Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The InnerSpace Foundation

Technological and scientific foundations, institutes, and groups seem to be popping up like rabbits lately, which is a very good thing (especially considering that most of the institutes are private.) Here’s the newest one: The InnerSpace Foundation.

“The IF takes the position that the most rapid timelines to solving humanity’s most serious problems — including providing complete and lasting cures for the most diseased and disabled — will be accomplished through widespread improvement of memory and mind, rather than through the best efforts of people who are well-meaning but of naturally limited abilities.”

- Dr. Pete Estep

The logic goes like this: you live in New York and want to get to the west coast, but you only have a car that goes 25 mph. Instead of just trucking out west in your inferior vehicle, the InnerSpace Foundation claims it is better to improve the car, for it can go up to a 100 mph; ultimately saving time and energy.

The IF is seeking the improvement of human intelligence through artificial means. The organization currently has two prizes in place, one for the improvement of memory, and one for cognitive-learning ability.

“The IF Prize for Learning will be awarded for the successful development and demonstration of a device similar in function to a flash drive (a.k.a. thumb drive) for computers. This device will store standardized information that can be accessed by the brain (sometimes referred to as “downloading”) by thought alone (volitional access). This will allow someone to “learn” information in a completely revolutionary way. The other device will also be similar to a flash drive but will write or store a person’s memory information (sometimes referred to as “uploading”), which can be subsequently retrieved by thought.”

These technologies seem a long way off (considering we don’t currently understand how intelligence works) It might make more sense to just to start going across country at 25 mph. I have no professional knowledge to base this on, but the technology doesn’t seem feasible within the near future.

Still the idea of auxiliary memory (and cognitive improvement) is interesting, and is talked about briefly in Objectivist David Veksler’s article: Our Techno-Utopian Future: Fallacies and Predictions.

The human brain is affected by what it is exposed to; even the physical shape of the brain is altered with experience. People that learn to read will possess differences then those who don’t; children who have learned to talk will have a vastly different brain then those who don’t (which has happened due to extreme isolation and abuse.) In the same sense, new technologies, especially like the ones listed above, will likely change the brain chemistry; how this affects thought and behavior is still unknown.

So a device that records memory for the brain might result in the part of the brain responsible for memory becoming smaller, and other areas becoming more developed.

Technologies like this will likely be created in the future; in fact, one could argue that it is already starting to happen (who remembers phone numbers anymore? There all in my cell-phone.) Keep in mind, that one of humanities first auxiliary memory devises was the written word; which is one of humanities greatest achievements, and radically altered how men dealt with the world and information.

These new technologies are a natural progression of our desire to store and keep the information and creations of our minds. We are looking at the potential for technologies that might be as profound to the human experience as the written word.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself; the question is weather these technologies are possible within the foreseeable future, and weather they will result in an improvement in human creativity, intelligence, and success. It seems, even if one could successfully create these technologies, there seems no guarantee that they will result in better performance.

Still, I am glad some intelligent people are working on this; ultimately, no research is wasted, and this one seems an exiting avenue to explore.

- Ryan

P.S. – On a side note; those who say we are going to become cyborgs say that it will start slowly with technologies like this. They would also argue that the trends that lead to cyborization are already well-underway.


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