Brain Implants & Technology Predictions [was Re: MIT scientist...]B

Robert J. Bradbury (
Fri, 20 Aug 1999 13:59:52 -0700 (PDT)

On Fri, 20 Aug 1999, Elizabeth Childs wrote:

> The author is the director of MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science. I was
> really struck with how absolutely feeble the arguments were.

Well, if you want the really good "stuff" --

On Jun 28 1999, I sent a letter to Dr. Dertouzos (mld@HW.LCS.MIT.EDU)
>Some of my comments included:
>> Two things seem clear to me:
>> (a) By circa 2010, desktop computers will posess the computational capacity
>> of the human brain.
>> (b) Between now and 2010, we should understand many of the aspects of the
>> human genetic program that result in aging and develop methods to
>> intervene in those processes.
>> I could go into long explanation(s) as to why I believe these things to be
>> valid, but that would turn this letter into a book.
>... some more comments re: aging & computer evolution ...
>> Your arguments presume that we would not develop software that could
>> perform appropriate translations between external and internal
>> representations and/or do data filtering. I consider this very
>> short-sighted given your position at MIT and the trends of which
>> you are certainly are aware in AI, object oriented programming,
>> software agents, "artificial life", etc. Yes, the problems will be
>> difficult, but they are not "impossible"!
>> Your comment: "why would anyone implant a chip into his brain, for less
>> than life-and-death reasons" entirely justifies brain-implants. In the
>> environment that is coming, *you will not survive* without the capacity
>> for high communications bandwidth that brain implants would enable.
>> There will be an exponential growth in computer processing capacity
>> enabled by the development of nanoassembly, the people who have
>> the highest bandwidth will colonize and monopolize those landscapes.
>> The current "Internet/WWW hype/madness" (as well as many examples
>> in biology) demonstrate clearly how the individuals who take advantage
>> of new environmental niches are those who are most successful. Brain
>> implants will be a requirement for survival in those environments.
>> While you personally, may consider the idea of brain implants ill-advised,
>> there are other individuals (who anticipate the future competition they
>> may face and may want to evolve to be equal to it), who *will* dedicate
>> resources for those developments and be on list of people to try the beta
>> copies of the software. While this is a risky proposition, since the
>> alternative *is* death (by obsolesence/irrelevance), what does one
>> have to lose?
>> Your position seems to be that of someone wishing to "stop" natural
>> selection, which I am afraid simply isn't going to occur.
>> Sincerely,
>> Robert Bradbury

And of course, the response on July 6th 1999:

>> Dear Mr. Bradbury,
>> Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. It is precisely
>> because I know where we are and where we are headed with A.I., object
>> oriented programming, software agents, and the like that I make my
>> statements. These "promises" sound great in the press and to the lay (in
>> C.S.) people but they are currently not even beginning to help us capture
>> and transfer the representation of human concepts, beyond simple electronic
>> signals. The ability to do so in future is currently a wish. It may come
>> about, of course, but we have no glimpse of a technologically based promise
>> to that end.

>> You are welcome to formulate your thoughts and objections, but do
>> not attribute motives to me like "wanting to stop work in this area," for
>> you do not know what I think. In fact I'd like to see some serious
>> research in the area of human concept representation and transfer rather
>> than grandstanding based on imaginative associations, which any one can
>> make rather easily.
>> I love research and I hope someone would get passionate about
>> proving me wrong in this area. Maybe it will be you.
>> Sincerely,
>> Michael Dertouzos

My general comments:
(a) Yes, the understanding of human "concepts" is difficult, but

     should become much clearer once we have a finer map of "thoughts",
     than we currently do.  The question in my mind is whether we
     can have this *before* we have nanobots?
 (b) I doubt he knows about nanotechnology, since he says "we have
     no glimpse of a technologically based promise to that end".

I would caution against everyone sending an email (like mine :-)) to Dr. Dertouzos. It would be more prudent to find out from Dr. Minsky, whether or not Dr. Dertouzos is nanotech illiterate or nanotech opposed. If it the former, he can be educated and we should be tactful about it.

Some people may feel that my abstraction from complete knowledge of neuron firings to concept mapping is a stretch, if so I would like to know why. I view it as a simple(?) extension of current methods for the localization of certain "functions" to specific brain regions.

Back to Elizabeth:

> 2) They had no idea what was a potentially realistic prediction and what
> was an absolutely fanciful one. For example, there was a little segment on
> flying cars, and another segment on jetpacks that would allow you to fly.
> It appeared that everyone interviewed saw these as equally achievable
> technologies.

Well, "jetpacks" actually exist. I believe that Bell Labs actually tested them in the '60s. [Someone correct this if they know the details.] Flying cars I believe have been demonstrated as well and are certainly in the stages from prototype to production.

The problems are (a) fuel efficiency -- a jetpack can't carry enough fuel to make them useful with current technologies; (b) cost -- both jetpacks and air cars are expensive; (c) safety -- both types of devices would need improvements to guarantee passenger safety.

So, I would say that they are (within an order of magnitude) "equally achievable". Since an order of magnitude is probably the difference between the cheapest and most expensive cars then this may be a reasonable statement.