The Borg, from Star Trek: The Next Generation, are the prime example of a group of individuals altered with technology to function within a collective consciousness.  What makes them so terrifying beyond just the electromechanical prosthetics protruding from and covering their flesh is the complete loss of the individual to a collective whole.  In essence, the loss of self.
rat brainsUp until recently this concept, the idea of linking not only the brains of individuals, but their thoughts as well, was nothing more than science fiction.  I say up until recently because researchers have successfully linked the brains of two rats, enabling them work together to solve simple behavioral tests by sharing their thoughts.  The test was later successfully replicated using two rats thousands of miles apart.  The age of linking consciousnesses using technology has officially begun. 

The implications of such technology are staggering.  Crowd-sourcing takes on a whole new meaning!  What could happen if all the world’s greatest minds “linked up” to solve problems?  What could this mean for the transmission of information from first responders, soldiers, and police?  Could we see people fitted with transmitters relaying pertinent information to authorities?  Now that we know that it is possible to send information from one brain to a computer, and then send that information to another brain, the door is open for all sorts of possibilities. 

What does this technology mean for Matrix-like, or Caprica-style gaming interfaces?  If we can transmit thoughts from one rat to another, a possible next logical step might be to interfere with that signal by adding or subtracting information that is sent, eventually even alter what our senses perceive.  I know “plug in” style virtual reality is far off, and this new advancement doesn’t imminently allow for anything like that, but this could be the first step towards that end.   

groupthinkIn all seriousness, what are the broader, more uncomfortable questions that arise from this?  What does this mean for a potential future where thoughts aren’t expressed only by language, music, or gesture, but through wires directly plugged into another person, or many other people’s brains?  Left in the realm of science fiction these questions can be avoided, or debated for fun, but now these questions are much more intriguing.  Would emotion come along for the ride?  Could my happiness be transmitted to others?  What would that mean for human psychology?  Relationships?  Addictions?  Could too much connectivity affect the very way we think, to the point that our individual  minds, the very thing that makes what you we and determines how we see the world cause a blurring and blending of individuality?  What would this mean for society?  Concepts of justice and ethics?  The memes that are passed around and adopted by others?  What would this mean for advertising? 

image source: [spacebattles][cosmiclog]