Imagine you know everything on Wikipedia, in the Oxford English Dictionary, and the contents of every book in digital form. When someone asks you what you did 20 years ago, on demand you recall with perfect accuracy every sensation and thought from that moment.
Sifting and parsing all of this information is effortless and unconscious. Any fact, instant of time, skill, technique, or data point that you’ve experienced or can access on the internet is in your mind.
Cybernetic brains might make that possible. As computing power and storage continue to plod along their 18-month doubling cycle, there is no reason to believe we won’t at least have cybernetic sub-brains within the coming century. We already offload a tremendous amount of information and communication to our computers and smartphones. Why not make the process more integrated?
Of course, what I’m engaging in right now is rampant speculation. But a neuro-computer interface is a possibility. More than that: cyber-brains may be necessary.
The idea of a cyber-brain is pretty simple. Our brains are all-in-one systems that store, process, organize, and collect data. A cybernetic brain would augment one, many, or all parts of that system. The processing and organization part, not to mention analysis and synthesis, would require something resembling artificial intelligence.
People would probably be wary to jack themselves into an A.I. helper brain. So, based on current trends and my rudimentary knowledge of computer progress, my guess is that cybernetic collection, storage, and retrieval of information will be the easiest pieces to integrate into our biological brains: a neural external hard drive. We’ve externalized the storage process for ages—the written word, anyone? But what if we could internalize it again?
That’s what cyber-brains could allow. Ever since we started writing things down, we’ve been trying to make it faster and easier to write, to read what others write, and to remember what we read. A cyber-brain takes the externalization potential of computers (massive amounts of stable and inexpensive data storage with rapid and accurate recall) and removes the lag time.
Instead of sitting at your computer or pulling out your phone, opening the file, and taking in the contents, the information is already in your cyber-sub-brain. Anything you store on your cyber-brain, from a song to a novel to the contents of Wikipedia, would be as easily and rapidly accessible as your most vivid memories currently are…
Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.
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