Pimp My Brain: Telepathy, Telekinesis, & the Future of Your Mind
You walk into a cool, white-walled building. White furniture. Soothing sounds. The scent of the sea permeates the air although you’re far from shore. You’re greeted in reception by a silver-haired being of indeterminate gender, clad in what looks like a cross between a superhero getup and a classic toga. You’re offered a sparkling drink that tastes inexplicably of lavender and invited to settle into a comfortable seating pod. You thrill at the prospect of the appointment you’ll have in just thirty minutes. This is the future, and you’re here for your brain upgrade.
Fantastical as it might sound, radically enhancing your brain through science isn’t so far off. In his book, The Future of the Mind, theoretical physicist and renowned thinker and writer, Michio Kaku, brings out of the realm of imagination some of our most-wished-for brain augmentations to show just how feasible they might be—and how soon.
Your first option might be telepathy, the communication of thoughts or ideas by means other than the known senses. A team of researchers in the Netherlands monitored the brain activity of eight bilingual subjects as they were read aloud words for bull, horse, shark, and duck in English. An algorithmic system was then used to determine whether the same neuronal regions sparked when encountering the words in English and in Dutch. It turns out, they did! This finding demonstrates that words with identical meaning, regardless of whether those words look or sound alike, are encoded in the same regions of the brain.
By monitoring a person’s brain as they hear words, scientists can start to compile a “dictionary” that shows which neuronal patterns are related to which words. And although that dictionary of meaning is at present still crude, as it becomes more precise, it will allow people who are unable to speak to merely think words and have a voice synthesizer say them aloud, taking us one step closer to an actual mind-reading machine.
Another futuristic-sounding development is telekinesis: using thoughts to control objects, like computers. The process for this is somewhat similar to the one described above in the telepathy segment. A subject’s brain is observed as they perform various tasks on the computer, like moving the cursor left and right. The computer then compiles a dictionary capable of translating brain activity patterns into actions.
And here’s where it gets futuristic: down the line, the same technology could be used to allow humans to remotely operate robots to perform tasks too arduous or dangerous for people. It’s even conceivable that one day, a single person could conduct an entire construction yard of cranes and bulldozers, constructing a building using only the power of his or her mind. DIY will never be the same.
What scientists have been doing with memory might be at once the most chilling and exciting brain advancement yet, both for how it could impact the future and what it might mean about how we remember our past.
Researchers have “uploaded” mouse memories onto a computer by inserting electrodes into the creature’s brain and recording the neuronal activation pattern seen when the mouse learned to perform a simple task, effectively storing the memory on a computer. The scientists then deleted the memory in the mouse’s brain using chemicals, so it was no longer capable of performing the task. Then, re-inserting the electrodes into the mouse’s brain, the scientists stimulated the same captured neuron pattern, “downloading” the memory back into the mouse’s brain. And, lo and behold, it worked—the mouse could once again recall the task. The next step will be to upload a memory onto a computer from one creature and download it onto another.
Scientists have also already had some success with genetically manipulating fruit flies to bestow them with a photographic memory. From here, genetic modification of the mind just gets weirder and wilder. Soon, scientists may even be able to boost general intelligence—they’ve already successfully created “genius mice” fit to contend with Splinter and any of the Ninja Turtles, too.
Whether or not tricking out our brains like a 2005 Mazda is ethical—particularly the memory manipulation—is a tricky topic, the surface of which we’ve barely begun to scratch. But with the right intelligence enhancements, we might soon be able to engage with the moral and legal repercussions of brain upgrades at an even higher intellectual level.