Forget space, the final frontier is the brain. Scientists, who tell us that very little is known about this all-important organ, have understood this for some time. Neuroscience has been progressing for decades now, although at a pretty glacial pace.
What looks to change over the next decade is that non-scientists are now starting to consider the possibilities that may come from understanding the brain, which is important because they – as in governments, businesses and the general public – are the ones that really drive technological advancement. If governments, supported by their constituencies, get behind certain lines of research with big-time funding, there’s little that can’t be accomplished, and quickly.
There are many examples. In four years during the Second World War, the Manhattan Project managed to crack the secrets of the atom and pump out scores of beneficial technologies – not the least of which was nuclear power – while the race to moon in the 1960s achieved similar results in under a decade. In more recent times, scientists from around the world – with resources from both government and business – went from knowing very little about the human genome to having the whole thing mapped out in 10 years. All of this proves that when humanity puts its considerable brain and wallet power to a task, we can achieve amazing things. (Cheap plug time: much of this stuff is covered in detail in Sex, Bombs and Burgers.)
All that is needed is a spark. Some smaller companies, such as Toronto-based InteraXon, believe that all that is needed to kick this field into high gear is something to capture the public’s imagination. The company has already lit up the CN Tower with mere thoughts and created a brain-controlled iPad game to show the sorts of things that are possible.
We may be seeing that quintessential kick-starter with the DARPA arm I blogged about a little while ago. The robot arm, controlled by a neural implant and intended for war amputees, is now being fast-tracked through clinical tests by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration, indicating that government is beginning to see that such technologies are not beneficial, but possible. If things go well with the arm, it will likely spin off into wide-spread interest in neural technologies, leading to advanced brain research and the funding that follows.
Things will get really interesting once we understand more about the brain, which will happen in lockstep with the advancement of computers I talked about yesterday. In the next 10 years, we’re going to start hooking our brains directly up to computers and the internet, leading to a whole host of possibilities in the decade after that. Doing internet searches by just thinking about them, sending messages to each other in a method akin to telepathy and, yes, even watching porn in our minds… just a few of the things we’ll be inching toward.