Today we finish up our reading of Soonish, a look at some future technologies, written and illustrated by Kelly and Zack Weinersmith. In this post we’ll explore and discuss chapters 10 (bioprinting), 11 (brain-computer interfaces), and 12 (conclusion).
First, let’s look back at the past week. The post about part 3 yielded a bunch of comments about augmented versus other realities. At around the same time MIT’s Technology Review just published their list of “10 breakthrough technologies 2018“, which is fascinating to read in light of Soonish. CBInsights published their positive assessment of the business of getting into space. And TechCrunch interviewed someone building a space catapult.
Please add your thoughts, questions, answers, and more in comments, or wherever else you like.
Remember that all blog posts on Soonish, including this one, are available under the single tag /soonish/. That way you can check out previous posts and discussion for reference, and also if you come late to the schedule.
Chapter 10: bioprinting
This chapter continues last week‘s focus on technologies for… you, human beings. It also connects with an earlier topic of 3d printing, exploring how printers could output biological materials, such as human tissues and organs.
The Weinersmiths dive into great detail about the ways bioprinting could work, and the many problems it must overcome along the way, including making thicker objects, generating and agreeing upon standards (watch for the Duran Duran joke), and sugar sintering (270). There is also the intriguing possibility of printing not just replacement organs, but new forms of tissue better suited to human health (272). Other potential advantages include lowering costs, savings lives, and reducing tissue rejection problems.
Here’s an example from a Canadian firm:
We read about possible harms, including new diseases, the impact of economic inequality, and ethical debates. My favorite line concerns moral hazard, and draws a fun analogy with the 2008 financial crisis:
If bankers had to get their body cavities opened up to receive a bailout, they might think twice about making another risky loan. Your move, Congress. (274)
The chapter concludes with an introduction to organ-matching markets, which are fascinating.
Chapter 11: brain-computer interfaces
How can we productively connect digital technology to the brain? This chapter explores a series of current and unfolding technologies, in order “from least to most invasive.” The examples include EEG, MEG, fMRI, ECoG, intracortical neural recording (“really superinvasive brain reading”), neurotrophic electrodes, neural dust, neuroprostheses, a hippocampal prosthesis, and deep brain stimulation. There’s the interesting idea that brain reading technologies could progress along the arc of cosmetic surgery: first, to fix problems; second, to improve people (303).
Potential problems and advantages really take off in this chapter. The authors consider social differences by brain augmentation, privacy violations, and controlling other people’s brains, not to mention the question of radically defining what it means to be human, in addition to improving limb replacements, communication, and a kind of group mind.
Chapter 12: conclusion.
This section actually resembles a DVD’s deleted scenes, as it walks through other technologies initially considered for the book. They include space-based solar power, advanced prosthetics, room-temperature superconductors, quantum computing, and mirror humans (!). Some the Weinersmiths deemed too unlikely to develop, while they folded chunks of others into the published chapters.
Thoughts and questions
- Are you seeing anyone working on any of these technologies at or near your institution, or in your networks?
- As you read, do these human-biological technologies impact you differently than the previous ones, which addressed the universe and non-biological matter?
- Are you more optimistic about some of the conclusion’s technologies?
- Looking at the entire book, which technology seems to offer the greatest promise? and which the most danger?
Thank you for reading with us! Many thanks to co-author Kelly Weinersmith for generously interacting with we readers.
Coming up soon, we’ll pick our next reading. Nonfiction or fiction? Titles to volunteer?