Augmentation: Early Days, Big Promises

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To make things easier for humans – that’s the central principle of most, if not all, of technology. It has always been about accommodating our tasks, whether we want to make these more fuss-free, or we simply wish to do away with doing them, entirely. Moreover, these days, it’s not so much about creating brand new technology, in terms of physical tools; the focus is now on developing new apps to help us with various aspects of daily life. That’s not to say that humans will avoid manual labor, completely. While that prospect may be in the very distant future, seeds of possibility are already germinating. For instance, we now have the potential to interface with computers, without physically doing so. It’s called brain-machine interface (BMI), and it’s hot property in Silicon Valley right now. Social media giant Facebook has concrete plans in that direction, to enable their users to type with their mind, while technology darling Elon Musk is going the medical way, using the tech to create implants that will help people with brain impairments.

These are actually refined ideas of what Larry Page laid out 2004, albeit with a scary connotation. “Eventually, you’ll have the implant where if you think about a fact, it will just tell you the answer,” he told one reporter. Not long after, criticisms poured in, on how corporations can manipulate this technology for their own gain. Loss of identity and freedom, life run by choices dictated by a company –  BMI would’ve been terrifying if it followed Page’s vision, to the letter.

On the Way to Augmentation: Two Sides of the Coin

When something as life-altering as BMI comes along, it’s important to see it from all perspectives. There are two prevalent angles on the integration of BMI: its practicality and its potential to mesh the human mind with artificial intelligence. Let’s have a look at both.

The Practical Side – When Facebook announced their BMI intentions, there were some doubts. This is, after all, a social media company. Perhaps the same technology will, in the near enough future, become SEO news, with searchers no longer having to physically type or speak their queries into their gadgets.  Optimistically, there will be more significant applications of the technology as there now are for virtual reality. What was once a tool purely for entertainment has become a surgical assistant, an educational supplement, and a showroom for goods. As of now, helping people with brain impairments, dementia and other neurological disorders are the more potentially useful, life-changing purposes of BMI.


On Becoming Androids – We had a very different idea of what an android was until Elon Musk came along. His proposition that humans are already part android because we rely so much on our laptops and smartphones is an unexpected take on bio-mechanical life. He also wants BMI to bridge the gap between us and our potential AI overlords. As you may remember, Musk is one of the many luminaries who fear the prospect of singularity. Brain augmentation or meshing with AI will enable us to compete with the rise and domination of AI or prevent the uprising altogether, Musk theorizes. In short, we would be a kind of superhuman: controlling technology with our minds and maximizing our brainpower, with the implant helping address our weaknesses in real time.

When consumer BMI hits the market, in four years’ time, it will change how we view and live life. It may be frustrating to integrate a new function into our organic system, but considering what it can do for us, it’s hard to ignore the promise of the wizard era.

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