How a Rat With a Brain Sensor Turned Ramez Naam From a Technologist into a Renowned Futurist

Prior to becoming a futurist, Ramez Naam was a well respected and successful software developer and professional technologist. He was involved in the development of such products as Microsoft Internet Explorer and Microsoft Outlook. His future in the software industry certainly looked bright.


But it was during this time that he decided to switch gears and focus his efforts on future studies, leading to his highly acclaimed book, More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement. Naam now devotes his time to lecturing and writing on these themes, including his upcoming non-fiction book, The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet, and his much-anticipated debut science fiction novel, Nexus.

We recently caught up with Naam at the recently concluded WorldFuture 2012 Conference where he told us why he made the switch from successful technologist to the world of futurism.

Back in 2003 I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who had seen The Matrix, as had I, and he started talking about how within ten years we would have implants that would help us to jack into our brains and allow us to transfer our thoughts and have alternate reality experiences and so on. And knowing a little bit about science at the time — and not a whole lot — I said, no way, that is totally crazy — the brain is incredibly complex and it is not feasible that this could happen anytime in the near future. I felt that it would take as much as a century for us to get to that kind of understanding of the human brain.

A few days later I was reading an issue of Science and it had an article about a research team from Duke that had taken a rat and wired up sensors in its brain to so that it could control a robot arm which could deliver water. They first had it such that the rat could press a lever to get water, and it would do so. The sensors in its brain would listen to the parts of its motor cortex, and the researchers could tell when it was moving its paw to hit the lever to get water.

Once they thought they had it down, and that they knew the pattern, they just left the software in control. The researchers disabled the level, so that the rat would reach for it — but it didn't actually do anything. But the neurons in the rat's brain were still firing against these probes, resulting in the delivery of water.

After a while, the rat figured this out and stopped moving its paws on the lever and would just sit there in place, just think about it, and water would just pour down into its mouth by the power of its thoughts alone.

So when I saw this paper I was suddenly persuaded that I was wrong and that brain-computer interfaces were actually a reality and that led to me writing More than Human and formally entering into the world of futurism.

Images experimentation-online and Hplus.

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