© BioTeams

Researchers are always looking at ways to harness the power of the human brain, and augment our grey matter - be it mind-controlled drones, brain-machine interfaces, or using brain scans to predict future criminals. But some scientists warn we shouldn't go cyborg for at least another 100 years.

Paul Werbos, a program manager at the National Science Foundation and one of the country's leading neuroscientists, said that there could be dire consequences if we continue to experiment with the brain before we completely understand how it works.

"We're trying to reverse engineer the brain so we can understand it much better than we do," Werbos said at a panel in Washington, D.C. discussing the state of the future. "But, with the state of technology right now, in 100 years we might be able to reverse engineer [a brain] the level of a mouse."

Werbos, who clarified that he was offering up his own opinions and not those of the NSF, said we could open up a Pandora's Box of problems if we keep innovating without knowing what we're doing.

"Once upon a time, heroin was a great technological breakthrough, but it actually ushered in a new era with which we're still struggling," he said.

"There are a lot of current efforts to manipulate and control the brain without first understanding it ... those efforts, in my view, are closer to heroin. They're very dangerous."

Neurological research has gotten much more attention at the federal level in recent years, especially after President Obama announced his BRAIN Initiative, a plan based on the Human Genome Project that aims to map the function of every neuron in the human brain over the next decade or so. Much of Obama's plan focuses on researching diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, but once we better understand how the brain works, we may be able to use that research to for transhuman tinkering like mind transfers, screwing with memories, and that kind of thing.

Werbos, who became well-known for his work on neural networks at Harvard University in the 1970s, said that, before Obama's initiative, there weren't too many places interested in doing neurological research. After the government through its clout behind the cause, people came out of the woodwork looking for money, often without knowing what they were getting into.

"A lot of people want to do this quick and dirty," he said.

Some ethicists have raised concerns about the direction brain research is going, like what happens when you start reading people's minds and labeling them as criminals before they've done anything? But Werbos suggested that, as long as there's money in it, those ethicists will be silenced.

"The way these gravy trains work is, the bioethicists complain, and then [the companies developing it say] 'OK, here's some money for the cyborg, here's some money for the people who want to control our brain, and we'll carve out some money for the philosophers, too.'"

He said that there may come a day when it makes sense to mess with our brains, but that day isn't here yet, and might not be for a very long time.

"How can we control these dangers if we don't make full use of our consciousness? We have to work at understanding ourselves better," he said. "You don't have to put wires in people's heads to advance the fundamental human potential."