A new breed of superhumans that can communicate using their thoughts alone could be a reality within decades, a brain surgeon has predicted.
These telepathic superhumans will transfer information to other people and machines using brain implants, according to Dr Eric Leuthardt.
The Washington University brain surgeon believes getting a brain implant will be as common as getting plastic surgery or a tattoo.
‘A true fluid neural integration is going to happen,’ Dr Leuthardt told MIT Technology Review as part of an in-depth feature.
‘It’s just a matter of when. If it’s 10 or 100 years in the grand scheme of things, it’s a material development in the course of human history’, he said.
As well as his duties as a neurosurgeon, Dr Leuthardt has also published two novels and written a play aimed at ‘preparing society for the changes ahead’.
In his first novel – a techno-thriller called RedDevil 4 – 90 per cent of humans have computer hardware in their brains.
With his work he has an understanding of the inherent limitations of the brain and also how technology could overcome these limitations.
Dr Leuthardt believes at the pace technology is changing ‘it’s not inconceivable to think that in a 20-year time frame everything in a cell phone could be put into a grain of rice’.
‘That could be put into your head in a minimally invasive way, and would be able to perform the computations necessary to be a really effective brain-computer interface’, he said.
Dr Leuthardt is not the only one with ambitions to create brain-computer interfaces.
Elon Musk is also developing high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers.
It will work on what Musk calls the ‘neural lace’ technology, implanting tiny brain electrodes that may one day upload and download thoughts.
He said ‘neural laces’ will help people with severe brain injuries in just four years and in eight to ten years, the Matrix-style technology will be available to everyone, he claims.
Lots of experts say these tiny computers will be widespread.
Bryan Johnson, who is the founder of Kernel, a start-up developing brain microchips, said at the end of last year that neural chips will soon be as popular as smartphones.
Speaking at the Web Summit is Lisbon at the end of last year, Mr Johnson said unlocking the potential of the mind is the ‘single greatest thing’ humanity can achieve.
‘I would expect in around 15-20 years we will have a sufficiently robust set of tools for the brain that we could pose any question we wanted’, he said.
‘For example, could I have a perfect memory? Could I delete my memories? Could I increase my rate of learning, could I have brain to brain communication?’ he said.
He said he considers this new technology a ‘necessity’ for the future of humanity.
‘I consider myself to be cognitively impaired because I am limited by my biases, by my blind spots. I don’t want the limitations, I don’t want those constraints, I want to break open’, he said.
While you might think that such a device would be reserved for the rich, Mr Johnson believes that microchips will become ‘democratized, like smartphones.’
WHAT IS BIOHACKING?
Biohackers, or grinders, are people who hack their own bodies with do-it-yourself devices.
They practice body modification in an effort to extend and improve human capabilities.
They usually turn to body modification experts like piercing artists to perform the implant procedures – but many do it themselves too.
One of the first biohackers was Kevin Warwick, an engineer and the Vice-Chancellor at Coventry University who had an RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) chip implanted into his arm which allowed him to control devices such as lights by simply snapping his fingers.
A Utah based biohacker named Rich Lee has six implants; one in each ear that serve as headphones, two magnets in two different fingertips for feeling magnetic fields, an NFC (Near Field Communication) chip in his hand for controlling devices and a bio-therm chip in his forearm for monitoring temperature.
The first implant was a finger magnet, which he got because ‘the thought of being able to feel an invisible force and gain a new sense was too intriguing to pass up.’
He explains that he used to have implants in his shins to see how well they would protect his bones from impact.
While a few of the implants were done himself, most were carried out by body modification experts such as piercing artists.