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One afternoon in late 2007, a Yahoo executive named Salim Ismail stepped up to a podium at company headquarters to talk about what some call "the world's most dangerous idea." An intense man from India, Ismail faced a conference room packed with computer whizzes from the likes of Google, Apple, and Intel and launched into a tirade about the far frontiers of digital technology and the big battle that lay ahead.

"The current system is flawed," he said, pacing the stage. He went on to talk about routers and interrupt systems, hardly exotic material to his audience. But even within this techy sanctum, his message was a bold one. The flawed system that Ismail lamented was not a computer network, it was the human brain. "We need to design a better one," he said.

Our brains are poorly programmed, according to Ismail. Rewiring them might fix the glitches--like stupidity and violence. "We need computer chips monitoring our neural networks," he said. "Evolution isn't going to do this for us. So technology is going to have to do it."

Ismail's talk,...