CNN posted an article today about the potential risk of nanotechnology on the human brain. Basically some research shows that nano-scale particles such as industrial waste, or even components of nanotechnologies, can migrate through the human circulatory system and eventually lodge in the brain. This could cause harmful effects. But on the other hand, maybe this “bug” is actually a “feature!”
The fact that this is possible could be used to introduce nanoscale computational devices into the human nervous system — essentially splicing a distributed computer into a living human brain. Suppose the nanoparticles could establish an ad hoc local area network amongst themselves, and suppose they lodged throughout the human nervous system, attaching to neurons. Suddenly it might be possible to do real-time sensing — and triggering — of any neuron in the human body. And all of this could be monitored by an external computer system. This could enable amazing new biofeedback systems. But that’s just the beginning — because it might also enable people to “backup” their nervous systems — including perhaps their memories and skills. It could also potentially enable software augmentation of human thinking as it happens — an external computer network could interact with your own “internal network” and as you think or sense things, it could search the entire Net or an expert system, or the brains of other people in your network, and give you suggestions, knowledge, etc.
Essentially this could be a way to network humans to computers, the Internet, and then to other humans. This could enable future “group minds” and “collective intelligences” that we cannot even imagine yet. It could also enable humans to easily interact with virtual reality environments — they could be overlaid onto their sensory experience to augment information (such as a visual scene being augmented with labels or diagrams etc.), or even to “switch channels” from this “reality” (which may also be virtual) that we experience to other synthetic realities that exist in our computer networks. It might even enable people to record their dreams, and/or enter the dreams of other people — that would be the most advanced “virtual reality” possible.
Another interesting application of this technology might be to deliver neural drugs more effectively. It could also be used to facilitate interspecies communication — for example imagine a system that could map between a human brain and a dolphin brain. You permeate both a human and dolphin’s nervous systems with nanocomputing particles. First there is “learning phase” where an external system monitors them as they do things in order to learn how their brains work. Then it starts to learn how to map between them by observing how they interact with other organisms of their species and with their environments in order to figure out their language, communicat and memory representation schemes.
Once that is known it could directly map information between them, maybe even in real-time, enabling not only communication but even memory uploading and downloading. That would be cool — imagine being able to do virtual telepresence into the nervous system of a dolphin as it swims around with its pod in the wild. You could “look through it’s sense organs” as it swims around, and maybe even observe what it thinks and feels like — sort a window into being someone else — in this case someone who is of a different species. Among the many other applications of this technology of course there would be amazing potential in the arts, education, therapy, collaboration, entertainment, science, relationships, etc. and many other enjoyable diversions that people would probably figure out they could engage in once their nervous systems are networked.
Anyway the idea of permeating a human nervous system with networkable nanocomputers is definitely something to think about, or think twice about, as the case may be (pun intended!).