Predictions are fun, especially when they have to do with cool, futuristic science. Will cars ever fly? Will we colonize another planet? Still, there’s one forecast that seems a little disturbing?letting the cloud upload data directly from our brains. One tech futurist claims it will be reality in the next 20 years. But is that a future we really want to see?
The prediction comes from Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering. As the CBC reports, Kurzweil thinks that “the human brain will soon merge with computer networks to form a hybrid artificial intelligence.”
That’s not just some vague, sci-fi daydream. Kurzweil has a solid track record when it comes to envisioning the tech future. In 1999 he made 147 predictions, including eyeglasses with computer displays. Ten years later, 78 per cent of those predictions had turned out to be “entirely correct.”
But will it really be possible to link our brains to computers? From a technical standpoint, yes. Your neocortex, the centre of your brain’s higher thought functions, contains some 300 million “pattern processors.” Science is getting closer to replicating those processors. And that means artificial intelligence could, one day soon, outdo the speed and complexity of our own brains.
With that kind of nimble, complex computing power in the cloud, why not harness it directly to our brains?
It sounds like an incredible vision. A chip or some other tiny implant that lets us communicate seamlessly with an endless trove of knowledge in the cloud. Forget about Googling stuff on your phone. Just imagine what you want to know and the answer will be downloaded to your brain. Textbooks could be a thing of the past. So could education as we know it. Why spend hours studying when your brain has 24/7 access to anything you could possibly want to know?
Yet we can’t forget the other side of that wondrous equation. The same cloud that gives you access is also tapping your own brain. The flow of data would go two ways. Not only could we pull data in, we could also, as the same article notes, “upload our own brains to the cloud.”
And that’s a worrying thought. If you think it’s hard to figure out the privacy settings on Facebook and Google, what do you suppose your options will be when the circuitry in your brain is sending data to a server somewhere halfway around the world? There might be a switch to turn it off. Or perhaps you can opt out?though the Terms and Conditions could make that unexpectedly tricky.
The hybrid mind meld also raises questions about transparency. Would the government or corporation that owns your chip (or the data servers) be able to access your brain without your permission? Could you suddenly find yourself the recipient of political ads that come bundled with, say, the research for your history essay?
It’s easy to say that you wouldn’t take part. That you’d quite happily live your life without connecting your brain to the cloud. But if this tech really does become reality, your refusal to take part could put you at a disadvantage. Just think of how quickly the Internet became the main access point for all sorts of government services.
Without doubt, science and technology have made our lives immeasurably better. And they’ll continue to do so, in ways we can’t even imagine yet. But if there’s a point that we say stop, a line we refuse to cross, surely this qualifies. Because no one should have access to the ultimate upload of your brain.
S.D. Livingston is the author and creator of the Madeline M. Mystery Series for kids, as well as several books for older readers. Visit her website for information on her writing.