E. Paul Zehr


On his book Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine

Cover Interview of November 25, 2011

A close-up

I think I would like your browsing reader to come across “Chapter 4. Multitasking and the Metal Man: How Much Can Iron Man’s Mind Manage?” This chapter is important because I address the main reason why you couldn’t wear a suit of armor like it was clothing. This sets up the need for it to be directly connected to the brain and spinal cord.

I frame this in the context of attention and how much—and how little—we have of this resource in different scenarios. This allows me to address some “simpler questions”, like why you shouldn’t use a cell phone while driving, and why pilots are so much better at multi-tasking. All of this is meant to both provide readers tangible points of reference to their own lives but also set up how complicated it really would be to use a brain-machine interface like the Iron Man suit of armor.

In many ways I really like this part of the book. It gets at the thing we all are doing so much—multi-tasking. We do this routinely and some of us take it to extraordinary lengths. And very dangerous ones like texting while driving, an activity that has caused too many deaths already. It also sets up a point I come back to later in the book about how brain machine interface can allow us to use technology to amplify biology. But if the thing we want to amplify isn’t working well, we just get something louder that works poorly on a grand scale! Garbage in, garbage out.

We need really good inputs in, and better outputs on the other side if we really will use brain machine interface. This means training is needed to create a finally tuned nervous system. And is a kind of nod to some of the themes in Becoming Batman. Bottom line is: we cannot escape our biological functions!