Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Are we at risk of becoming biological digital machines?

The brain can be viewed as an organic computer that can be reprogrammed to incorporate external elements, such as artificial tools. But is there a risk that our increasing reliance on digital devices, such as smartphones, could also be reprogramming our brains and blunting our human attributes?

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1

    Stephenson, N. Snow Crash (Bantam Books, 2008).

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Cicurel, R. M. & Nicolelis, M. A. L. The Relativistic Brain: How It Works and Why It Cannot Be Simulated by a Turing Machine (Kios Press, 2015).

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Dunbar, R. I. M. & Shultz, S. Science 317, 1344–1347 (2007).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Dunbar, R. Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language (Harvard Univ. Press, 1996).

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Carmena, J. M. et al. PLoS Biol. 1, e42 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Shokur, S. et al. Sci. Rep. 6, 32293 (2016).

  7. 7

    Donati, A. R. C. et al. Sci. Rep. 6, 30383 (2016).

  8. 8

    Carr, N. G. The Glass Cage: Automation and Us (W. W. Norton & Company, 2014).

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Sparrow, B., Liu, J. & Wegner, D. M. Science 333, 776–778 (2011).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Turkle, S. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (Basic Books, 2011).

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Miguel A. L. Nicolelis.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Nicolelis, M. Are we at risk of becoming biological digital machines?. Nat Hum Behav 1, 0008 (2017).

Download citation

Further reading


Quick links