Are Brain Implants the Next Evolutionary Leap?
When patients have technology implanted in their brains, what happens to the line between human and machine? I AM HUMAN focuses on the industry innovators who are developing experimental devices and treatments to help patients fighting Parkinson’s disease and more.
Mainstream culture has few concerns about implanting certain devices in our bodies. According to an AARP white paper, about 370,000 people receive cardiac devices like pacemakers each year. Approximately 1 million people have implanted knees and hips. But when the topic turns to brain implants, opinions can get murky. People generally agree that their unique identities depend on their brains—so what happens when scientists tamper with our most complex organ?
I AM HUMAN, a documentary by digital storyteller Taryn Southern and filmmaker Elena Gaby, explores this very question. Recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, the visually stunning movie explores the emerging trend of devices implanted in human brains.
It introduces us to patients Anne, who is losing herself to Parkinson’s disease; Bill, who was paralyzed from the neck down after a cycling accident; and Stephen, who has lost his vision. As the film traces their medical journeys, it poses a challenging question to viewers: When patients have technology implanted in their brains, what happens to the line between human and machine?
While I AM HUMAN takes a deep-dive into the complex intersection of medicine and technology, it handles its subjects’ lives and relationships with great care. As it unpacks the work of doctors, bioengineers, and researchers who install and refine the implanted devices, the quiet determination, candor, and courage of Anne, Bill, and Stephen remain front and center.
“We set out to make a movie about technology and we ended up making a movie about these three people, though it took a while to realize it,” Southern says. “It was a very challenging film to figure out [how] to tackle these really large philosophical questions, but also [explore] what the technology looks like through the lens of these three people.”
Southern embraces new technology in her life, work, and art, so it’s natural that her innate curiosity would take her to this edge of evolution: incorporating technology into human brains.
“It’s difficult, uncomfortable territory,” she says. “It was challenging to get it right in the movie.”