Star Trek Writer Claims that a Next Generation Episode Predicted Real-Life Memory Modification Technologies

Wednesday, 29 April 2015 - 3:10PM
Wednesday, 29 April 2015 - 3:10PM
Did Star Trek predict yet another burgeoning technology? Between cell phones, tractor beams, and molecular scanners, Star Trek has a particular knack for both predicting and inspiring innovations in the technological realm. And according to acclaimed Star Trek writer Morgan Gendel, the imminent reality of human memory modification may be one more to add to that list. Speaking to the Brooklyn Futurist Meet-Up, Gendel claimed that a version of the memory modification techniques seen in Star Trek, as well as films such as Inception or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, will soon be a reality.

The Brooklyn Futurist group is a story unto themselves, as their members include the leader of the Volumetric Society, an organization described as "nnovators exploring interfaces between body, brain, and spatially aware computing for the physical world," as well as Moon Ribas, a representative from the Cyborg Foundation who has a seismic sensor attached to her arms in order to incorporate earthquakes into her dancing. 

At a recent meeting, Gendel spoke about his most legendary episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the fifth season episode "The Inner Light." The Inner Light is loved by fans and critics alike, and has made just about every "top ten episodes of Star Trek" list out there. Most recently, it was named the second best episode ever in an insane ranking of all 700 Star Trek episodes.

In the episode, Captain Picard is transported to a foreign planet, where he proceeds to settle down, get married, and have a family. He lives there for many years until he suddenly wakes up back on his ship, only to discover he's only been gone for 25 minutes. The real planet was destroyed many years before, and his entire life there had been the result of their government's attempt to implant memories of their culture in a living person, so it would not be completely lost. 

According to The Guardian, Gendel used this episode, as well as films like Inception, The Matrix, Eternal Sunshine, and Total Recall, as a jumping-off point to discuss real-world memory modification technologies that are currently being developed by organizations such as the National Institute of Health's BRAIN Initiative. While the extent to which memories are modified in those films seems somewhat unlikely, it is theoretically possible. Memories are the result of neuronal connections, and neuroscientists are rapidly learning how to modify those connections. In the last year alone, scientists have managed to erase and restore fear memories and implant entirely fabricated memories, albeit in rats and mice rather than humans.

And once these techniques are perfected, neuroscientists could use the connectome to modify human brains in an unprecedented way. The connectome is simply a term for mapping out the brain's specific neurons and their functions, so specific neurons could be modified for many different purposes.

"The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind model could be used to, say, shave down the neurons associated with addiction, or bad habits," said Gendel. "Once things are mapped, it really won't be that difficult to see where such impulses live, and the implications for public health and education are... extraordinary." A member of the Brooklyn Futurist group pointed out that these technologies could also be used for nefarious purposes, such as Orwellian governmental mind control, but Gendel wasn't too concerned. 

Gendel isn't a scientist, although he's done research in these areas for his writing, and even he would admit that this technology is likely years away. But human memory modification is at least in its infancy, and someday we may all be able to experience the "Inner Light" episode for ourselves.
Science of Sci-Fi

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