A wonderland of gifts


This is where I draw the line

commentaryHazel DelacruzComment

I like to read about technological discoveries. Every now and then I read about advances that blow my mind. There are two recent discoveries that have done just that.

The first breakthrough comes from French scientists who have discovered a way to make a monkey with a severed spine walk again. These incredibly smart people found a way to convert the signals from the monkey’s spine into radio waves which skip over the severed section and communicate with the lower section of the spine which then make the leg muscles work. The implications are wonderful:  people with severed spinal cords should be able to walk again in the not too distant future!

In the second story, scientists have found a way for a quadriplegic woman to move a computer mouse with her thoughts. Yes, you read that right, move a computer mouse with her thoughts. The researchers inserted a gizmo in the section of the brain that controls thoughts of motion. When the woman starts thinking of different directions, the device can detect different types of signals and associate them with a specific direction. The device then transmits the direction to the computer and voila! the mouse moves in the desired direction. This also has life changing implications for people with serious disabilities.

Despite the wonderful contributions these breakthroughs bring, I have to say it makes me a little nervous to think about devices that interface with our biology, especially the ones involving implants inside the brain. This is all too reminiscent of the Borg collective on Star Trek, The Next Generation where a race of humanoids has hardware strapped to their heads which allows them to all communicate with each other and leverage huge amounts of brain power.

When I was in college, my roommate had what I thought was a very goofy book about predictions of scientific inventions, which included electronic devices connected to people’s brains to boost intellectual capacity. The book asserted that people equipped with such devices would form an elite class of citizens. When I glanced at that book many years ago, I thought it preposterous. But now, a few decades later, I’m thinking maybe that book wasn’t so crazy after all!

Technological changes and how they impact our lives are nothing new. Each generation since the 20th century has witnessed dramatic changes in life styles that came with scientific breakthroughs. When I look at generations within my own family, I see my folk have enjoyed the benefits for many years, but eventually cannot keep up will all the changes. My grandmother loved her home appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines and vacuum cleaners but was terrified of airplanes and never flew on one. My mother loved her microwave and cable TV, but absolutely refused to learn how to use a computer. And I love my laptop and smartphone, but if we get to the point of hardware enhancing smarts, I’m sorry but I think I will draw the line and tell the surgeon I’d rather be dumb.