Brains as Hard Drives- How close are we to connecting our memories or even personalities to computers?

This search of mine initially started as an attempt to find research on the possible future connection between our brains and the hard drive of a computer. I wanted to see if there were experiments that either worked on transmitting memories or information from the human brain to a computer storage or vise versa.

What I found was a wide range of things, more than I anticipated. The first was an experiment that is trying to look at memories in a similar way to a computer’s hard drive- as pieces of saved information that can be deleted or edited. Currently in the works of experimenting with rodents- the research is being conducted to turn negative memories into positive ones. This is intended to move forward into human memories- by conditioning individuals with fears to become immune to those fears. (or therapy for PTSD or anxiety)

Another step to my search took me down the rabbit hole. It began with a silly exploration of a Daily Mail article that claimed we were close to converting our brains into computers- which was then discredited because of our lack of knowledge of the brain. An add for another article spoke about Google’s new patent for a robot that has the ability to download personalities (that could be constructed, or copied from a loved one or celebrity). These robots could be used for companionship or as a life assistant.




Uploading to the Brain

In a new research study, scientists are experimenting with the possibilities involving our learning abilities. Similar to a computer, there may be ways that we could “upload” new information without actually listening to instructions or experiencing a motor activity. Similar to the popular film The Matrix, it may be an available technology in the near future. To do so, the scientists of this experiment have found that locating certain areas of the brain and stimulating them may make it possible to condition a human being to “learn” new skills.

The specifics of this research differs greatly from the movie, The Matrix. In the film, the individual sits in a chair and has a sharp metal plug inserted into an “outlet” located at the back of the head. Information is then uploaded into their memory, and within a short period of time they can be experts in a field without ever studying it (such as martial arts).

In the current experiment, the test subject wears a cap on their head that is connected to many wires. Using electric impulses, the scientist locate points in their brain that they determine are connected to the specific task they would like to upload. (Which varies for each individual, making it difficult to predict if this technology could be mass produced) For the current experiment, the researchers are using amateur pilots and attempting to use the technology to make their performance similar to that of a professional.

Education’s Relationship with Robotics

As technology advances, it goes without saying that technology should have a relationship in our education system. From tools that are aids in the classroom, robotic simulations for learning, or even robots being used as educators/students, there are many ways that robots and AIs can improve education.

The school system is oftentimes stuck in it’s ways and resistant to change. The well-being of students must be taken into account. With the growing demand in engineering and robotics, it seems practical to incorporate robotics classes in primary school to give students an edge on the job market. This may also mean that the implementation of certain robotics may be negative, such as replacing teachers with robots since the human connection may be lost and affect learning in a negative way.

In many ways, the incorporation of robotics in classrooms has produced positive results. For example, using simulations for drunk driving in high school settings has been a realistic and influential program established in some high schools. Technology can also be utilized to create a more accessible learning environment. For example, students that are hospitalized may attend school and socialize through robots that they control from their hospital bed.

Change is always easily accepted by the young, since they are adaptable and eager to learn new things. School settings are a perfect environment to implement positive change with technologies and robotics.

How do we incorporate robots in education so students are prepared for the workforce?

One of the realities of our increasing robotic presence is the jobs that will be created in robotics. Subjects such as math, science, and programming are becoming vital for students to have an edge in the job market. However, teaching programs and schools are far behind technologically (both in education of tech for teachers and public funding to support having these resources), leaving a gap between the students we are producing and the demand for these skills.

Attached is an article that includes available robots that can be incorporated in classrooms. From the simple “Play-I” robot that aids in teaching students, to robots that act as actual pieces of technology that students can learn to program and create. This is a definite start to improving technology in regards to education- but there’s a lot of issues that need to be dealt with first.

As great as it may be that these resources are available, the reality of their presence in American public schools anytime soon is probably pretty slim. The costs of these robots (ranging from $200-$8000) can add up pretty quickly when you figure how many classrooms we would have to provide for.

Will Robots Replace Teachers?

As technology develops and the presence of robots and AIs steadily increases, one of the most commonly shared fears of the public is job loss, particularly in education. With the intellectual capability of robots, it becomes an ethical question of whether or not they may be more equipped to educate over human teachers. Beyond that, it may even be more cost effective (because robots do not require payroll, benefits, ect.) to make a switch over to robot teachers.

As a future educator, this raises a number of concerns in my mind. My first priority, of course, is the well being of students. I wouldn’t be so bold to say that I am absolutely the most equipped to teach, and if there were to exist a robot that could do my job more effectively, then perhaps I wouldn’t be opposed to the possibility. However, to my knowledge, robots are currently restricted in their ability to be completely emotionally competent. There are skills I am confident that I possess that a robot does not, such as my understanding of culturally competent pedagogy, how to alter a lesson plans based on my current students’ abilities, and how to teach a classroom in which some students may be three grades behind while some are three ahead.

The study attached focused on the current robot presence in Asian cultures. As of now, a variety of robot types are being used as tools in the classroom in combination with a teacher. They are used primarily for teaching English language, but are also found in several math and science classes as well.

The study pointed out an interesting observation: the students were much more comfortable with the robots. While teachers requested to have total control and for the robots to have restricted autonomy, students reported they would feel more comfortable is the robots acted more human-like and could better display emotion.

I think this is an interesting concept but it is understandable. Teachers, as adults, are more reluctant to change especially when it challenges their abilities. For the most part, these teachers are given very little instruction on how to utilize this technology and beyond that, they may even be fearful of what the robots are capable of. Students, however, are still active learners and welcome change. They are growing up in a very technologically advance age, and this is non-threatening to them.

The study went on to say that there is no present threat of robots actually taking over teaching jobs, more so a push towards incorporating them in classrooms as tools.

Milwaukee Schools Utilize Robotics Team to Assist Community

January 29, 2018

I wanted to start my research on a positive and relatively practical note. I wanted to see how robots are portrayed in the media and by the general public- and therefore what the term “robot” brings to mind. I looked to my local news, TMJ4’s, website and entered “robot” into the search bar. The first story that grabbed my attention was about a local child that’s life has been improved by a robot. Vivian is a three year old in the Milwaukee area and due to medical complications, cannot walk on her own. The St.Francis robotics team was inspired to help her and created a robot that follows her around and stabilizes her walking.

This story is wonderful in two ways. The first is the substantial improvement this technology has made to this toddler’s life. The second is the impressive intelligence of these high school students. Technology has completely changed the curriculum of our k-12 system and had broken barriers in education.