Technology has undoubtedly played an increasingly important role in life as it has evolved. Its continuous and impetuous development is enabling science to reach peaks that nobody would have ever expected. Apparently, we’re approaching the point where we will be able to install complex devices in our brains that will make brain-to-brain communication possible, or at least this is what the technology theorist Michael Chorost states in his interview for National Geographic with Karen Weintraub. He openly admits that he doesn’t think technology will be able to hyper-develop our senses so much that we could resemble a machine, but at the same time, throughout his answers, the idea of a “super-human” technology hovers like a haunting presence. He firmly believes that “the future is not about giving our bodies ways to do things they already do, it’s about ways to give our bodies entirely new things” such as the brain-to-brain communication. But here the main problem arises: to what extent will we still be considered human beings if life is dictated by perceptions enabled by technology?
Of course, it is true that we have technology to thank for most of the things we do nowadays, from driving a car to posting on Facebook. Yet, we are clearly still humans. In fact, the technology we’ve utilized so far hasn’t reached beyond the limit of what is considered human. It has simply provided tools to make our existence a little bit easier and, apparently, better. But when we start to think that some innovative devices could literally change our minds, meaning that they could change our system of perception, the line that separates humans from robots becomes more and more subtle. And it’ll eventually disappear. Technology is good when we control it and use it as a tool, but if we let it control our minds and our perceptions, it will radically change our way of functioning.
We think, develop ideas and communicate with people by asking and answering questions. With a complex system that would enable us to actually read other people’s minds, we wouldn’t even need language to communicate. We would spend our days scanning people and, to the delight of every man around the world, women won’t ever be asked “what’s wrong?” again. It may seem like a good idea at first, but what will every culture turn into if language becomes obsolete? Once upon a time (kids, it’s story time!) there was a philosopher, Wilhelm von Humboldt, whose main idea was that every language is a different view of the world, which means that every language shapes a different way of thinking. Therefore, it defines a different culture. This apparently boring and philosophical babble is actually helpful to highlight that, assuming that von Humboldt was right, communicating with scanner-eyes instead of words would make our world utterly dull, and every culture would lose its language-bound peculiarities.
And that’s only the first of the long blacklist of aftermath that this new means of communication would cause. For example, what will happen to privacy once we have the opportunity to know every memorized number (from phone to credit card numbers) or, worse yet, every sexual desire, of our friends, teachers and parents? Leaving aside these questions and talking more seriously, the values of trust and faith won’t ever be present again in our culture, as we would base our relationships with others on facts we can actually scan.
To handle the critique on this aspect in the best way he could, Chorost uses the evergreen excuse per excellence: basically our privacy is already being abused by those villains known as social networks, as people post feelings and emotions, unaware of the fact that bosses or colleagues are seeing them. But this isn’t a good excuse at all, dear Mr. Chorost — people choose to post pictures and personal contents on social media. Instead the brain-to-brain communication should be more appropriately associated with a hacker who extracts private information without consent, not to a head-in-the-clouds person who carelessly posts feelings on the internet.
We need to start acknowledging that technology is a double edged sword, helpful when used as a mere tool, but extremely dangerous if made able to change our humanity. We still don’t know what makes us humans, but trying not to totally erase this unknown factor with brain-to-brain communication would be a good first step towards it.