me would take hours of explaining in great detail of the unending pain and the constant singular words as a means to alter my discision making.In order to prove that i am not faking i am willing to try to self diagnose my symptons as i cannot live my own with this much pain.I WANT IT OUT OF MY BODY!!

Terry Parker Jr. / aka Robertson (user link) says:

Interesting brain implants

Folks may want to check out my X-rays on page three of my web site- where we have 43 unauthorized metallic implants in the cerebral cortex, (four connected to the right optic nerve)These implants were trespassed upon my person Dec.9,1969 at 14 years of age, by Dr. Harold J. Hoffman of the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children. What was suppose to be a operation as to address seizure disorder,turns out to be non-therapeutic covert psychosurgical and brain implant research, while under the guise of treating epilepsy. This correlates with the CIA MK-ULTRA project of psychosurgical and brain implant research upon unwitting subjects. Those subjects being myself, and other children who suffer epilepsy at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children.
More interesting, when we put psychosurgery and brain implants on our search engine, we end up with manchurian candidate developmental research.
Any of Hoffman’s patients survive this covert human experimentation?
Terry Parker Jr./ aka Robertson

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