Will We Have Computer Chips In Our Heads?

Hello everyone! As I said last week, I’ll be spending the next few posts highlighting some cogent points from William Gibson’s non-fiction writings and thoughts, working from his anthology Distrust That Particular Flavor.

Last week I introduced my main question: how closely do we have to integrate technology into our lives before we become cyborgs?

Will We Have Computer Chips In Our Heads?

distrust that particular flavor william gibson book cover

distrust that particular flavor william gibson book cover

You would likely guess that Gibson has been asked once or twice (or thousands of times) whether he thinks we will ever become like the cyborgs of his books. Well, Gibson wrote directly (or perhaps indirectly?) on this topic for Time Magazine in the year 2000. While Gibson was smart enough not to give any indication of exactly how distant in time his first trilogy is set, with the turn of the new millennium, lots of people were looking to the future.

So, asking the question “Will we have computer chips in our brains?” of himself, what was Gibson’s answer? In short:

Maybe. But only once or twice, and probably not for very long. (Gibson 213)

At this time, almost 20 years after the publication of his first novel, and after years and years of being a reluctant herald of a major cultural shift toward emerging media such as the burgeoning video game industry and the popularity of the Internet, Gibson’s perspectives on his own supposed prophetic dream had become decidedly jaded.

The cyberpunk street samurai with their “black suits and their surgically implanted silicon chips” had had their day, having resolved to a “certain nostalgic romance” similar to the “steam bandits” of the daughter steampunk genre (213). Gibson’s reflections on the nature of technology in culture had not taken the traditionally anxious bent toward progress, instead focusing on those “singular and ongoing scenarios that make up our life as a species: our real futures, our ongoing present” (213). So when Gibson says he is not sure if we will start slotting microsofts like his fictional techno-fetishistic neerdowells, you can be sure it is because he doesn’t believe that is the natural course of things anymore.

[I do not think] that we will one day, as a species, submit to the indignity of the chip. If only because the chip will almost certainly be as quaint an object as the vacuum tube or the slide rule. (214)

Intel QUARK microchip

Intel’s new line of low-power, low-cost chips could be put in practically anything

This is not to say that there won’t ever be literal brain-machine interfaces. I have already pointed you to some experiments of this already in progress. Gibson makes a point of acknowledging this inevitability as well, saying: “If I were to lose my eyes, I would quite eagerly submit to some sort of surgery promising a video link to the optic nerves (and once there, why not insist on full-channel cable and a Web browser?)” (214). He also acknowledges possible military applications, extending the use of telepresence on the battlefield (as in the use of drones). But this isn’t the full extent of his observation. Making nod toward bio-engineering and stem-cell research, Gibson notes the posibility of wetware enhancements of the brain. Instead of “embedding a tactical shard of glass in one’s head,” Gibson wonders:

How much more elegant [would it be] to graft on various sorts of gelatinous computing goo… run on blood sugar, the way a human brain’s supposed to. (214-5)

While bio-engineered tissues could conceivably be altered or augmented to enhance the function of the brain, we might still not need to go that route. Every day, more and more things in the world contain microchips, or are connected to the internet. This “Internet of Things” is so vast and inevitable, that our children will likely one day not have any idea what a “computer” is, because it would be easier to point out what isn’t a computer (216). If everything is already a computer, chips in our brains, or even smart goo enhancements to our brains, will likely be irrelevant. According to Gibson:

It won’t, I don’t think, be a matter of computers crawling buglike down into the most intimate chasms of our being, but of humanity crawling buglike out into the dappled light and shadow of the presence of that which we have created, which we are creating now, and which seems to me to already be in the process of re-creating us. (216)

Will we ever really become the sort of cyborg in Neuromancer? It seems the answer is that we are already sort of there. The next step is to figure out what that means for us.

Until next time, what do you think will happen when everything we have is connected? Would you even want to have things implanted in your brain if you had the opportunity? Let me know in the comments below! 



About erikthereddest

I'm a Masters student in English, and I love technology and Science Fiction. I am refining and enhancing my (admittedly novice) writing talents under the sage advice of my friends here at Lantern Hollow Press, and with the great many books I am reading from the best authors I can find.

Posted on October 9, 2013, in Authors, Books, Cyberpunk, Erik Marsh, Inspiration, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Neuromancer, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, Technology, The Sprawl, Universes, William Gibson and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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