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By Alan Norton
October 30, 2012
If you are anything like me you have found ways, entirely legal ways that is, to increase your performance on the job. A good night's sleep and exercise are healthy ways to keep the brain alert and the body healthy. Fruit or nuts helped jump start the brain in the morning and a healthy lunch kept me going in the afternoon. There were less healthy ways to get going that I am not proud to admit to you, patient reader. Of course, coffee was at the top of the list. Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive drug on the planet. And don't fool yourself; it is a powerful drug. Then there was the other "ine", nicotine, that I am loathe to admit having indulged in. I was a closet smoker of pipe tobacco. And, no, that doesn't mean I endorse risking a lifetimes addiction to the drug.
We are looking at a truly brave new world in the not too distant future where chemicals will be replaced by silicon to improve mental performance. Imagine a chip connected to your brain that could store the exact syntax of all major programming languages, without error or degradation, or a chip that can almost instantly be programmed with the most widely used written languages. Fluency in these languages would eliminate the language barrier currently hindering outsourcing. It's not too hard to envisage a time when the brain has instant access to the Internet - all the facts "at hand" with merely a thought. Now that's "instant messaging" on steroids. This kind of power would almost certainly make the "ordinary" brain obsolete.
You don't have to be prophetic to see that humankind is on a collision course with computers. Scientists are already working on the technology that will enable us to become more like computers and they more like us. Chips have been implanted into paralyzed people that help them control an external device. Scientists at the University of Southern California and Wake Forest University have proven that a specially designed memory chip can restore lost memory and enhance memory in rats. There are a number of large corporations working on chips that mimic how the brain works. Intel has designed a neuromorphic chip. IBM as part of DARPA's Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE) project has built and demonstrated two "cognitive computing chips."
Now imagine that you are busy at your job that you spent four years of your life training for when a baby-faced kid straight out of junior high school sits down next to you in your cube. Your first thought is that it must be "take your child to work" day. This is no normal kid though. The mark on the juvenile's forehead gives away the awful reality. This is a human silicon hybrid or HSH - no higher education needed.
In this future world society decided to visibly differentiate the human silicon hybrids and their extraordinary mental capabilities from the common, everyday variety of human. After all, we mental midgets need to know when we are dealing with a superior intellect. Your next thought is "What kind of a chance do I, a mere mortal, have against this kind of talent?" You are heartened that your experience may still give you the competitive edge. Just how much of that experience can be preprogrammed into this freakish hybrid? Can the skill of a surgeon or the creativity of research and development be distilled into bits on a chip or is it more art than science? Your moment of encouragement passes quickly though; fear for your job and your future takes its place. And then you think something that I am unable to print at this esteemed site.
This adage may apply to those given knowledge rather than having lived and learned it the hard way. Though students might tell you otherwise, you can receive pride and joy from the learning process. I've enjoyed learning new software languages in the computer world. Now that I am semi-retired I have enjoyed learning how to fix those items around the house that seem to fail far too often. The rewards that come with such efforts give meaning to life. I am proud of my accomplishments. What would life be like without such achievements? I am glad that I will never have to find out.
Humans have separated themselves from animals by the types of tools that they have been able to create. Silicon based human hybridization is the next great leap in the long line of tools that have changed the world. Early implementations may be limited to memory enhancement or simple algorithmic processing. Eventually though, it may be possible to completely replace the personal computer and mobile devices with microelectronic supplements. What looks like science fiction today might become reality sooner than most might think.
There is a heavy price to pay for chemical stimulants. I no longer get positive benefits from caffeine and only drink weak tea. I know that the use of tobacco has seriously endangered my health. We are yet to know the price of human silicon hybridization. Aside from the price of opening the skull like a tin of tuna, a hybrid's emotions or other brain functions could be stunted. Perhaps its life will be shortened. History and the law of unintended consequences have shown us that there always seems to be a price to pay when trying to increase our mental capacity.
So, how far are you willing to go to keep your job? Are you willing to pay the entrance fee to join the hybrids, nevermore to be considered truly human or would it be time for you to retire to gardening and bee keeping? You may be forced to choose hybridization or retirement if you want to remain employed in a technical position. Consider for a moment that It is 2027 and your manager asks you into his office where he "offers" you the "big choice". Assuming that you are too young to retire, would you choose Borg or retirement? If you choose Borg, look on the bright side. You will be able to look forward to those "lovely" visits to the neurosurgeon for those inevitable system upgrades.
And you thought outsourcing was bad.