Will a Computer “Symbiote” be Implanted in Future Human Brains?

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June 25, 2008

Will a Computer “Symbiote” be Implanted in Future Human Brains?

Computerbrain Will future humans have computers implanted in their brains? Researchers are developing a neural implant that can think independently—just like the human brain does. Creepy? Yeah. Cool? Definitely. Scientists at the University of Florida aren’t just creating a neural implant that can translate human brain signals, but one that can act independently to increase its efficiency and synergy with the brain as it learns new things.

"In the grand scheme of brain-machine interfaces, this is a complete paradigm change," said Justin C. Sanchez, Ph.D., a UF assistant professor of pediatric neurology and the study's lead author. "This idea opens up all kinds of possibilities for how we interact with devices. It's not just about giving instructions but about those devices assisting us in a common goal. You know the goal, the computer knows the goal and you work together to solve the task."

These “brain computers” are programmed with complex algorithms that can interpret thoughts. But the algorithms used in current brain-machine interfaces are incapable of adapting to change, Sanchez explains. They are order-takers, but not adaptive problem-solvers.

"The status quo of brain-machine interfaces that are out there have static and fixed decoding algorithms, which assume a person thinks one way for all time," he said. "We learn throughout our lives and come into different scenarios, so you need to develop a paradigm that allows interaction and growth."

Sanchez and his colleagues tested out evolving brain-machine interface using rats.

The rats’ brains were fitted with tiny electrodes that capture thought signals. Three rats were taught how to move a robotic arm toward a target using just their thoughts. Each time they succeeded, the rats were rewarded.

The computer, on the other hand, was programmed to earn as many points as possible by figuring out how to help the rat. The closer a rat moved the arm to the target, the more points the computer received, which helped the computer determine which brain signals lead to the most rewards. The computer then knew how to streamline the process to make it more efficient and ultimately easier for the rats.

The researchers made things progressively more difficult for the rats by requiring them to hit targets that were placed farther and farther away. However, the symbiotic relationship between the computer and the rats allowed the rats to complete tasks more efficiently each time despite the increasing difficulty.

So how does this all apply to humans? Well, there’s not a lot of legitimate funds available out there to turn humans into superhuman cyborgs “just for fun” (well, other than DARPA funding, of course), so initially the technology will be developed for therapeutic applications, such as allowing paraplegics victims to control their own limbs again and so forth.

However, there is a whole slew of other fantastic sci-fi inspired applications that are theoretically possible with this type of computer “symbiote” implants. For example, how would you like to be able to calculate enormous equations in your own head? You’d just think about what you wanted calculated and your neural implant would do the work for you instantaneously. Or how would you like the entire library of congress stored neatly in your brain where you can access any kind of information you’d ever want instantly just by thinking about. You wonder to yourself, “When was Abraham Lincoln born?” Your symbiote could then theoretically feed the correct answer back to you in what felt as natural as your own thoughts.

Mental work like creating company reports and term papers would become ridiculously easy. It’d be better than having a photographic memory, but of course with a neural implant you could theoretically have one of those too!  Your implant could easily store an image of everything you’ve ever looked at, especially the way micro data storing technology is developing. 

Neural implants would also allow people to control heavy machinery (or gigantic evil robots) with nothing but their thoughts remotely—perhaps even halfway around the world. However, giving a “thinking” computer a portion of the steering wheel, could conceivably raise a whole new class of questions about who’s really in charge. Up until now, brain-machine interfaces have always been designed as a one-way conversation between the brain and a computer. The brain gives the instructions and the computer merely follows commands. But now, according to findings published this month online in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers journal IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, the system UF engineers created gives the computer a say in that conversation, as well.

Just imagine the autoworker in court convincingly replacing the outdated “devil made me do it” argument with “my neural implant made me do it…I mean, sure I thought about crushing my boss with that 2 ton metallic robot arm, but I had no idea my neural implant would take me so seriously.”

Marvel Comics first coined the term symbiote to denote a sentient organism that bonds with other organisms in a co-captain style of control where both organisms think synergistically—although the symbiote always seems to have the upper hand. In sci-fi, symbiotes have incredible adaptive attributes and quickly adapt to and enhance the abilities of the human they bond to while granting them a range of other incredible powers to boot. Traditional comic book symbiotes have been biological extraterrestrial aliens, but the real life expression of symbiotes could end up being advanced computer systems—hopefully programmed without the volatile and murderous urges that defined their fictional counterparts. In theory, a computer-brain interface could allow people to download a program that makes them think more creatively. You could download a movie you’ve been wanting to watch and just relax anywhere while it plays out in your head.

