The ability to access the Internet with one's brain may not be as far off as we believe.
Imagine the ability to have your own internal GPS in your head, the ability to communicate with anyone in any language via instant language conversion, and the ability to search the Internet just by thinking about it.
Multiple technologies have converged in recent years, creating a range of new opportunities. What was once science fiction is now moving from the lab into medical application.
One technology in testing with the Food and Drug Administration is Cyberkinetics's BrainGate System that helps severely motor-impaired persons access computers using only their brains. The system consists of a sensor that is implanted on the motor cortex of the brain, allowing users to control a computer with just their thoughts.
Other brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) have been in testing for years, primarily focused on improving an individual’s sense of sight or hearing. The Audeo, for example, is a technology being tested that allows individuals who cannot speak to communicate via a computer just by thinking about what they want to say.
In a recent private conference conducted by my company, Toffler Associates, scientists from institutions such as Harvard, MIT, and the government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) indicated beliefs that the next decade will be the “neural decade," in which research based on neural science and applications will become more accepted. These scientists are already working on ways for the brain and body to integrate technologies to improve human functioning.
We can expect a jump from medical research implants to implants for common human performance enhancement. We have seen a similar pattern with other aspects of medical advances: The use of drugs such as steroids to treat medical disorders is now used more commonly by athletes to enhance performance. Surgery originally used to address severe eyesight problems now has become common Lasik surgery.
Human performance enhancement will eventually give way to more common applications, such as implants that allow the brain to connect to the future Internet.
It is hard to predict when such capabilities will be commonplace, but even 10 to 20 years out is not that long. Twenty years ago, in 1988, the Internet basically didn’t exist, and something called a “mobile phone” was a 2-pound object just being considered for use by the general public.
Though Internet access via the brain is fascinating, there are also a range of questions we will need to begin to address:
- What will education and learning mean if we can have the future Internet instantly available by just thinking about it?
- How will we define “critical infrastructure” in the future if one of the most important infrastructures is the connection of the human brain to Internet?
- How might adversaries use or affect these brain Internet interfaces to do harm?
We indeed live in interesting times!
— Aaron Schulman is a partner in Toffler Associates, overseeing the firm's consulting with the national security and government sector