Telepathy is something usually reserved for sci-fi or fantasy novels, but in recent years scientists have been making significant steps towards actually being able to implant chips into the human brain that will enable interpretation of thought. Professor Kevin Warwick is one such scientist who has been pushing the boundaries of integrating biology and technology, as he discusses in this article.
There is no doubt that integrating technology with our bodies will present a whole host of benefits. Being able to control things simply with thought is something that would be incredibly useful, especially for creative tasks or interacting with software. In Switzerland they have recently been developing medical implants that can be powered by the human body and the implications of an implant that could therefore communicate directly with a Star Trek style medi-tricorder are amazing. Imagine a doctor being able to turn on their tricorder, scan their patient and the implants instantly give a full read out of the patients vitals. It would be possible to diagnose people instantly, see problems before they have occurred and monitor recovery of internal organs after accidents without invasive procedures or x-rays and the like. And this is just one possible use.
But what of the drawbacks? Well imagine that really useful brain implant, which allows you to control your devices and software with your thought. You can send and receive messages, skype style, with a clear glass display in your glasses showing you all your alerts (or maybe it would just appear in your sight, through your eye) but your mind controlling your responses to them. Brilliant, but all this relies on hardware and software to run and if there is one thing we know about software it is that some people rather enjoy to mess around with it.
Computer hacking has fast become a favourite subject of the media. A quick keyword search of BBC News will show just how often it is talked about. It is a reality of the software industry. So imagine that your brain implant, that allows your life to be so easy, is hacked by some unscrupulous person. In theory, your thoughts would then be available to them. Anything you think about could be collected and transmitted around the world. That passing thought about your work colleague or that insult you thought but didn’t say could be extracted and used against you. Even worse is the concept that you could be ‘tapped’ and monitored, perhaps by an Orwellian style government organisation, completely without your knowledge.
This is all rather sci-fi at the moment, but this technology is fast becoming reality. The TV series Homeland recently featured a story line where terrorists hacked into a congressman’s pacemaker and induced a heart-attack. Just image what would be possible if you had more of these implants throughout your body. Would it be possible to influence a person’s behaviour by feeding impulses and thoughts directly through a brain implant? You could commit murder through someone else, without ever meeting them or their victim.
The possibilities, for fiction writers, philosophers and scientists, are endless. There is no doubt that biotechnology can and will offer huge benefits to the world. But the need for security and control will be beyond anything we currently have to deal with. It will be very interesting to see how this area of technology develops, and it will be equally interesting to see how we learn to deal with and control these technologies as well.