(Westworld Logo. N.d. HBO, n.p. http://tmn-media-http.edgesuite.net/hbo/prod/minisite_landing/main_feature/465_1024x411.jpg)
I have always enjoyed the potential futuristic possibilities that come along with the advancement of technology. In the Netflix original series Black Mirror and HBO’s Westworld, both titles have capitalized on the exploration of the capabilities new technology will bring and the possible negative affects applied science could have on the human race. In a Wired article written by Cynthia McKelvey, she compares a new biotech implant developed by Theodore Berger, a biomedical engineer at the University of Southern California, to a device featured in Black Mirror where one can perfectly recall their memories with an implant behind the ears. Berger’s device is small silicon chip considered somewhat of an artificial hippocampus that is implanted in the brain. Too someone unfamiliar with what the hippocampus is; it is essentially the center of emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system.
The device works by mimicking the hippocampus’ function of converting short term memory into long term ones by utilizing mathematical code that represents an entire memory. In order for this to happen, Berger first had to develop a controlled experiment in which a standardized memory task was administered to rats to complete, namely pressing a specific lever after being distracted by a light to prove the artificial hippocampus was in fact providing memories. Berger has had success when working on rats and monkeys, enabling them to gain better memory. If this device could be applied to humans, and trials have already begun, the future for people with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s could forever be altered by electrically stimulating memories.
(Hippocampus Implant. 17 July 2014. Http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/186444-us-scientists-push-ahead-with-memory-boosting-brain-implants-but-we-still-have-to-crack-the-brains-code-first, n.p.)
Artificially improving ones memory with an implantation is uncharted waters in terms of regulation from a governmental standpoint, and finicking with the elaborate and complex brain requires absolute certainty that the device will not permanently impair a patient or consumers cognitive function. With millions of neurons and Additionally, one has to worry about the possibility of someone hacking an internal system actually present in your body, which could have potentially devastating effects. On the other hand, Berger points to the recent advancements in neuroprosthetics that have benefitted people greatly, even giving the ability to electrically stimulate a paralyzed persons arms with electrodes and the restoring of the retinas for blind people.
Berger, being recently hired as Chief Science Officer for a new startup dubbed Kernal, together both aim to bring the implant to market as a medical device, with their eyes set upon modifying the technological hippocampus further and possibly improving integral aspects of human intelligence like creativity and focus. While not positive what direction he plans on taking the implant, the exciting possibilities for bioengineering and the challenge of improving core aspects of ones personality will certainly be an interesting and slightly intimidating show. Careful monitoring of the devices construction and implementation are absolutely necessary, along with other safeguards to protect oneself from body implants. However, the exciting possibilities of being able to improve ones overall intelligence, in my opinion, outweighs the potential dangers associated with this new technology.