In early November IBMC.INEB, a Portuguese member of NERRI Project, hosted a session of Ignite Portugal devoted to the theme “Back to the Future”. Ignite is an international organization which promotes events open to public participation, which revolve around presentations pertaining to innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship and technology. These presentations ought to be very short, only 5 minutes long and speakers rely on 20 slides that switch automatically after 15 seconds. Júlio Borlido Santos, a member of the NERRI team, took on the challenge and delivered a speed-talk about neuro-enhancement. Setting off from the assertion that “the future is now”, he called for the participation of around 90 Igniters that sat in the audience to discuss the issues of neuro-enhancement, such as the limits of the technology, the access to it and how equal this access could be, and human transformation.
The starting point of the presentation was an array of sci-fi creations, like the possibility of a society in which citizens are ranked according to an intellectual downgrade, or global emotional regulation, a phenomenon particularly well addressed in Huxley’s classic “Brave new world”. From there, the talk moved onto cinematic archetypes, namely “Equilibrium”, a 2002 motion picture directed by Kurt Wimmer that resumes Huxley’s concept, and the Matrix Trilogy, that sets a very thin line between virtual and real. It was on the small screen, however, that the portrayal of dystopic realities went further into yet uncharted tech turfs. “Wild Palms”, an early 1990s Oliver Stone co-produced sci-fi drama mini-series, depicts a complex mesh of political and religious motivations, whose instruments include mass media technologies and virtual realities. These tools could be VR glasses that transported its users to a no-boundaries cyberworld or a “go chip” that enabled whoever held it to become a living hologram with unlimited power.
With the fictional scenario as a backdrop, Júlio Borlido Santos talked about the technologies that already exist today and upon which all citizens should reflect, from nootropics to DIY transcranial direct-current stimulation gadgets. Nootropics are far more than an album by Lower Dens and are, in fact, drugs that are abundantly used by students. Several examples of technology were thrown into debate to spark the heterogeneous audience’s interest to a pressing issue and generate discussion: international viewpoints concerning ethical dilemmas; Portuguese news reports on smart drugs; an article recently published by PLOSone about the first brain to brain communication; the possibility of mind control over machines; research work on the memory of rats (such as being able to erase or recover memories); the potential to enhance physical capacities; and neurofeedback to hinder miscommunication and other problems.
The presentation ended with the invitation to partake in NERRI’s activities, especially in the upcoming event around neuro-enhancement, organized with the Municipality of Porto within the scope of the Forum of the Future. Active citizen participation is key to shift dystopic ideals into new utopias.