What happens when technology opens up the brain — and its information?
The second techno-thriller novel by neurosurgeon and inventor Eric C. Leuthardt explores a future where the distinction between life and death become blurred and neurotechnology is used for nefarious purposes.
Before dying, Ben downloaded his thoughts and memories to a virtual simulation of himself.
His twin brother, Ander, gains solace from speaking with this artificial intellect — until realizing that something is very wrong. As he penetrates the sinister intentions of the company that created his virtual brother, Ander becomes a threat. Soon the very hallmarks of Ander’s modern identity – his implants, his connectivity, his access to information – are turned against him.
This chilling possibility is explored in Limbo, the latest techno-thriller by celebrated scientist, neurosurgeon and inventor Eric C. Leuthardt. The novel explores a number of themes around brain-machine interfaces, including what can happen when the brain and its information are accessible, and what it is to live, die and love when the distinction between life and death become blurred.
“I wanted to capture society’s imagination about neural interfaces and the potential power, and danger, of unlocking and accessing the power of the mind,” says Leuthardt on what motivated him to write the book — his second novel based on his own cutting-edge research.
“I have always been fascinated by the “mind-brain” relationship,” says Leuthardt. “I want to understand how the brain is able to accomplish the myriad amazing things that it does, and harness this knowledge to improve the human condition.”
This interest led Leuthardt to train as a neurosurgeon and then into research on neuroprosthetics — devices linked to the brain that may restore function to patients with motor disabilities. During his post-doctoral fellowship he co-developed one of the fundamental platforms used for brain-computer interfacing. Since then has filed more than 1,500 patents for medical devices and brain-computer interface technologies.
“As a neurosurgeon, I feel that devices that can be controlled by one’s thoughts could have enormous implications in treating patients with brain-derived disabilities such as spinal cord injury and stroke,” he says.
The potential benefits of neural implants are clear – but should we also be worried about this research being used against people? This is, after all, Leuthardt’s second novel about neurotechnology “gone wrong”. If anyone can see the potential dangers, it would be him.
“Some of what I talk about in the book is already reality, and other areas may be more fully realized in the coming decades — such as neural augmentation, brain-to-brain communication, artificial memories and chat bots that can fool a person into thinking they are real. Am I concerned about their misuse? Yes, but that does not mean that progress in the field should be slowed,” says Leuthardt. “All important technologies with significant impact can have a dark side. That has been true for atomic science, genetics, and now neurotechnology.”
“I hope that Limbo will inspire the next generation of rising minds to think about neural technology in all dimensions,” he explains. “If we can imagine a future when the brain and its information are accessible, we can envision all the positive things, but also be aware of the dangers and hopefully avoid the bad things.”