Science fiction has predicted a future where there is a combination of man and machine. In modern medicine we’re already beginning to see something along those lines, with brain-controlled prosthetics or devices that can help the blind see or paralytics move again. But boosting our brain power with implanted computer chips is still in the future.
Bringing the Future Closer
Elon Musk, the visionary behind Tesla Motors and SpaceX, recently announced the launch of Neuralink, a company focused on forging a connection between computers and the human brain. For Musk, the rise of AI and machine learning all around us threatens to make our limited human minds obsolete.
A computer-brain link could help doctors quickly and accurately diagnose and treat illnesses. It could also help us learn faster, improve memory, sharpen skills, and many more advantages. Imagine being able to recall every detail of a map, or learn the equivalent of a college degree through a simple download.
In order to keep pace with technology, Musk feels we’ll have to develop a neural interface with computers, and has plans to see it developed within the next decade.
How it Can Work
While that might be overly optimistic in terms of both AI and implant technology, scientists are already making progress. Devices that interact with our brains could be worn like jewelry, laid out like circuit boards within tattoos, or implanted directly into our skulls.
Researchers have spent years mapping the neural pathways that retrieve memories, experience emotions, register visual stimuli, and even hit a baseball. The new generation of neural interface devices would be able to read and even manipulate the electronic signals our nerve cells transmit in performing basic and, eventually, complex tasks.
The technology already exists. Paraplegics can interact with computers based on the electrical signals taking place in their minds. The same science can be used to drive cars, send instant messages, or someday command an array of household gadgets.
The same technology can introduce signals to the human brain. Applying current to the correct neurons can allow paraplegics to move a limb. With a neural interface, therapists can send these signals directly to patients via computer software or from their own thoughts.
One technique can send electronic impulses through the scalp by means of an attached device. This could help train the subject’s mind to improve abilities such as memory or problem solving, attention to detail, or even modify behavior.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is conducting research on transmitting signals through peripheral nerves. Such connections could also stimulate certain chemicals associated with cerebral activity. With the help of computers to track and analyze results, it’s hoped that these techniques can accelerate learning.
Hardware and the Brain
Attaching electronic devices directly to the human brain is still a delicate process that’s only used in extreme neurological treatments. Still, no other technology can guarantee that the right neurons are being affected.
Musk and others look forward to a day when implanting such technology would become routine outpatient surgery. Such devices would have to be miniaturized from bulky apparatus to a size that could be carried discreetly. Paul Zehr, a neuroscientist at the University of Victoria, envisions using nano-technology to inject an entire network of tiny devices directly into the human body.
Perhaps one day we’ll have powerful computer chips that can function like microprocessors or hard drives to enhance brain power. There may even be tiny bio-computers to manipulate body chemistry. The closest thing to this type of effect are Neurohacker supplements based on advanced research that have brain-boosting effects.
Electronic super-brains are still science fiction. However, the fact that we can even now help the blind to see provides hope that one day we can enhance the quality of life for everyone. Only time will tell how far this technology might change humanity.
Author Bio: Jeremy is a tech and business writer from Simi Valley, CA. He’s worked for Adobe, Google, and himself. He lives for success stories, and hopes to be one someday.