Arts & Culture
5:33 am
Tue September 3, 2013

Five Things You Should Know About Brain-Altering Software

Technology is improving – and fast. The next frontier for some software designers is the human brain.

William Hurley, or “whurley," is the co-founder of Austin-based mobile studio company Chaotic Moon.

1. Brain-Altering Software Already Exists:

"Currently there are things that are considered brain-altering software. Sites like Lumosity and things like that where you do brain training and different activities."

"You right now, for example, can order a device that does transcranial stimulation – so it basically shoots across your pre-frontal cortex about 2 milliamps of energy. The device in that case is called foc.us. And there's a lot of those devices starting to come up. So this whole brain hacking culture, brain software and hardware culture is the next iPhone, the next Android phone thing as far as where personal technology goes."

2. Hollywood Has Been Exploring This for Decades:

"There is a huge common thread … really picking up in the '70s and '80s where the brain is a data storage device. Think of "Johnny Mnemonic" where, 'My job's a courier, you put the information in my brain, I can carry so much and I get paid to smuggle it.' I find it fascinating. I think that Hollywood, as an entity often takes from science fiction and incorporates it in a way that almost makes it seem like it's absolutely possible when the delta between where we're at now at something like "Johnny Mnemonic" is huge."

"These are all ideas that have been talked about for a while and you see them everywhere. But, when you see "Elysium", you don't leave "Elysium" and go 'Dude, in "Elysium" there was this thing that he plugged into his head and he stole the information out of another guy's head.' You don't even think about that, it's just a piece of the plot or story. But, if you go and you look back, there's 15, 20, 30, 40 references to this in these movies. It's something that, at least Hollywood, has been thinking about for a long time."

3. Yes, There May Be Some Risks:

"The creepy comes in, as with all personal data, how do you share it and where do you share it. So once you get to an evolution of brain-altering software to where something like Lumosity is actually learning as much about you as it's helping you improve or teaching you things, then where does that information go? And who is it shared and sold to?"

"The reality is, is that this may not be good. Or it could be tremendously good. This is like every other technology: nuclear energy – is it good or bad? Most people could give you as many bad cases as they could good cases. This is just on a much larger scale."

4. Yes, It Raises Some Philosophical Questions:

"I would say, with absolutely certainty, that altering your brain changes who you are, somehow. But it does it in the same way that altering your experience changes you or altering your perceptions and what you participate in."

"Does it change you? I think it accelerates you into becoming who you are. And, what I mean by that is, we're genetically coded to be who we are, strengths and weaknesses and so on and so forth ... [If someone were going to abuse knowledge made available by brain-altering software] they were probably always going to that, you've just now given them the confidence to actually become who they already were."

5. Like It or Not, It's Moving Forward:

"There have been people who have been talking about this stuff for 20 years and I think there's been a lot of progress."

"One of the things that I love about Austin and why we're doing this is this is one of those discussions that, out of it, will come four or five companies that start thinking about this or integrating it into what they're doing. So I think the idea here is to try to start talking about this and be ahead of the race because things are obviously trending in that direction."

Want to Know Even More? Check Out This Extended Interview:

The University of Texas at Austin's Advanced Computing Center is hosting a forum Tuesday, Sept. 3 on brain-altering software.

The presentation starts at 6:30 p.m. at the AT&T Conference Center. It’s free and open to the public. Email info@austinforum.org to RSVP.