Tag Archives: human intelligence

Memory Enhancement: The First Killer App For Neuralink?

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Every new technological innovation promises to change the world, but few end up delivering. I still remember the overblown hype in the early 2000s when the Segway Personal Transporter was supposed to revolutionize the world. It was such a big deal that “South Park made an episode about it.

The concept was intriguing, improving mobility for people in a way that was less bulky than a car and less taxing than a bicycle. I think its inventor, Dean Kamen, envisioned a world where the entire urban landscape changed as a result of his invention. I don’t doubt for a second that he believed in that vision.

However, like so many other ambitious inventions, it never came to pass. These days, the only place you’ll see Segways is malls and stadiums. It didn’t revolutionize mobility or transportation. Its use and appeal was just too limited.

Kevin James would argue otherwise.

Compare that to enormous impact of other inventions like smart phones. From the BlackBerry to the first iPhone, these devices have literally changed the world. How they brought about that change varies, but the key factor that set them apart from the Segway was the idea of a “killer app.”

You could argue that smartphones invented the term, but the idea is much older. A killer app isn’t as much an innovation as it is a use that goes onto be so popular that it further advances the technology behind it. Smartphones had many, from cameras to translation applications. As a result, they’re both a multi-billion dollar industry and an integral part of our lives.

Given the current pace of technological change, it’s only a matter of time before another innovation comes along that has a similar impact. That technology might actually exist now, but lack the killer app that will make it both a valuable market and a major part of our lives. One such technology is brain implants this technology has the potential to be even bigger than smartphones.

I’ve mentioned brain implants before. I’m even guilty of hyping it up a little. I’ve gone so far as to call it the most important technological advance in history, citing companies like Neuralink as the arbiters of this monumental change. Since I’m not a scientist and I’m not Elon Musk, it’s very likely I’m overstating many aspects of this technology.

Hype or no hype, brain implant technology is an emerging field. This isn’t a warp drive. This technology actually exists. Like the old brick-sized cell phones of the 1980s, they’re basically prototypes in need of both refinement and a killer application. The refinement is ongoing, but that one application to really further this technology isn’t as clear.

Now, and I apologize if this sounds like more overdone hype, there may be one use that could prove even more useful than a smartphone. That use is memory enhancement. If you don’t think people are willing to risk putting something in their brains to boost their memory, then you’ve clearly never crammed for a Spanish exam for three hours trying to memorize conjugations.

Think back to any situation where you wish your memory didn’t suck. Even if you’re not in school or college, how often do you forget something that no reasonable person should forget? Let’s face it. Most brains aren’t wired with a photographic memory. It’s not that it isn’t useful. There’s just little survival benefit to having one unless you’re a world class scientist or mathematician.

Since photographic memories are so uncommon, and some doubt they even exist to the extent people believe, a specialized brain implant could change all that. Modern neuroscience has a solid understanding of how memories are formed in the brain. In theory, an implant would just augment or expand those functions.

It’s not even entirely a theory. In early 2018, the New York Times reported that a study utilizing brain implants in human test subjects showed a significant improvement in memory function. It was a simple study, but the effect is real.

In the study, the research team determined the precise patterns for each person’s high-functioning state, when memory storage worked well in the brain, and low-functioning mode, when it did not.

The scientists then asked the patients to memorize lists of words and later, after a distraction, to recall as many as they could.

Each participant carried out a variety of tests repeatedly, recalling different words during each test. Some lists were memorized with the brain stimulation system turned on; others were done with it turned off, for comparison.

On average, people did about 15 percent better when the implant was switched on.

While 15 percent may not sound like much, it’s still important because it proves the concept. Like that first bulky cell phone in the 1980s that could barely make a call out of New York City, it shows that this idea does work and can be done with our current tools. It’s just a matter of refining those tools and improving the process.

Those refinements will find a market that is already ripe with people anxious to improve their memory and overall cognitive function. In recent years, the use and abuse of mind-enhancing drugs like Adderall is growing. I can personally attest that this happens.

When I was in college, I knew more than a few students who would do double doses before exams. If you think putting something in your brain is dangerous, then take a moment to appreciate the fact that drugs like Adderall are very similar to methamphetamine. One is available by prescription. The other is the basis of a hit TV show about drug dealing.

There is both a demand and a market for enhancing memory. Unfortunately, that market is dominated by supplements that don’t work and study programs run by convicted fraudsters. Unlike these costly and potentially harmful methods, a brain implant could actually work. It could enhance our memories to a point where we could read a dictionary in Swahili and remember every word.

This doesn’t just mean lost car keys are a thing of the past. This means our entire approach to learning, education, and training completely changes. A lot our modern education system, as well as training for doctors, lawyers, and scientists, relies heavily on memorizing large chunks of information. It takes years of constant and careful study to understand all that information. What happens when that is no longer the case?

Imagine a world where people can learn a new language in the span of a week.

Imagine a world where people can learn complex legal and medical procedures in only months.

Imagine a world where people can learn new software coding in just a few days.

If you’re a sports fan, imagine a world where football players can memorize an entire playbook in just a couple days. What will that do to the NFL Draft?

