Visions and Dreams

“Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams,” the Bible says. (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17) My birth certificate says I’m now relegated to the dreaming crowd. But hiding among the gray hairs and the wrinkles is an incorrigible spirit that wants to hang out with the visionaries.

I was talking with my young friend Cole Griffith, a university student majoring in neurocomputer engineering. I believe I have the name right. The concept is to develop hard and software computer programs that can interface with the human brain; combine the best of human think and computer do. The first iterations are for physically impaired people, hooking up prosthetics, mechanical arms, legs, hands, and other body parts that can be activated and guided by the wearer’s thoughts.

I told him to put me on the waiting list as soon as they come out with a guitar picking app. Every guitar player wants to improve his or her technique. “Technique” is really a code word for speed. I can play sort of like Pepe Romero or John Williams. It’s just they are floor boarding a Ferrari, and I’m chugging up hill in a cattle truck in need of a valve and ring job. If I had a 35 gigahertz CPU hooked up to my fingers, could I play three and a half billion notes per second?

Computer powered body parts are just the launching pad for today’s young visionaries. Beyond that, they envision hooking up thoughts to computer memory so that you can access the storage power of the computer, and direct it with your mind.

I’m thinking the next step might be to mentally tap in to Google and be king of the galaxy in trivial pursuit.

Cole recently returned from a church mission to Peru where he learned Spanish. “How would it be to have an interface to translate in real time any language to and from your English speaking brain,” he said.

I had an enjoyable few minutes with Cole, sharing young men visions and stretching the outer limits of my imagination.

Later my somewhat more aged brain kicked in and complicated the glorious visions. Certainly helping physically challenged people is a noble goal. Beyond that it gets fuzzier. Would I really like to perform a two hour concert that had to stop at an hour and a half because at my blazing speed I had already performed every piece of music ever composed plus my own ad hoc variations on every theme? Would the audiences need bionic ears to keep up with my flying fingers. Would the fingers themselves be fried, the picks melt and the guitar burst into flame at that speed?
If I could answer any question with my Google powered brain would I be genius brilliant or only smart enough to hit “search” and read off the answer on the screen in my head? Would my memory atrophy like an unused leg? Would I lose track of who I am; like a person on medication who seems happier, but is not sure if it is him or the Prozac smiling?

Our society is already drowning in a sea of data. But are we better human beings because of it?

I remembered (using my own feeble, fallible, but personal memory) the observation of the poet T.S. Elliot. (O.K. full disclosure: I Googled it to make sure I remembered it correctly.) According to Google, T.S. Elliot and me, “Where is the wisdom we lost in knowledge and where is the knowledge we lost in information?”

Would bigger databases and better interfaces turn us into nobler saints or more efficient sinners? Can we build an app for ethics? I will dream we can work through the hazards and enjoy the new horizons.

Meanwhile I will crank up my cattle truck and take on another up hill climb.