Taipei (Taiwan) – In a case of science fiction turned reality, Israeli scientists earlier this week claimed that they have created artificial memory patterns on cultures of neurons. The scientists injected chemical stimulants into a batch of neurons and electrodes which then began firing off electrical impulses. The impulse firings are the beginnings of what the scientists think are memories and lasted for more than 40 hours.
As with all technology, we fully expect corporations with lots of money to start investing into this research. How nice would it be to instantly learn new languages or gain helicopter flying skills like in the movies Johnny Mnemonic (great story, HORRIBLE film) and the Matrix.
Of course if such implantable chips become available, they probably will cost an arm and a leg, but if you compare it to the cost of traditional training it could actually be a steal. Let’s take the above helicopter training example. Comprehensive training from beginner to commercial pilot will generally cost around $40,000 to $50,000 and probably much more if the student isn’t a quick learner. But beyond the cost is the time, which in the case of helicopters would be months. Would paying $50,000 up front for instant training be such a bad thing? I’d certainly pay it in a heartbeat and I’m sure that in emergency circumstances companies and governments would probably pay tens of millions of dollars for a certain skill.
Also what happens if say you implant such a chip into someone’s head without their consent? Would the victim realize that the memories are false? There are certainly some moral implications to this technology, but perhaps some well-meaning psychologists could use these chips to speed up therapy sessions or cure drug addiction. Would people continue using drugs if horrible drug-related memories were implanted – perhaps of several non-existent friends dying from drug use?
Now I’ve heard some people talk about treating Alzheimer’s patients with these chips. Basically you could pre-record memories to be implanted when the disease starts eating away at your neurons. But what if you didn’t record them beforehand and it was up to your well-meaning family to make the memories. Would those be accurate memories, or would they be “scrubbed” of all the embarrassing, disappointing moments in life?
And why stop there… Star Trek Deep Space 9 fans may remember an episode where one of the crew was subjected to decades of mental imprisonment in just a few seconds. Sorry I can’t dig up the exact episode number or name, but residents of an advanced civilization replaced all of their physical prisons with these head worn devices that would force “prisoners” to mentally reenact years of captivity. This could be an interesting use of implantable memory chips whenever they become available. Is anyone taking bets on the time frame?