Susan Greenfield: One thing science can't change: human individuality

From the annual Jacob Bronowski lecture at Queen Mary, University of London, by the director of the Royal Institution

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We are facing a very important time in our history as a species, when perhaps what we treasure most is more fragile than it ever has been. New technologies and inventions are changing the way we think, indeed the way we act and react, which is changing the way human beings function as individuals.

When we think of the future, we think of Hollywood-style robots clunking around, but perhaps that image is not accurate. We are entering an era, not only in which technology is getting smaller and smaller, but also in which computer screens will be able to read the users personality; toilet seats will be able to inform us of illnesses; and the fridge will alert us when it is time to go shopping.

However, while it may appear that the cyber world is beginning to merge with reality, human beings must continue to be seen as individuals. After all, no two people have the same personality: no two people can judge exactly what another is thinking. Your brain is evolving and changing every moment that you are alive, so you are not the same person you were five years ago, one year ago, six months ago or a minute ago. It is this individuality, along with personal experience, that creates our identity.

Your imagination is the most marvellous thing and in many ways is more authentic than the artificial film or the cyber world around us. So, as technology moves forward, and computer chips are more readily able to read our thoughts and minds, human beings must treasure our imagination and the individuality that defines each of us.

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