When brain implants arrive, will we still be “us”?

November 28, 2012 in Community News, Hearing Loss & Deafness

By Reena Jana, Smartplanet 11/19/2012
Read the full story at: http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/bulletin/when-brain-implants-arrive-will-we-still-be-8220us-8221/6102

What happens when non-biological implants in our bodies — along the lines of cochlear implants to improve hearing in the deaf — include brain-related devices that might enhance our memories? Will we still be “us”? Will we be more of a cyborg than we were if, say, we had another type of implant? And for those who believe we would not be, at what point do we lose our selves to a more machine-like incarnation? When do we stop being human?  

This is all pretty heavy, mind-bending stuff. But while such thoughts might seem like the domain of science fiction, when considering the trends toward smaller and more powerful computer chips and wearable computing, such theoretical musings might be relevant in innovation theory. And Ray Kurzweil, the often controversial author and futurist, has some opinions on this scenario in his new book How to Create a Human Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed. (Andrew Nusca, SmartPlanet’s editor, recently reported on his talk at the Techonomy conference). Kurzweil argues that even without any non-biological implants, our physical selves are always changing.

In a very short excerpt on Slate, he draws a simple and compelling (if not exactly parallel) comparison:

We naturally undergo a gradual replacement process. Most of our cells in our body are continually being replaced. (You just replaced 100 million of them in the course of reading the last sentence.) Cells in the inner lining of the small intestine turn over in about a week. The life span of white blood cells range from a few days to a few months, depending on the type. Neurons persist, but their organelles and their constituent molecules turn over within a month.  So you are completely replaced in a matter of months. Are you the same person you were a few months ago?


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