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Technology will soon be available to enhance our brains and rewrite our memories

Chris Griffith, November 8, 2018 7:00PM The Australian

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It could soon be possible to make your memory even better. media_cameraIt could soon be possible to make your memory even better.

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It’s 2050 and as well as eating your vegies, your digitally enhanced* brain downloads an antivirus* update to keep it healthy, too.

This sounds crazy, but cybersecurity* companies have already begun preparing for this day. They want you to entrust* your digitally enhanced brain of the future to their care.

Last month, cybersecurity company Kaspersky and the Oxford University Functional Neurosurgery Group produced a joint report on the advancing science of deep brain stimulation (DBS), which involves delivering electrical impulses.

A drawing of the human brain. media_cameraA drawing of the human brain.

They suggest DBS may not only treat movement and nerve and brain disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, but also could add to and improve human memory.

“Within five years, scientists expect to be able to electronically record the brain signals that build memories and then enhance or even rewrite them before putting them back into the brain,” Kaspersky Lab said in a blog* post.

“A decade from now, the first commercial memory-boosting implants could appear on the market — and, within 20 years or so, the technology could be advanced enough to allow for extensive* control over memories.”

Remembering your great ideas could become easier with this technology. media_cameraRemembering your great ideas could become easier with this technology.

The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency said it has investigated brain and nerve technology to speed up the training of military staff in complex tasks.

It says the methods it is considering are “non-invasive*”, but there’s likely to be military interest in any new way to decode and add to or improve brain memory. The soldiers of tomorrow could be among the first to have super memories.

The idea that memory cannot only be enhanced but also controlled and manipulated opens a huge can of worms*.

It may be great to delete unhappy memories but our lives are shaped by difficulties we overcome. If we delete bad experiences, who are we then? Do we replace them with something nicer that’s made up or belongs to someone else?

The memory technology has some people wondering if it's wise to delete bad experiences. media_cameraThe memory technology has some people wondering if it’s wise to delete bad experiences.

Implanting false memories sounds fictional yet two scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US claimed to implant a false memory in a mouse in 2014.

Kaspersky Lab also predicts that, unfortunately, if we go down the path of allowing memory to be enhanced, that also makes it possible for hackers to spy on our minds, steal, erase and manipulate our memories.

There are examples already of medical equipment connected to humans being hacked. Last year Forbes magazine reported that WannaCry ransomware* had infected devices at hospitals in the UK and the US.

Having super-strong passwords is one way we protect devices from hackers now, yet if the device is in our body, we need a way for doctors to be able to access them in medical emergencies.

A model of the human brain. media_cameraA model of the human brain.

You’d think the prospect of our brains being hacked would be enough to put us off moving in this direction.

Yet we are slowly accepting implanting technology in our bodies, so far for wonderful reasons. Examples are pacemakers to help the heart beat properly and Cochlear implants to help deaf people hear. Neural* implants exist that stimulate the brain and nerves to aid patients with Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and depression. In June this year, Australian researchers at Monash Vision Group in Victoria announced they are ready to start human trials of bionic eye technology.

This video explains how Deep Brain Stimulation works and how neurologists, or brain and nerve doctors, use it to help people with diseases such as Parkinson’s. One of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is uncontrollable shaking.

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GLOSSARY

enhanced: made better

antivirus: softwarethat stops viruses attacking technology systems

cyber security: ways or people keeping technology and information secure

entrust: give someone the job

blog: online writing

extensive: thorough, long, detailed

non-invasive: doesn’t use surgery or put surgical instruments into the body

opened a can of worms: made something really complicated

ransomware: bad software designed to stop someone getting into their own technology systems

neural: to do with the nerves and brain

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QUICK QUIZ

1. What does DBS stand for?

2. Other than nerve and brain disorders, what could DBS be used for?

3. Who could it be used for to help speed up training?

4. If we allow memories to be enhanced, what is a danger?

5. Describe two situations in which technology is already implanted?

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

Digitally enhanced brains offer many benefits and many questions or concerns for the future.

Draw up a chart (labelled BENEFITS/ CONCERNS) that shows ways that digital enhancement can have positive benefits for our health and abilities, and the concerns about how far it will progress or be manipulated unethically. Some of these are mentioned in the article. You might come up with some of your own.

Can you think of ways to continue to develop digital brain enhancement technology without having the concerns you listed above?

Write a list of guidelines/laws that could be put in place to protect people from these concerns?

For example: doctors all have an override password they can access in emergencies.

Time: Allow 20 minutes

Curriculum links: English, Technologies – Digital Technologies

Extension: Write a fictional narrative story about how digital memory enhancement might be used in the future. A narrative story needs a complication and a resolution. Your story can be about anything so long as there is a link to digital memory enhancement.

Time: Allow 45 minutes

Curriculum links: English, Technologies – Digital Technologies

VCOP ACTIVITY

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many wow words or ambitious pieces of vocabulary that you can find in yellow. Discuss the meanings of these words and see if you can use them orally in another sentence.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you think it is a good idea to digitally enhance our brains and memories? Why or why not. Use full sentences. No one-word answers.

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