The idea of a simple, cheap and widely available device that could boost brain function (no more late nights studying for exams?) sounds too good to be true, but it may be a reality. Neurologists are coming up with brain stimulation techniques that may make us all smarter in the future.

Recent research shows that one type of brain stimulation in particular, called transcranial direct current stimulation or TDCS, can be used to improve language and math skills, memory, problem solving, attention, and even movement.

Electrodes placed on the outside of the head for around 20 minutes send pass tiny currents into the brain, making it easier for neurons in these brain regions to fire. Neuroscientists think that these are the brain connections involved in learning and memory. The technique is painless, probably safe, and the effects can last for a long time.

On the Medical Xpress website, Jonathan Wood quotes experimental psychologist Roi Cohen Kadosh as saying, "I can see a time when people plug a simple device into an iPad so that their brain is stimulated when they are doing their homework, learning French or taking up the piano."

He quotes researcher Julian Savulescu as saying, "This is a first step down the path of maximizing human potential. It is a very exciting development but we need to control the release of the genie. Although this looks like a simple external device, it acts by affecting the brain. That could have very good effects, but unpredictable side effects."

Wood quotes neuroscientist Julian Savulescu as saying, "What is the ethical way forward? More research before deployment. It is promising but not proven at this stage."

Are we moving into a future world in which many of us will be hybrids–part human and part machine? Whitley Strieber created a special type of extraordinary beings in fiction. This novel is out of print, so you won’t find it in your bookstore, but you can still get it (along with an autographed bookplate designed by Whitley) from the Whitley Strieber Collection.

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