The Danger Lurking In Neuroscience
By James Donahue
A comic episode in a very early issue of MAD Magazine once depicted a civilization of people so dependent upon
advanced technology that machines, controlled by a master computer, provided for every need. Consequently people stopped doing
for themselves and their muscles atrophied. Everybody moved around in motorized wheelchairs. They didn’t even have to
lift their hands to feed themselves. Then the master computer crashed and the people perished because they were left helpless.
That cartoon, published sometime in the 1950s, was a form of off-beat science fiction that has slowly but surely
been evolving into science fact. While a large number of people in this world still physically toil each day, there is another
number that works with the electronic wizardry of the age. We sit at desks working with computers and telephones for our vocation.
If we work out of the home the drive to and from work involves sitting in a comfortable vehicle filled with electronic gadgetry
that either entertains us or keeps us in touch with the outside world. Evening entertainment involves a stop at a fast-food
drive-in for a bucket of chicken, fish or hamburgers, and a night of watching television. The only exercise might be the stop
at the party store where those so inclined might get out of the car and walk a few steps to buy a six-pack of beer.
Small wonder that Americans are obese and suffering from diabetes, heart disease and a variety of other diseases
that would not occur among people with more active life styles.
Some people join work-out programs and attempt to combat this growing problem of physical inertia. Others play
golf, tennis or just walk for exercise. They are the wise ones.
But science continues to creep up on us all. Because so many young men are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan
with missing arms and legs, the field of prosthetics has become a booming business. It is already possible for amputees to
move prosthetic arms by mere thought and the blind are seeing with the assistance of electrodes. The deaf are now hearing
with bionic ears and people like Steven Hawking, who suffers from neuro-muscular dystrophy, may now speak through brain electrodes
connected to a computer.
Will humanity ever reach a point of allowing computerized machines to respond to our every whim? Indeed, the
technology may already be available to create such a world. It is thought that within the next few decades we will be placing
mini-microprocessors in our brains to download and store information, connect to our cell phones and operate machines by mere
Humans can be too ingenious for their own good. You can be sure that once we have the ability to operate machines
by thought, we will invent more machines to accomplish our every chore. Robots already are being developed that build our
cars, perform certain surgical procedures and go places where humans dare not tread. Robotic machines were used to try to
stop the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico 5,000 feet under the sea during the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Once we can “think” a robot’s movements it will not take long before we have machines that
prepare our meals, wash our dishes, change the baby’s diaper and take out the trash. What is scary about this scenario
is that we already have motorized wheel chairs to help immobile people move around.
After passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, every city, county and state in the nation began
a major renovation of sidewalks and public buildings to make them wheelchair accessible. Every new building erected for business,
industrial or government use is now required to have wheelchair accessible restrooms, doorways and elevators to get people
in wheelchairs from one floor to the next.
It is common for private homes where elderly and handicapped people live, or have lived, to have wheelchair
Can you see where all of this is leading? That MAD Magazine cartoonist may have been a prophet in his own time.