Neurophilosophy

According to the Daily Telegraph, the new chief executive of the Independent Schools Commission, a former Rear Admiral called Chris Parry, believes that “children will learn by downloading information directly into their brains within 30 years.”

The article continues that Parry told the Times Educational Supplement: “It’s a very short route from wireless technology to actually getting the electrical connections in your brain to absorb that knowledge.”

Actually, it is highly unlikely that this will ever be a possibile. Downloading information to the brain, or, conversely, uploading information encoded in the brain to a computer, is the stuff of science fiction – Parry readily acknowledges that his prediction was inspired by The Matrix – and will probably always remain in that realm.

Such claims are often put forward by over-optimistic futurologists such as Ray Kurzweil, but it’s not the kind of thing that one would expect – or hope – to hear from somebody who is in charge of educational policy at 1,300 schools.

Comments

  1. #1 Josh
    June 2, 2008

    I’d agree that it isn’t exactly the sort of plan you’d expect to see for educational policy. But now you’ve got me thinking, why can’t this be done? What’s the problem?

    Certainly we can’t stimulate the brain with enough resolution to form a specific memory, and we don’t know exactly what to stimulate even if we could. But those result from a lack of understanding or technology, not from some physiological barrier.

    Any thoughts on why you think this is very improbable technology?

  2. #2 decrepitoldfool
    June 2, 2008

    “It’s a very short route from wireless technology to actually getting the electrical connections in your brain to absorb that knowledge.”

    LOL Sure, because everyone knows the brain uses 802.11x wireless protocols. In fact, that’s why telepaths freak out in coffee shops that have free internet.

  3. #3 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    June 2, 2008

    Now, suppose it were possible. How would it help? I don’t know, but I would think that data dumping into a brain wouldn’t provide a way for the learner to assimilate the data. If our brain analyzes the data as they come in, in order to process it so that it can decide what to retain, what to lose and what may be interesting for future reference; then how would a data dump which circumvents this process of memory be accessible?

    What happens when the data becomes outdated and inaccurate? Call me a luddite, if you will, but I don’t like it. Not one bit.

  4. #4 Gowri Shankar.V
    June 2, 2008

    If this would happen then , we may have to search for a prophecy as Neo did. LOL.

  5. #5 Anibal
    June 2, 2008

    All humans share the same “bauplan” that stipulate our brain’s design, but experience and how the impressions of experience impact in every indiviudal’s brain plasticity makes unique that brain, and therefore unable to be download or upload in any software.

  6. #6 kevin
    June 2, 2008

    Neural to computer interfaces will become a reality. We’ve already got far enough along for a brain to control simple devices, but is pretty low bandwidth connection now. It will only get faster, and only relies on us learning how (mechanically, electrically, and software-wise) to talk to a brain. In 30 years we’ll be far along this road.

    But directly dumping memories, knowledge, data, etc., into the brain? That’s a whole different ballpark.

  7. #7 decrepitoldfool
    June 2, 2008

    Worst of all would be when the downloaded knowledge comes with DRM technology. If you tried to tell anyone else what you knew, the DRM would kick in and un-license itself. I guess it would depend if you were using Microsoft ClearThought™ or Apple iThought™

  8. #8 Kevin H
    June 2, 2008

    never say never, but not within our lifetimes is a mighty safe bet. Too bad there’s no way to collect upon such a wager…

    For the first commenter. One possible physical barrier to a true matrix style instantaneous downloads is the time it takes the brain to establish new connections and prune old connections. There is a pretty hard upper limit on the rate at which synapses will change naturally. Maybe some intensive drug therapy could shorten that time window, but to “know kung-fu” would probably still take a considerable amount of time. Although, at the same time, muscle/reflex skills might be a lot easier to train than say, theoretical physics.

    There’s still probably plenty of ways to make old fashioned schooling more efficient, it seems to me that resources are certainly better spent that way.

  9. #9 Ktesibios
    June 2, 2008

    Okay, somebody’s got to bring up the connection, so…

    This guy must have read Isaac Asimov’s story Profession. I have to reckon that he didn’t get the real point- that simply loading knowledge into the brain from a tape won’t do a thing to promote the capacity for original thought, or critical thinking but will rather tend to suppress them. A taped society might be just the thing for devotees of revealed TRVTH, but not so good if you hae no taste for stagnation.

  10. #10 Josh
    June 2, 2008

    Kevin H, that may be a limit for a brain download, where nothing permanent is interfaced with the brain. Although you are right that some sort of drug could fix that (maybe gene therapy to restore NMDA channel subunits to the child-like state, where LTP – learning – occurs faster)

    But what about a chip implanted into the brain, onto which the memories are loaded. Once that chip has interfaced with the neurons, then knowledge could be downloaded wirelessly onto that chip and perhaps accessed immediately thereafter.

  11. #11 American Jane
    March 31, 2009

    Chris Parry’s fascination is greater than his realization. What does he even know about neurology, about the brain’s electrical processing and and what happens when you overload a circuit, or about the brain’s ability to assimilate new knowledge? In my opinion he really doesn’t know enough to make these fantastic assertions about brain downloading being the way of the future.

    I can tell you this much… The human brain can only learn what it is ‘ready’ to learn. It mush be receptive to the new information by way of having a prior knowledge of things that lead up to the new knowledge. The actual physiology of the brain is always evolving — changing shape to accept new information. This is the ‘plasticity’ of it, and you cannot simply download a math or a history program into a child’s brain that has not made previous associations that will accept the new data. This is difficult to explain to a ‘futurologist,’ though.

    In fact, there is a danger in downloading too much information, or information that cannot be assimilated because there is a gap of knowledge missing that needs to precede it. What happens when we shove thoughts in peoples’ heads that they can’t relate their experience to? – Madness, perhaps.

    Everybody on this bandwagon needs to take a deep breath, and remember we really don’t understand the hardware enough to start taling about what software it can handle.

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