The sci-fi inspired implications are staggering. Will it give humans ESP using blue tooth technology to “beam” thoughts directly from one implant to another? What if you could somehow remotely override someone else’s neural computer? In theory you could control their physical actions and even their words. Or what if neural implants become commonplace enhancements for those who can afford it, effectively separating the human race into two major classes—superhuman vs the non-enhanced?

The questions and implications are endless, and while they are all likely far away possibilities, we now know its not just fiction. In reality, technological advancements often lead to real changes that are much stranger that fiction. The eventual melding of the human mind with advanced computer technology would revolutionize the world ways that we cannot even possibly imagine.

Posted by Rebecca Sato

Related Galaxy posts:

Artificial Intelligence Will Leap Humans by 2020
Robot Evolution: A Parallel to the Origins of Life
"Mind Children": Transhumanism & the Search For Genetic Perfection
Man vs Machine: Computers have beat man at every game but one—the most ancient of them all
Transformers -The Movie & Evolution of Machine Intelligence
Virtual Immortality -How To Live Forever
Future Present -Science Fiction as Prelude

Source: http://www.news.health.ufl.edu/news/story.aspx?ID=5103


I could really use a subnet calculator in my head sometimes. Would come in handy on Cisco tests!

would put an end to educational institutions. whats the point in learning anything if you can have the information available on demand?

Looks like Rebecca has yet to watch the Ghost in the Shell and GiTS: Stand Alone Complex, which explores the topic from legal, military, practical, and existential standpoints.

"You’d just think about what you wanted calculated and your neural implant would do the work for you instantaneously. Or how would you like the entire library of congress stored neatly in your brain where you can access any kind of information you’d ever want instantly just by thinking about. You wonder to yourself, “When was Abraham Lincoln born?” Your symbiote could then theoretically feed the correct answer back to you in what felt as natural as your own thoughts. "

no, it's not quite like this at all. i think youve confused the definition of "computer." i'm a student at uf and have seen a presentation from one of the professors who worked with sanchez. it's not a computer in your brain. it's a small microchip that they hope to get small enough and low powered enough to put underneath the skin and have an electrode to the brain, and the chip emulates neuron signal behavior and either reads info from the neurons or stimulates it to generate a response, essentially to condition a rat (later a human) to do a certain behavioral response).

what this article talks about is a chip that reads neuron signal output, and emulates the behavior of a neuron (ie, when to fire action potential) and sends signal with the correct stimuli, to act just like a neuron.

the direct application of this would be regenerative neurons, replacing neurons, partial brain implant using chips (thus, bmi), or just an implicit feedback system that conditions your brain to do certain things.

you are far stretching the research and its applications, no it won't be able to "put a dictionary in your brain," there is no ready way to store so much information in a small chip inside your brain, and even less a way to send all these bits to the brain to be "useful," as there are MILLIONS of neurons involved with interpreting information and such a process would require millions of electrodes in your brain - and we don't even know the exact process or where the neurons are. not only that, it could only do that function, the neurons used changing per word or per type of information. not to mention a machine to "read your thoughts," considering all the variation. so, no, we will never reach that type of computing-brain interface.

a more realistic approach would be to create freq waves that your ears might subtly pick up and influence behavior or some bs. all these bmis can do is influence. there will NEVER be a direct computing-brain device. sure it may be all 0s and 1s (although 0s and 1s are completely different in electronics and in neurons, especially considering all the parallelism that's involved, and that we dont know much about neural networks or its modeling, and brain bits involve frequency not amplitude.) but no. it does not smoothly translate.

i would suggest removing the last few paragraphs of garbage in your post.

@John Wood:

I was about to type the same thing. This is all quite old science fiction. I think I read Ghost In The Shell in '95 or so. Especially the last two paragraphs are exactly like GITS.

I can't wait for the future!

also - ask any of the professors, even the directors here at the lab and they'll tell you we're far off from what you're suggesting, we don't even know a smidge of how the brain works, so how will we do that?

if you really want to know more about this research, and the real applications, i'd suggest starting here http://nrg.mbi.ufl.edu/

also http://cnel.ufl.edu/hybrid is involved heavily with this research, they go hand in hand and work together

Cool. I would turn my head into a wireless hotspot.

this wouldnt surprise me. Seems like its something long overdue.


If this is the future, then I guess people will completely stop thinking for themselves...

And like GITS would be have to have internal firewalls in our brains to stop the computer or outside intruders from a) hacking our thoughts and downloading our history and actions b) taking over our bodies and c) changing our thinking habits to support someone else's view of what is right and wrong.

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