In 2001, Cathal O’Philbin, a quadriplegic in London, using an experimental “Adaptive Brain Interface,” was able to learn to use his mind to move a cursor and cause letters to appear on a computer screen: “Arsenal Football Club.” This event received relatively little press at the time, but in this article in The New Leader, 8/1/01 – http://www.newamerica.net/index.cfm?pg=article&DocID=432 – Michael Lind speculates that this might be the most important technological advance since the splitting of the atom. See also this Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_computer_interface
If a brain-computer interface or neural-electronic interface were developed far beyond its present state of infancy – to a point allowing for two-way communication between the brain and the computer, both input and output – consider the possibilities (some discussed by Lind in his article, some explored in science fiction):
Implanted bionic devices to eliminate the effects of Alzheimer’s and other mental disorders; to serve as artificial eyes for the blind and ears for the deaf; and many other applications.
Powered exoskeletons, directly linked to the user’s nervous system, that would allow quadriplegics to move and walk; that could also be used for industrial purposes; and possibly powered suits of armor, giving soldiers near invulnerability plus superhuman strength. (In the latter case, the main limiting factor would be developing a portable power source – Iron Man can’t go into battle trailing a mile-long extension cord. See this CS thread: “What would MECHANICAL superstrength really be like?” – http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=279802) Lind points out that this might make genetic engineering irrelevant – what’s the point of spending years tweaking DNA to breed a super-strong person when you can plug an unmodified person into an exoskeleton with even greater strength?
Industrial waldoes and robots, directly linked to the user’s nervous system. (I don’t know if this would offer a signifant advantage over existing teleoperations technology.)
Direct communication between human minds and computers as such – eliminating the need for a mouse/keyboard/display-screen interface.
Computer viruses getting into human minds through such linkages and causing undesireable psychological effects, as in Pat Cadigan’s Synners – http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1568581858/qid=1121293333/sr=8-1/ref=pd_bbs_ur_1/103-4922547-5545451?v=glance&s=books&n=507846.
Virtual reality far more realistic than what you could ever get through goggles and headsets. Applications are obvious. Let us blush and pass on.
Development of electronic equipment or software packages to regulate the brain activities of persons with psychological problems, replacing and possibly improving upon the psychotropic drugs now used for such purposes.
Application of the same technology to stimulate the brain in ways analogous to a psychoactive drug, possibly leading to a wave of “wirehead” addiction and an underground market in illegal neural-stimulus software and equipment, as in Circuitry Man – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099271/.
Music made by the composer simply thinking the desired sounds and reproducing the music on speakers, without using the human voice or traditional instruments. Likewise, other art forms produced the same way. A whole movie might be produced from the director’s unaided imagination, without actors or a production crew.
A form of personal “immortality” achieved by copying or uploading an individual personality and all its memories into an electronic storage medium (I don’t believe any computer now existing would have the storage capacity, but that may change).
Mechanically assisted telepathy between human beings. Direct mind-to-mind communication, via a computer hookup. With all that implies:
a. Personal memories recorded (by the person experiencing them) and played back (by anyone) for recreational and/or educational purposes, as in Strange Days – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114558/. Find out what it’s like to be a person of the opposite sex!
b. Unprecedented opportunities for psychotherapy – a shrink would actually be able to know what the patient is thinking/feeling.
c. Telepathic linkages between lovers – either cementing the relationship or ending it immediately, depending.
d. Compulsory telepathic examinations or memory audits of suspects/detainees/witnesses/accountants/politicians/your possibly unfaithful spouse/you.
e. Super-fast education by downloading relevant blocks of memory from an expert in the field to the student.
f. Totalitarian governments controlling their subjects’ thoughts (or at least monitoring and limiting their actions) through neural implants.
g. Telepathic group-minds like the Borg Collective (for a more benign spin on this idea, see Spider Robinson’s Deathkiller – http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0671877224/qid=1121292590/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/103-4922547-5545451?v=glance&s=books&n=507846).
h. The emergence of new art forms based on mind-to-mind communication – e.g., symphonies of thoughts, emotions or memories.
i. Telepathic communication, not only with humans but with any other animal for which an interface could be developed.
Can you think of any others? And can you think of any reasons why some of this, or all of it, will never come to pass? And, if you don’t like any of this, can you think of any way to stop it?