Technology seems to be on a runaway course either to free humanity or to enslave us. On one end we see massive continued investment in replacing humans with robots, both economically and socially.
Parallel to this trend, we are seeing advancements in neuroscience being made from global projects like the BRAIN initiative in the U.S. and its counterpart in Europe, the Human Brain Project. These projects seek to decode the human brain and tailor it for «treatments,» as well as to enable the realization of full brain-computer-interface technology.
The pace of these developments has increased toward the dizzying, such as a «living» transistor that uses DNA merged with graphene, the advent of quantum computing, the creation of avatars, DNA nanobots, and a range of neuro applications that are beginning to transform our fundamental relationship with the «real» world.
Until now, much of the dystopian aspect of these developments has been relegated to the alternative media; while the corporate, military, and governmental interests behind much of this tech continue to promote only the promise of a Utopia that will be free of disease, impairment, and death. But in order for this to happen, we must fully merge with computational and machine systems.
Now a leading mainstream scientific journal has announced that this is already happening, which indicates that the era of cyborgs has indeed begun.
The German science journal Applied Chemistry might not sit on the coffee table of the average citizen, but it is one of the most highly regarded in the world among those in the field, and is now in its 125th year of existence.
In their latest review, «The Chemistry of Cyborgs – Interfacing Technical Devices with Organisms» researchers from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) first point to some of the electronic health implants that we already take for granted as being a merger of man and machine, such as pacemakers and hearing or retina implants.
However, it is the rise of «smart» materials that can instantly change based on body conditions and integrate into tissues that marks a future of computational analysis and restructuring of the human body.
For successful tissue integration and the prevention of inflammation reactions, special surface coatings were developed also by the KIT under e.g. the multidisciplinary Helmholtz program «BioInterfaces».
Most people embrace new developments that can assist with longevity and quality of life, and even the reversal of genetic conditions. But it is the human brain that poses the greatest ethical challenge; in this case, the brain-machine-interface (BMI).
BMI are often considered data suppliers. However, they can also be used to feed signals into the brain, which is a highly controversial issue from the ethical point of view. “Implanted BMI that feed signals into nerves, muscles or directly into the brain are already used on a routine basis, e.g. in cardiac pacemakers or implants for deep brain stimulation,” Professor Christof M. Niemeyer, KIT, explains. “But these signals are neither planned to be used nor suited to control the entire organism – brains of most living organisms are far too complex.” (emphasis added)
As the researchers also note, neuroprostheses are the foundation of a true cyborg, where robotic systems combine with a brain-machine-interface to control the external with thought alone. You can see some examples of this mind-controlled reality here.
While, again, many would embrace the notion of effectively replacing lost limbs, or allowing the paralyzed to walk again, the deaf to hear, and the blind to see; this technology is becoming increasingly elective, as well as forming a merger with the gadgets of our modern-day existence. And it’s all being done with very little two-way dialogue – science conducts the experiments, gets results, after which it is often dispersed for military use, then trickled down into consumer applications.
Moreover, as highlighted in the quote above, the two-way information transfer is troubling beyond the stated helpful applications. This is exactly what led a DARPA project researcher to blow the whistle on an Arizona State University project involving Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation and the efforts to reproduce it through narrative. This can be done from a distance and is anything but elective.
Ethical concerns are unfortunately the last to arrive. It is for this reason that with very little fanfare we are becoming the cyborgs of science fiction. All that’s left is to decide how far we wish to continue down this path; the fork in the road is already upon us.
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