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Thread: Human brain and technology

  1. #1 Human brain and technology 
    Forum Junior Steiner101's Avatar
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    I read some articles recently that got me thinking. the first was about a supercomputer that simulated the equivalent of half a mouse brain for ten seconds, then another larger experiment. it did not just simulate a neural network, but actually simulated the chemical/electrical reactions of the tissue in this network. They didnt produce any useful work, it was just an experiment to prove it could be done. "setting up the plumbing" was the expression used.

    The second was some articles regarding connecting computer chips (one was a learning chip, another was a basic controller) into a cats brain, presumably with electrodes, not directly (although there are also experiments on direct slicon/neuron connections).
    They used this to try to get one chip to learn from electrical behaviour in the brain when the cat walked etc. The other experiment managed to mimic nerve signals in the spine to make the cat walk (i doubt the cat was pleased).

    So i got to thinking, say a chip was created that could be connected to the brain directly (silicon to neural connection) using a combination of developments in the above too areas of research. presumably an adult would be unable to use it usefully. But would a developing mind would be able to incorporate it into their developing neural network?

    For sake of argument say it was a chip that was connected to the mobile phone network (Ha!), do you think a developing mind could learn to use it in the same way that it learns to use their feet or hands, or is their too much "hardwired" neural circuitry for it to adapt.

    I am also interested to hear peoples views on the effects of the implementation of such chips, but this thread is primarily about the physical possibility of the brain being able to learn to use such a connection.


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  3. #2  
    Time Lord
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    My understanding is electronic interface with neurons is unbelievably straightforward, even by 1950's medicine and technology. I think this, and psychosurgery in general, is an area held back more by philosophical disbelief and ethical hesitation than practical constraint. The only person I know to have had brain surgery was glad to have general anaesthetic for the operation - seems like ass backward way to do it imo.

    Recently we found monkeys quick (no, surprisingly quick) learning to operate a robotic arm hooked up to their brains. This has fed a lot of interest in "brain plasticity" which is big money due to wave of baby boomer stroke victims on horizon. Apparently adult brains are able to reassign large areas for new or expanded functions, even over the course of a week. The basic example is with blindfolded adults beginning to use areas formally thought hard-wired to vision.

    I think you're right that babies and children would adapt most naturally to an electronic interface. I thought about this when a nephew was born without a hand. What I envisioned was a series of receptors placed arbitrarily in the newborn's unassigned neocortex, leading to a corresponding series of simulators some distance away, for internal feedback, and also a ...well, a future-friendly plug... initially for battery powered external feedback. For babies that would best be a tone generator I think. Baby can learn to make different tones sound, parents can ooh and ahh about it.. normal baby learning procedure. A full piano keyboard might be nice... or less annoying anyway. Main thing would be to keep the child using that circuit. Later other devices could be connected, ultimately a robotic hand or such. I think (and hope) this will be our first real application of the technology.

    There could be trouble with the above embodiment because it effectively runs direct motor neurons from the cognitive grey matter - not a natural arrangement. Likewise direct sensory input - direct into one's "conscious thoughts" - could bring unforeseen consequences. Maybe direct feedback would be very bad as in seizure inducing? But if we stick probes elsewhere we're messing with the "hard wiring" so I dunno.


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  4. #3  
    Forum Junior Steiner101's Avatar
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    In regards to what you said about direct feedback, i think this is why developing minds could accept it. Your eyes/ears is basically feeding your brain information it does not understand when you are a baby, the brain eventually makes sense of it thought experience.

    if the interface was put in at an early enough age then i dont see how the brain could not learn to process the information (or send meaningful information) to the interface, like it learns to do with any other attached organ/device (although i concede that evolution has no doubt supplied much hard wiring for eys/ears etc). For your example of a robotic arm, the brain could still control the motors by the use of drivers, it would not need to power them directly, as long as the end result was the arm moved when the brain sent a signal to the interface.
    the brain could then learn what signals produce what movements, same as it does when a baby learns to control its arms and hands to pick up things.

    perhaps my example of a chip connected to mobile phone network was a bit to far out. Robotic arm/hand works better for the sake of the discussion.
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    Veracity Vigilante inow's Avatar
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    I'm short on time (about to lead a meeting), but wanted to respond to your message before it fell off my "new posts" search.

    You should do a search on "Braingate." It's tech like you describe which basically allows paralyzed people to move objects, type, etc. just with their mind. Even 60 Minutes did a special on it about a year or two ago. Very cool. It is the extension of the work you mention where a mouse moved a robotic arm with thought, just much more advanced and refined.

    Also, as for the communications piece, I'm not so sure we could "download" data into our memories and experiences (since memory is so complex and involves so many regions), but we could potentially hook up things like Braingate into the Brocha's area (used in speech generation) to communicate to others.

    Cool stuff, and not as far out as you might think.
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  6. #5  
    Time Lord
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    BrainGate™ is cool. I'm glad to see this finally being implemented.

    I'm also flabbergasted that this "technology" is even patentable, because it's so friggin' simple science fiction writers for the past half-century priorly described just this. May we now patent the crudest publicly envisioned embodiments simply because they haven't been used before?

    *runs off to patent "brain interface jack on neck" and "one glowing red eye"*
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  7. #6  
    Forum Junior Steiner101's Avatar
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    *Runs off to patent faster than light travel*
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