Leading Article: Mind-blowing ideas for the future

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IF SCIENTISTS really have managed to bridge the gap between computers and the brain by inserting a chip into someone's head, the implications are immense. If someone can move a cursor on a computer screen simply by the power of thought, picked up by an electronic device, it will be possible eventually for thoughts to be transferred directly into words on a screen. Some of the implications are valuable, some are frightening: all are, in a very new sense, mind-blowing. Most immediately, the prospect is a hopeful one for those like Stephen Hawking whose minds race ahead while their bodies are left behind.

Then there are the more doubtful possibilities. If people can transmit information directly to computers, what is to stop traffic going the other way? One thing the human brain is not very good at is storing information, especially of the abstract kind, like telephone numbers. Imagine being able to plug in directly to a CD-Rom. Bad news for directory enquiries.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is the science fiction nightmare of having one's thoughts transmitted and read by someone else. Not many volunteers for that, we suspect. Visions of a hard-wired Thought Police make 1984 seem like a tale of innocence, and the second-by-second monitoring of supermarket check-out operators seem a model of personal autonomy.

Of course, any technological advance requires vigilance to ensure the protection of freedom, but we should welcome the chance to expand the capacity of the human mind and explore the nature of consciousness. Let us harness the wonders of technology, not take fright at them.