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What Would You Pay for a 'Brain Implant' That Promises Near-Impossible Talents?


"It might be twenty years or forty years ... but it is on the horizon."

(Photo: Shutterstock. Andrea Danti)

How much would you pay to have a perfect memory? To a master skills previously only accomplished in movies or novels? Within a few decades, experts say, the idea may no longer seem far-fetched as "brain implants" become increasingly feasible.

(Photo: Shutterstock. Andrea Danti) (Photo: Shutterstock. Andrea Danti)

Gary Marcus and Christof Koch explained in the Wall Street Journal last week:

What would you give for a retinal chip that let you see in the dark or for a next-generation cochlear implant that let you hear any conversation in a noisy restaurant, no matter how loud? Or for a memory chip, wired directly into your brain's hippocampus, that gave you perfect recall of everything you read? Or for an implanted interface with the Internet that automatically translated a clearly articulated silent thought ("the French sun king") into an online search that digested the relevant Wikipedia page and projected a summary directly into your brain?

Science fiction? Perhaps not for very much longer. Brain implants today are where laser eye surgery was several decades ago. They are not risk-free and make sense only for a narrowly defined set of patients—but they are a sign of things to come. [Emphasis added]

Glenn Beck invited Marcus, a professor of psychology at NYU, on his television program Tuesday to further discuss the topic. Beck said it is crucial that Americans discuss the ethics of rapidly-developing technology before it is actually created.

"We have to make sure that we're ready," Beck remarked, echoing his concerns over Google's artificial intelligence ambitions.

Marcus told the multimedia personality that he believes the primary issues with brain implant technology concern "equity and security."

While men like Ray Kurzweil, Google's director of engineering, believe the market will drive prices down and everyone will be able to afford the new technology, Marcus said there is certainly "room for pessimistic scenarios."

If college already "stratifies society," he said, how will the poor be able to compete when their wealthier counterparts also have perfect memories and other previously unimaginable skills? Furthermore, as with any other technological device, Marcus warned that brain implants could be vulnerable to hacking. What could a hacker do with access to your brain?

"It might be twenty years or forty years before we can really do a brain implant," Marcus said, "but it is on the horizon."

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