Will the next generation be the smartest ever?

Even the most tech savvy person has a hard time keeping up to date on the latest technologies as engineering improves at lightning speed. With online courses improving so much over the last five years it is hard to even imagine what the future holds for future generations of employees.

Maybe in the future, on-demand online learning will take place through an interactive microchip in the brain. If that sounds far-fetched, consider the following recent examples that take brain based learning and computer enhanced education to a whole new level.

In 2005, Jonathan Kuniholm lost the lower portion of his right arm in a war injury in Iraq. Robert Arminger, a Johns Hopkins engineer built a prosthetic arm that interacts directly with the remaining muscles in Mr. Kunniholm’s arm to coordinate movements. Jonathan can play a modified version of Guitar Hero for instance by, “work[ing] the controller by contracting the muscles in his forearm, creating electrical impulses that electrodes then feed into the game.” This is the first neurally controlled prosthetic arm ever invented and with the researcher’s open sharing of all technology, many other researchers are looking for additional applications of this innovative mind, body, computer connection.

In 2008, researchers in Canada found that implanting electrodes in the brain and stimulating them can help recover lost memories. This research holds incredible potential for Alzheimer’s patients. Recent equally interesting research out of the University of California at Berkeley indicates that electrodes inserted in the brain can assist in computer generated speech. This has impressive implications for someone like a stroke patient who has lost the ability to speak. Could typing through just thinking about the words be a possibility in the future? In the Berkeley experiment, the patient had 256 electrodes implanted into the temporal lobe of the brain (where speech and images are processed). Simple words were produced but there is still more research to do to obtain a wider vocabulary.

For online learner enthusiasts and those who sometimes wish they had a second brain to store more information, the stunning research of Dr. Theodore Berger holds the most intrigue.

Dr. Berger from the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering has recently created a micro chip that directly interacts with learning, at least in mice. The researcher inserted the chip containing certain information into the brain of the mouse. When the electrodes to the brain were stimulated, the mouse engaged the knowledge on the chip to perform tasks that were not known to the mouse when the switch was turned off. Viterbi reports, “The chip is capable of storing neural signals, basically functioning as an electronic memory, allowing rats to learn more and keep it in the devices.” For any student that has ever dreamed of having a spare brain to store all that new class material it looks like the dream may be closer than you think.

With the ubiquitous use of mobile devices and online applications to conduct nearly every facet of life, it is interesting to consider what life might be like for the future generation of professionals in the most highly competitive jobs in the future. While previous generations might have considered getting their long hair cut a necessary sacrifice to be competitive in the job market, will future generations need to undergo expensive brain chip implants to “out think” the competition? In the quest to be number one, how far will future generations be willing to go?

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