Documentary Review: Brain studies seek to “fix” disabilities with tech in “I Am Human”

Here’s a documentary about the “brave new world” of brain research that points a day when we we “fundamentally change what it means to be human.”

In “I Am Human,” filmmakers Elena Gaby and Taryn Southern talk to futurists, neuroscientists, entrepreneurs and science fiction writers to create a snapshot of where brain research and the possibilities of “brain interface” devices stand today.

It’s the focus of much of what is being done to correct illnesses or physical disabilities and create “enhanced” human abilities via technology that could alter the path of human evolution.

“Everything we’re trying to do, everything we’re trying to become, everything we’re trying to FIX” is in the brain, as brain research entrepreneur Bryan Johnson of Kernel Labs puts it.

It’s the “everything we’re trying to fix” part of this informative but generally dry documentary that will grab everyone’s attention.

We meet a “tetraplegic” man in the chapter, “I Am Bill,” someone disabled in a bicycle accident but willing to work with the cutting edge — and invasive (at this point) — technology that could let our brain send signals to devices or machinery to compensate for his injuries.

Anne is “not really sure what’s going on in my brain.” She has Parkinson’s, and the “I Am Anne” profile shows how “deep brain stimulation” can tamp down symptoms of that condition and allow her something like a more normal life.

In “I Am Stephen” the “human guinea pig” is a blind man willing to take on an interface that looks not wholly unlike the glasses worn by Lavar Burton’s Lt. LaForge on “Star Trek” so that he might “see” the sister he hasn’t been able to gaze upon in years.

Lip service is paid to the potential “dehumanizing” effect of all this. But if a blind person is given her or his sight back, with the possibility of enhanced “Six Million Dollar Man/Woman” vision (infrared, for instance), if people confined to a bed in a extended care facility room are given mobility, it’s hard to see any downside that would outweigh that.

Then we’re reminded of all the ways tech has brought out the worst in human nature via social networks and intrusive Google data farming, and we’re given pause.

And with the rationed health care of today, who exactly will be able to afford these “miracles” bears considering.

Still and all, a pretty good film of the “What will they think up next?” variety.


MPAA Rating: unrated

Cast: Bryan Johnson, Nita A. Farahany, Ramez Naam

Credits: Directed by Elena Gaby and Taryn Southern.  A 1091 Films release.

Running time: 1:31

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