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Would you have a microchip implanted in your brain?

Would you agree to have a microchip implanted in your body if it would significantly help your career? That was a question posed at a debate on the threat of technology to jobs, held this week at The Work Foundation in London.

New technology has helped substantially displace or destroy jobs for over 200 years (and probably much longer), enabling companies to replace workers – whether they be artisans, low-skilled factory employees or clerical staff – with equipment that can run faster, longer and for lower cost.

But what if competition for jobs wasn’t between man and machine but between regular humans and those with technological enhancements. Future implants and prostheses may allow us to become stronger, smarter and more efficient at our jobs.

One day we may be able to implant microchips in our brain that allow us to store large amounts of complex information, or enhance our ability to process it, or send that information directly to other people or machines. Or implant chips in our eyes that let us use the internet without an external screen.

A poll taken at the debate found that roughly half of respondents would at least consider such an implant, which I think seems quite a high number for what is potentially a very scary concept. One could imagine many people having a very strong repulsion to the idea of something so invasive as having their brain connected to the internet and effectively making them a cyborg.

But technology plays an increasingly prominent role in our lives and more and more people, especially younger people, are comfortable with that. Smart phones have become ubiquitous, glued to people’s hands and always in their gaze. Wearable computers such as the much-anticipated Google Glass will only amplify that trend.

If you could turn off such an the enhancement at will and it didn’t have the ability to affect the rest of your brain, it might be easy to see little difference between a chip in your brain and the one in a box that’s always in your pocket? Personally I’d be open to considering it if I could see substantial benefit.

And, as cybernetics expert Prof Kevin Warwick pointed out at the debate, our attitude towards technology that interacts with our bodies changes over time and we are likely to become more accepting of it if we can see it is safe, like laser eye surgery, for example.

However, the debate isn’t really that simple and the discussion touched on many more of the ethical consequences of such developments. If the benefit of such an implant was really so significant, would it not therefore give an unfair advantage to those who could afford it, further widening the inequality in society?

Could people be forced to have such implants against their will or better judgement? Would such a chip even redefine what we think it means to be human?

It’s also possible to raise the possible consequences to extreme consequences, both bad and good. One audience member at the debate made reference to a dystopian scenario in which everyone with an internet-enabled brain chip was hacked and subjected to a lethal virus.

Warwick acknowledged that such horrendous dangers exist but that we don’t yet really know whether they are real. Nor whether the possibility for great achievement, for example developing intergalactic travel by being able to think about the universe in more than three dimensions, will come true.

‘If you link your brain to a computer you have the distinct possibility of understanding the world in hundreds of dimensions,’ he said. ‘What does that mean? I have no idea because my brain thinks in 3D. It’s outside my basic parameters of understanding.

‘It could mean we could be off and we could travel to distant galaxies. It might not. Nobody can see. All we know at the moment is it’s a possibility. And that could mean even more dangers. But for me it is tremendously exciting.’

Although his point uses extreme examples, it could really be applied to the entire debate about allowing technology to replace human functions in the workplace.

After all, this has already happened to many roles but we still don’t live in a country where most people have been made unemployed. Technology has also created reams of new jobs and entire new industries.

Yes there are dangers, but we don’t know what else we might be able to achieve if we’re not at least open to the possibility.

Readers' comments (12)

  • This is getting too close to Sci Fi. genuine Borg beings.

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  • I can't help thinking of the opening lines of "I don't like Mondays" by the Boomtown rats,
    "The silicone chip inside her head gets switched to overload".

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  • A divergence will come, but not for me. No matter the promise of enhancement. Hamster wheel comes to mind, thanks but no thanks.

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  • The idea of implanting chips is very close to my thinking of project *clone warrior* in which a human being is given birth like chicken.After three weeks electronic chip is inserted inside head but not connected with brain function.this chips sends sound to ear system.order and destroy the chip if not obey order.Specially for war or any mission.
    isn,t it possible???

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  • Not one chance in hell! given the endless possible ways in which "infallible" computers can break down, endles bugs in software, and the fact that most computer design and software authoring seems to be done by uber geeks with a very wierd and warped sense of what reality is, and who lives in the real reality! The capacity for paranoia and revenge which seems to be inherent in the make up of IT departments alone would prevent me being chipped under ANY circumstances.

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  • side if medical science could find a way of nailing this part of my brain back together so I could get back to my lf , family and job as I once remember it then yes I would let the doctors have a rummage around

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  • Since I have two holes in my brain I would love to fill them with a bit of tech, I would happly volunteer to trial anything that could help with memory, comprehension and hopefully processing speed. Bring it on.

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  • Would it have to replace the chip on my shoulder?

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  • Not one chance in hell would I go for something like this. Technology is already transforming our society into a collective. Such a notion is counterintuitive to the basic principles of humanity and individualism. Personally, I know there are many who would disagree with me, but I feel that being "plugged in" to information technology at a nearly perpetual rate, day in and day out (i.e. smart phones, tablets and laptops...etc...) inhibits one's capacity for abstract thought processes and severely limits the imaginative and creative side of humankind. As humans, we need challenges in order to justify our existence. Once absolute knowledge is obtained (e.g. being logged in to a universal network of friends, family, peers, coworkers, information, education, news, entertainment...etc...could bring us damn near close), then what else is left? I feel that neurological implants, while offering faster "processor speeds" for our brains, and an undiscernible wealth of knowledge and information, would only serve to inhibit humankind's creative capacities. I feel it would only serve to eventually eliminate all that makes us human, and lead us down a path which will transform humanity into cold, lifeless, machines. Imagine - programming yourself to feel happy would be like obtaining the reward without putting in the effort to achieve it. On the other hand, some folks may choose to turn their emotions off. I'm sure a neurological implant working in conjunction with the right chemical drugs and medication could achieve such a thing. Just my take...

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  • I am just glad that there are so many engineers and designers alive and giving head-on comments.
    I smiled at the 'chip on the shoulder' comment and the fact that we can face it with a positive consideration laced with humour.

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