Artificial Eyes, Worker Brains
Claude Veraart, a Belgian scientist working on a pan-European effort to develop artificial retinas, says that a prototype has been implanted into two patients. The device works by relaying signals from an eyeglass-mounted digital camera to the optic nerve. According to reports, 15 teams of researchers are working on related projects throughout Europe, and the European Commission expects a commercial version to be available by 2008 or 2010. Veraart puts the price of the device at around €20,000.
Nothing incredibly new here. But in light of my recent audiobook listening on psychology and the concept of senses, this is interesting. Everything we know of the world comes through our senses. We seem to be taking steps to replace broken sense organs (the eyes, in this case). Eventually we'll replace all of them (touch possibly being the hardest to duplicate just because of its full-body nature).
At that point we should be able to plug these artificial senses into a brain. What I want to know is, who's working on the other side of the equation? You have to be able to keep a brain alive without a body. Probably shouldn't be too hard. We have blood dialysis and oxygenation systems today. And you need to be able to give the brain some sort of output... an artificial voice and arms, I'd argue at the least. I posted a few days ago about the artificial arm piece, so I know that's happening. And I also posted on progress to read brain signals and interpret them so there's some progress happening there.
Really, it doesn't look like we're too far away from being able to implant brains into artificial bodies. I predict a massive anti-death industry by, oh hell, I don't know, the year 2100.
You have all of these brains sitting there plugged into artificial senses and able to speak/move a bit. And, at least initially, the cost of their maintenance is high. The brains can't do much so how do they pay for the support? Do they pay before death? If so that's a cruel situation: "you can only live for as long as you can afford to keep yourself alive, sir... would you like fries with that?" I suppose that with some planning they could program computers or do customer support tasks... they could hold jobs.
Interesting... instead of having young punk ass kids doing jobs like phone support you'd see brains with experience and wisdom doing it. They've been through life once. Would their customer support be better that that of teens? I'd have to guess so. You'd see a whole new class of worker out there. No need to hire a full person. Just get a brain. Adds a new twist to the term knowledge worker.
Do the brains have rights? Can they vote?
What if the company that maintains the brains goes out of business?
So this whole scenario seems possible. But doesn't the brain break down just like any other organ? It does. There's some thought that nanomachines will be able to rebuild faulty neurons to restore the brain. Of course, at that point, you'll likely see them rebuilding the entire body too. You'll get an injection of nanomachines that take care of you physically.
With current 2005 medicine the body breaks down before the brain. Many emerging technologies will make it possible to extend the "thinking" life beyond the endurance of the human body. Unfortunately, I think that I may be one generation too old for it. Maybe our first born daughter will be able to use it... or our grandkids.
Interesting work on the senses. It's kind of like private labeling a person. Changing the connection between consciousness and the world.