Cyborgisation of Mankind
(June 21st, 2017) Switzerland-based publisher Frontiers awarded its first Frontiers Spotlight Award, honouring an entire research topic – brain augmentation.
After two years of pain-stacking work editing more than one hundred manuscripts from over 600 researchers around the world, editors Manuel Casanova (from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine), Mikhail Lebedev (from Duke University) and Ioan Opris (from the University of Miami School of Medicine’s Miami Project to Cure Paralysis) received some unexpectedly good news: The trio were awarded the first Frontiers Spotlight Award for their exceptional work published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, focussing on ways to enhance brain function.
This award was organised by Switzerland-based open-access publisher Frontiers and the $100,000 prize money is going to be used to organise a conference looking at brain augmentation next year. “It feels great to see that this research topic evoked great interest in the readership. The total number of views was more than one million, which is very high for scientific articles, and many of the articles in the collections already have many citations”, says Lebedev excitedly. “I think my original intuition was correct, and ‘brain augmentation’ is indeed a very timely theme. I am very glad that the selection committee appreciated our efforts, the impact and implications of this series of articles”.
Under the general theme of brain augmentation, the manuscripts included in this collection cover many areas of research, including “any type of methodology or intervention that could affect brain function in a positive manner, brain-machine interfaces and neuromodulation techniques”, explains Casanova. Some of the ideas presented could definitely have come out of any science fiction book, with “exo-brains”, where multiple external devices can be connected to the brain to promote artificial intelligence; and ethical discussions regarding the possible "cyborgisation" of mankind. “I think the volume of work will be published as a series of books, and this will be by far the most far ranging excursion into the field of brain augmentation ever published”, says Casanova.
Both Lebedev and Casanova believe this is only the beginning and this field will go through enormous advances in the next 10-20 years. “I believe we will be able to intervene and modulate brain function so as to more easily establish behavioural states like attention (for traffic controllers or airplane pilots) and sleep (for those suffering from insomnia), and similar techniques will enable enhanced cognitive abilities in the aged, and alleviate some disabling health symptoms (like sensory abnormalities in autism)”, says Casanova. “In ten to twenty years, brain implants will become common”, adds Lebedev. “I'm not sure whether they would read thoughts by that time, but they will definitely find some medical and technological applications”.
With regards to the conference, it’s far too early to have any specific details, but Lebedev believes it is likely to be held in Frontiers’ base country, Switzerland, during the summer or autumn 2018. Irrespective of where it will be, this conference will be the perfect chance for researchers in this field to meet, share ideas, and make plans for the future. “We expect that this movement will definitely stimulate research around the world”, concludes Lebedev.