Hybrid Dreams

Perhaps the days are coming when people can choose to transform from purely human to human-machine hybrids. Imagine being able to choose to have a device implanted in your body that would enable you—instantly—to fluently speak another language. Complete with an accent of choice, if desired. But maybe that capability, when it arrives, will be superfluous, thanks to the amalgamation of all the world’s dialects into a single language. Just as individual languages and their multiple dialects evolved over time, the possibility exists that the reverse process could occur. The timeframe for such consolidation might take thousands of years; but considering the pace of change humans have experienced in just the last two centuries, it could be profoundly faster.

For years, I have imagined an electrochemical process that would accomplish one’s objective of fluency in one or more additional languages. In my mind, a combination of one or more injections and electrical stimulations would alter the language centers of one’s brain to mimic precisely the areas of the brains of native speakers that control speech and vocabulary, including the muscles in the tongue and throat. Today, though, the idea of combining injections and electrical stimulations seems primitive. Perhaps the implanted device would mimic the most successful methods of language instruction (far superior to those in use today), but at an extraordinarily accelerated pace. If such a device were to exist in today’s world, it might adapt Babbel or Pimsleur in some fashion, but at a speed that would be effectively instantaneous.

Language is just one aspect of the human experience that conceivably could be transformed through technological innovations—either altering the speed of change or enabling change through human-machine hybridization. The idea of the “bionic human” is far from new. The oldest known prosthetic is  called the “Greville Chester toe,” crafted from a kind of papier-mâché made from glue, linen, and plaster, labeled cartonnage. Since then (and perhaps before), hundreds of parts or devices have been fashioned to repair or improve human abilities.

I could drone on for hours about such stuff, even though my knowledge of the matter is severely limited. But my imagination seems, to me, almost boundless. The chief problem with ideas that emerge from my fantasies limits their application: I am utterly lacking in the ability to transform the ideas into applications. Dreamers who can do nothing but dream are not creators; they are fiction factories. Bah!


Time for me to stop dreaming and, instead, prepare for the day. Get dressed, John, and face the reality that you have an obligation to go to church. That does not excite me nearly as much as the idea of suddenly being able to fluently speak dozens of languages.  And off I go.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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