A recent reading of ‘The Future of the Mind’ by Michio Kaku set alarm bells ringing for me. Kaku is convinced that the mysteries of the mind will be mysteries no more.
He tells us we will soon be manipulating the ‘stuff of consciousness’ with the same acuity we push electrons around in our digital devices and he talks of an era when memories can be recorded and then played back into someone else’s head by stimulating the same pattern of neural activity.
Going one step further, machines wired directly to brains will be able to read and transmit our thoughts instantaneously. Getting nervous?
But brain to machine, and machine to brain interaction is already here. The first kick at this year’s World Cup in Brazil was made by a paralyzed teenager wearing an ‘exoskeleton’ directly controlled by his thoughts and read through a helmet-mounted EEG machine. Does Iron Man come to mind?
Then there’s the case of Ian Burkhart who had barely finished his freshman year of college when he broke his neck diving into shallow water and paralyzing his body from the elbows down.
Mashable reports that on June 23, Ian made a fist with his right hand using only his brain waves, transferred through an innovative chip implanted in his head. In other words, he moved his paralyzed hand just by thinking about it.
We are fast moving from an era of using mobile devices loaded with apps for almost every conceivable purpose, to standalone wearable technology that monitors our every move and wellbeing and now to embedded devices that will not only restore movement to damage bodies but also read minds and respond accordingly.
This is the stuff of science fiction only a few short years ago and it is hard to determine if science is emulating science fiction or the fiction is creating science.
But it doesn’t stop there. Not all the technology is new. Some of it takes existing mundane stuff and reworks it to do brilliant things. Who’d have though ten years ago that we could locate our lost property on map displayed on our mobile phones. Or even an app that takes a photo of the person that has ‘procured’ your mobile phone and sends you an email with their photo and an address with the exact coordinates of its location.
Who’d have thought that plain old vanilla WiFi signals could be used to look through walls and that the technology could be added to mobile phones in the near future. A WiVi (WiFi and Vision) demonstration was made recently at MIT allowing a viewer to ‘see’ a person moving behind a wall. It’s only a blurred image now but who knows how long before it will replicate Superman’s famed X-Ray vision.
Even Dick Tracy’s ‘wrist radio transceiver’ is old hat these days and the imminent release of Apple’s iTime, or whatever it will be called, will no doubt usher a new generation of ‘me too’ products. Telling the time will probably the least important of its functions. Will it come with a projection device that will emulate an iPad or sensors that will warn of impending danger? The mind boggles.
What is certain is that all this technology will depend on wireless connectivity between the devices and the human in the first few cases highlighted above, and the devices and the internet, remote servers and the cloud for almost everything else.
The existing wireless network technology controlled and delivered by network operators may be the next to experience a major makeover, or will that be too radical for the governments that allocate spectrum and all the supporting industries that survive around mobile communications.
One thing is certain, the ‘Internet of Things’ we keep hearing about has hardly made an impact yet, but when all the issues around privacy, security, data management and accessibility are taken into account people relying on the technology will want to be assured they are in good hands.
Who will these hands belong to?