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The next big thing in tech?

30 January 2019

The latest great wave of tech development has been computing and communications.

I say "and" because the two are now inseparably linked. Modern communications equipment relies heavily on computer tech and vice-versa.

However, we've reached a bit of a plateau and now, I suspect, we're about to see a new tech-wave crash upon us.

What will it be?

What aspect of technology will become "the next big thing"?

Well it's starting to look as if it'll be the interface between the brain and computers (hence communications).

Right now, the primary interface between our brains and our computers are our hands.

To date, issuing commands or providing data has required that we type, we move a mouse about, we use a touch-screen or a track-pad. More recently however, voice and speech synthesis have begun to play an increasing role in the human/machine interface equation.

And now, if reports are to be believed, we're about to go a step further.

I was quite surprised to read this story which explains that neuroengineers have created a direct interface between a computer and a human brain in a way that allows brain signals to be directly translated into speech.

This really is the stuff of science-fiction, isn't it?

If brain signals can be deciphered into recognisable speech then it stands to reason that they can also be used to command computers and provide data.

Imagine being able to create a document simply by thinking the words in your head.

Obviously this has huge potential for those who, for whatever reason, do not have or have lost the ability to speak naturally. Although, thanks to modern technology, being mute is not the handicap it once was, it's still a disability that affects many people. Professor Stephen Hawking is perhaps the best example of how even the best existing speech tech relies on physical movement and how this can impose a huge bottleneck on the rate of such communication.

If this breakthrough is "as advertised", I would expect to see a great deal of focus now placed on the potential for brain/machine interface -- with billions of dollars flowing into research.

Why?

In a word: military

Although there has already been some work done on mind-controlled piloting of fighter aircraft (with only limited success), this type of breakthrough could open the doors to all manner of clever cybernetics -- with obvious military benefit for whoever can produce a reliable working solution.

Oh yes, the disabled might get some collateral benefit too!

The potential for such a man/machine interface is obvious and perhaps one day in the surprisingly not-to-distant future, we'll all have small neural interface units surgically implanted during our early years of life and they will provide all the connectivity we need.

Using such a system, in conjunction with our global computing and communications networks, it would be possible to swap thoughts with people all round the world and perhaps even share emotions in a way that is presently unimaginable.

Of course we know that there would have to be significant "government" control of such a powerful system. We wouldn't want people sharing thoughts or imaginings that were challenging to the status quo or represented a threat to those in power.

Can you imagine the response of "the powers that be" to the concept of a technology that connected every person on the planet through a quantum-encrypted network that was immune to surveillance and monitoring?

The potential is massive -- but it will never happen. Not because we couldn't develop the tech but because those in power would never allow it -- except for their own purposes.

What do readers think? Is the man-machine interface about to get a lot more sophisticated and if so, what are the benefits/disadvantages of such a seamless interconnect?

Which applications would benefit most from such tech and do you see government regulation and restriction being the biggest hurdle to its development and deployment?

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