With a memory enhancing brain implant, it’s not just possible. It’s a potential game-changer. There are so many uses to having a good memory, just as there are so many uses for a smartphone. We had no idea that smartphones would lead to applications like Snapchat or Tinder. I doubt anyone has an idea on the impact that memory-enhancing brain implants will incur.

It won’t happen all at once. It took years for smartphones to become prevalent and unlike smartphones, this advance involves putting something in your brain. Then again, people are perfectly willing to put dangerous chemicals in their bodies to enhance their bodies so I don’t think that’s too great a barrier to overcome.

There are, of course, far greater applications for brain implants beyond acing final exams. I’ve mentioned a few of them, but those applications won’t be possible until the technology becomes a thriving market. For an advance like brain implants, it only takes one app to get the engines of innovation going. Memory enhancement may very well be that app.

It’s just a shame it came too late to help me with my Spanish exam.

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The Horrific Consequences Of Human Stupidity

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We all make mistakes. We’ve all done or said things that make us feel stupid. I certainly have. One time, I tried to impress a girl by claiming I’d eaten a live caterpillar. She just took two steps back, gave me that repulsed look, and made it clear that she did not find that sort of thing attractive. Needless to say, I never got a date with that girl.

Mistakes are a part of life. They’re an understandable part of the human experience. We’re bound to make mistakes because the world is chaotic. Our decisions are bound to be erratic, misguided, or just downright wrong at some point. Even the smartest among us is prone to making mistakes. Just ask a certain high-ranking general who got busted having an affair because he foolishly used unsecured emails.

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Mistakes are one inescapable element of life. Stupidity, however, is the 800-pound, machine-gun toting gorilla in the room that we can’t stop poking with a stick. I’ve spent all week preaching the importance of education. I did so despite all those times I belabored how much I hated high school. I still don’t think I can overstated just how much it matters.

More than anything else, education matters because stupidity comes at a cost. In fact, it can become very costly very fast if you let it. Stupidity, by definition, ensures that we’ll do more than make mistakes. We’ll actually find ways to turn a bad situation worse.

Remember that little story about me trying to impress that girl? Well, I’m lucky I’m not that stupid because if I were, I would’ve doubled down on my claim. Even after she’d been repulsed by the caterpillar story, a stupider version of me would’ve taken it a step further. He would’ve gotten on the floor, found the first bug he could find, and licked it up as though it were the last piece of chocolate fudge. That’s the power of stupidity.

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It doesn’t just hinder our ability to impress the opposite sex either. Stupidity can have huge, world-shaking consequences. I’m not just talking about the brilliant scientists at NASA losing a probe because someone didn’t know the difference between feet and meters. I’m talking about real events that shaped our history due to spectacular acts of stupidity.

It does happen. We humans are capable of that level of stupidity. For better or for worse, a part of why our history and our civilization has manifested like it has is due to some ridiculous acts of stupidity. Some of it is just an honest mistake that just snowballed. Some of it is just stupidity in the highest degree.

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The number of events incurred by human stupidity are too vast and voluminous to list. I could probably start a whole new blog with the sole purpose of discussing how stupidity shaped our world. For now, I’ll keep it to only nine, thanks to the fine folks at Listerverse.

A couple years ago, they did an article that discussed some tiny acts of stupidity that had huge consequences on society, civilization, and the course of history. Granted, there’s no way these people could’ve known at the time the sheer breadth of their stupidity. Hindsight being what it is, though, there’s just no getting around the results.

Listverse: 9 Tiny Mistakes With Monumental Historical Consequences

Read the article and then dare to have a high opinion of the human species. If you’re not much for reading, here’s a few highlights that are worth mentioning.

  • The event that sparked World War I, and World War II by default, hinged on some idiot driver making the wrong turn in Sarajevo.

  • The failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 was an unmitigated disaster because someone in the American military stupidly forgot about the existence of time zones.

  • The fall of Constantinople, one of the most important cities of the Medieval Europe, was almost entirely due to some idiot forgetting to lock the gate.

Some of these mistakes have had huge consequences on our world, even today. There’s no denying the impact of events like World War I or the fall of Constantinople. Without these events, history and society as we know it today just doesn’t exist. How odd/frustrating is it that so many of them hinged on acts of gross stupidity?

Again, hindsight being what it is, it’s impossible to know what could’ve happened had certain people not been so stupid. It’s also important to maintain some sense of perspective when it comes to the stupidity of the past compared to what we deal with in the present.

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We’re actually in the midst of an unprecedented time in human history. As recently as 1820, only 12 percent of the population could read and write. Today, around 83 percent of the world’s seven billion people are literate. That is not a trivial shift. A world with this many educated people is unheard of and nobody really knows what kind of impact that will have on the course of history.

Despite the progress we’ve made, though, there’s still plenty of room for stupidity. Thanks to the internet and social media, we can expect our various mistakes, spectacular or otherwise, to be documented for all to see until the end of time. It’s part of being human, making mistakes and never living them down. Let’s, at least, acknowledge the extent to which some of those mistakes have affected our species.

 

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