The Birth of Mind Galaxies

n what should be the hopeful shores of the 21st century, the world is beset with massive problems. If global warming (or global cooling, take your pick) doesn’t wear you down and blow your mind, there’s terrorism . . . from the conventional attack modes of bombs, aircraft-as-weapons, conflagration, and sabotage to the mind-boggling scale of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons. Not to mention the “gray goo” scenario of nanobots run amok, or gene warfare, or Internet terrorism . . .

There is still, of course, the near certainty of traditional war (there are currently 42 wars around the globe, defined by www.globalsecurity.org as having no fewer than 1000 battlefield deaths per year) on a massive scale if, say, China were to launch its missiles aimed at Taiwan, or if Iran did the same to Israel, or if a re-energized Russia did it to the USA. And don’t forget that the world is facing both fuel and food crises and the possibility of a breakdown in international trade or even global economic collapse.

What If, IF: Exponentially Higher Levels of Intelligence

What does the world need now? Is it more love? More compassion? Greater understanding? Higher levels of intelligence? Or is it all that and more? It seems that the future may be coming at us faster than we think, yet an almost unimaginable outcome might be a way to solve the problems of the world, and our own to boot.

An organization called The InnerSpace Foundation (www.innerspacefoundation.org) may have answers that can go a long way toward turning our pessimism around, by providing us with solutions from our own “inner spaces.” According to IF, what if your memory could be greatly improved and expanded? What if you could access information from outside your brain—possibly even from your computer or the Internet—just by thinking?

IF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the enhancement of memory, learning, and mind by promoting and supporting neuroengineering approaches to these objectives. In IF’s view, the goals of this neuroengineering revolution (unlike the ordinary aim of biomedicine, which is to treat those suffering from a specific malady or disease) have the potential to improve the lives of all of us dramatically.

With the advent of the Internet, we have experienced an unprecedented historical explosion of information and knowledge, and the mind that nature has given us is bogged down by its limitations, unable to assimilate enough of this information to put it to the highest uses of problem-solving. And as the rising seas of information continue to come at us, eventually with the force of a tsunami, we are threatened by a debilitating imbalance that can only worsen with time—unless there is some way to enhance ourselves to accommodate this information and knowledge.

The Case for Radical Memory Enhancement

IF’s founders believe that the obvious memory and cognitive limitations and debilitations that plague us and grow worse as we age—irrespective of our levels of education or our best efforts at self-improvement—can be solved. They believe this despite the complexities and costs involved.

As an indication of the validity of its goals, IF has managed to attract to its Board of Advisors a significant number of top scientists from the world of neuroscience, such as Theodore W. Berger, Ph.D., the David Packard Professor of Engineering, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Neuroscience, and Director of the Center for Neural Engineering, University of Southern California; Joe Z. Tsien, Ph.D., Professor of Neuroscience and Co-Director of the Brain Discovery Institute, Medical College of Georgia, and a visiting professor at the Shanghai Institute of Brain Functional Genomics; and many others.

A chief tenet of The InnerSpace Foundation is that the shortest, most efficient path to solving humanity’s most serious problems—including providing lasting cures for the most diseased and disabled—is through widespread improvement of memory and mind. It is unfortunate that the vast majority of biomedical funding and research is devoted to reducing and curing extreme disease and disability, because this leaves an alarming dearth of funding and basic research on approaches to vastly improve memory and general mental function, and to greatly accelerate learning.

To help fill this void, The InnerSpace Foundation engages in various activities to promote and fund neuroscience and neuroengineering research. Toward this end, a primary function of the foundation will be to organize and run prize-based neuroengineering competitions open to researchers around the world. The IF Prize is to be much like the Ansari X-Prize for Spaceflight, which has spurred significant activity in private space developments, and Archon’s Genomic Prize, which is expected to do the same for genomic sequencing.

Are These Technologies Realistic in the Near Future?

The technologies that we use every day and take for granted, such as cell phones, microwave ovens, digital computers, airplanes, and submarines, were, once upon a time, strictly science fiction. As little as ten years ago, thought-driven brain-computer interfaces were also science fiction. Recently, however, neuroengineers have made dramatic advances in interfacing electronic devices with the brain and have demonstrated thought-controlled prosthetic limbs, computer desktop functions, and gameplaying, and even basic speech synthesis. Thus much of the requisite technology is already in application, and progress is brisk. Surprisingly, Phase I (read-only) of this technological revolution—the ability to input information directly into our brains—is thought to be as close as six years away. Phase II (read-and-write) is somewhat further off.

It is tantalizing to think, especially for health-conscious individuals, about the prospect of downloading the entire contents of the U.S. National Library of Medicine in an afternoon into our own brains. This is one heaven-of-a-good reason to get up in the morning and shrug off the world’s heavy coat of pessimism.

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