Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Second Brain

All of us who have a bad memory for faces and names along with an inability to make the correct name to face associations would love the idea of having a surrogate brain take over when the real one fails to do the job.

It's a crazy experiment. But perhaps its craziest aspect is that soon you'll be part of it too--whether you want to be or not. The way Bell sees it, computers and the Internet are now rapidly becoming capable of storing everything you do and see. Hard-drive space has exploded in size, and every day people are recording more and more of their lives: We blog about our thoughts, upload personal pictures to Flickr, save every email on our infinitely expanding Gmail accounts, shoot video on our cell phones, record phone calls straight to our hard drives when we use Skype.

Back in the learning multiplication tables, doing mental math, being a good speller all counted among must haves for a good student. Some or all of these skills may become redundant soon. All of us who use computers on the job don't necessarily know to write compilers or read assembly language code. We get along just fine without those skills.

Mental agility can be achieved in many different ways and recalling multiplication tables from memory may hardly be the best way. Once you have a surrogate brain that you can use seamlessly with your own, a lot of the rote, drone work can be offloaded to it, freeing room in the real one for things more creative and challenging.

On the other hand, the surrogate brain may have an ossifying effect on the real brain. When no longer tasked to do the simplest of things, it may turn incapable of performing sophisticated tasks.

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