Transhumanism and the Brain-Computer Interface

Transhumanism and the Brain-Computer Interface

Transhumanism is an intellectual movement dedicated to exploring and improving the human condition through use of sophisticated technology. This technology enhances the capabilities of our minds and bodies in an attempt to overcome human limitations. Transhumanism is a popular meme within science fiction, and countless writers have pondered the ethical and practical implications of such technology.

Transhumanist technology is quickly becoming a reality thanks to developments like the brain-computer interface. The global brain computer interface market is currently experiencing serious investment right across the globe. The following blog will examine what Transhumanism means and how it's being used to improve our lives.

 

Transhuman Thinking

The biologist Julian Huxley is credited as the founder of transhumanism following his use of the term in an article written in 1957. Huxley believed that in the future, man would be able to surmount the limitations of the human experience i.e. illness and death. To achieve this, man would incorporate technology into their biological makeup, allowing us to bypass the natural evolution process and specifically choose how we want to advance as a species.

This sentiment has been echoed by many groups of people in the years since, and perhaps most notably by science fiction writers such as Arthur C. Clarke and William Gibson. Their stories are parables that explore the benefits and drawbacks of biotechnology, and of the moral questions that arise when a species begins to deliberately transform the building blocks of their being. Transhumanist literature is speculative in how it imagines the transhuman man to look and feel, but as we have seen from past experience such art is often remarkably close to reality (Gibson’s remarkably accurate prediction of cyberspace and the world wide web in his seminal 1984 novel, Neuromancer).   

For many years, transhumanism existed solely as an ideal, but the incredible advances in technology over the past 100 years have allowed us to turn fiction into reality. Governmental bodies, private corporations and technological universities are all making great strides in the advancement of transhumanism, and specifically in the area of brain-computer interfaces. Brain-computer interface technology acquires, analyzes and translates brain signals, communicating this information to a responsive computer. It permits a direct path between the brain and a computer, and has a multitude of beneficial applications. Brain-computer interface technology is expected to become a key element of the neuroprosthetic sector of the healthcare industry.

 

The Connected Man

The third week of January saw the announcement of the US Military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) new brain-computer interface program. The goal of the Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) program is, as the name implies, the development of implantable neural interfaces for use connecting human beings directly to computers. This technology will give battlefield commanders a greater level of control over soldiers than is currently possible, allowing leaders to complete a variety of tasks from monitoring lifesigns to issuing orders to individual soldiers.

DARPA’s statement read:

“A new DARPA program aims to develop an implantable neural interface able to provide unprecedented signal resolution and data-transfer bandwidth between the human brain and the digital world. The interface would serve as a translator, converting between the electrochemical language used by neurons in the brain and the ones and zeros that constitute the language of information technology. The goal is to achieve this communications link in a biocompatible device no larger than one cubic centimeter in size, roughly the volume of two nickels stacked back to back.”

The statement also noted how this technology will be used in other applications, including medical devices designed to compensate for sight or hearing defects. Indeed, the healthcare industry stands to greatly benefit from the advancement of brain-computer interfaces as this technology can be used to counter illness and trauma.

 

A Healthy Relationship

An article last autumn revealed how a brain-computer interface developed by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, allowed a paraplegic man to successfully walk for a short distance. The male participant, who has been completely paralyzed in both legs for five years due to a spinal cord injury, was able to walk along a 12-foot course through use of an electroencephalogram-based system. The interface, created by UCI neurologist An Do and biomedical engineer Zoran Nenadic, takes signals from the participant’s brain and processes the signals via a computer algorithm before sending the information to electrodes situated around the knees. The electrodes stimulate the muscles in the leg, allowing the participant to walk once again. Similarly in June of 2015, a man left paralyzed on the right side of his body from three strokes was able to regain control of this body through use of a brain-computer interface.

Both are massive steps in the right direction for brain-computer interfaces, proving that such devices can successfully sidestep the established information routes in our body. This tech can allow people who have suffered serious trauma to regain some form of control over the affected areas of their bodies. In addition to these examples, brain-computer interfaces are in development to improve sensory tracking in consumer electronics, and send commands to the Internet of Things enabled devices.

 

Conclusion

Although only in its infancy, the global brain-computer interface industry is making incredible progress in its technological functions. This staple element of the transhuman movement has successfully made the leap from fiction to reality, and we can only begin to imagine the impact this technology will have on mankind. With its endless application possibilities, the brain-computer interface market is set to become one of the most fascinating and valuable in the world.

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