Cosmos featured a very interesting article, ‘The future of brain and machine is intertwined, and it’s already here,’ which highlights a promising future of neurological connections between the brain and machine.
This technology is helpful for victims of severe strokes or other neurological damage experiencers who suffer from locked-in syndrome; they are fully conscious but unable to move or communicate.
Fortunately, we have the first outward neural interface system called BrainGate, which consists of an array of micro-electrodes, implanted into the part of the brain concerned with controlling arm movements. The way it works is that signals from the electrodes are decoded and used to control the movement of a cursor on a screen, or the motion of a robotic arm.
So here is the challenge. The neural interfaces needs to be built on scales to match the structures of biology. This is where we move into the world of nanotechnology.
There has been much work in the laboratory to make nano-electronic structures small enough to read out the activity of a single neuron. In the 1990s, Peter Fromherz, at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry, was a pioneer of using silicon field effect transistors, similar to those used in commercial microprocessors, to interact with cultured neurons. In 2006, Charles Lieber’s group at Harvard succeeded in using transistors made from single carbon nanotubes – whiskers of carbon just one nanometer in diameter – to measure the propagation of single nerve pulses along the nerve fibres.
But these successes have been achieved, not in whole organisms, but in cultured nerve cells which are typically on something like the surface of a silicon wafer. It’s going to be a challenge to extend these methods into three dimensions, to interface with a living brain. Perhaps the most promising direction will be to create a 3D “scaffold” incorporating nano-electronics, and then to persuade growing nerve cells to infiltrate it to create what would in effect be cyborg tissue – living cells and inorganic electronics intimately mixed.
Brain interfaces may flourish in our lifetimes, and be life-transforming for some. We might find ourselves controlling computer games or taking direct control of machines at work. Although we have a long way to go for seamless integration of humans and machines, the science fiction vision of cyborgs is real enough to think about.
To read the source article, click here.