Neural Implants: What Would Darwin Think?
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May 19, 2009

Neural Implants: What Would Darwin Think?

Neurobrain 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

Comments

Hmmm, so when the 'chip' has a radio transmitter, the government, as well as knowing where we are and what we are doing, can read our thoughts as well????

It´s like any addiction; perverse. There are people who, once addicted, will find any reason (excuse)to use the eventual power achieved, to any extreme or end.
When there exists an inherent downloading capacity, there shall also exist a capacity of someone more powerful, to forcefully download instructions... Big Brother schemes, etc.

Simon Says

This article could be similarly entitled "Alchemy Wrong: What would Newton think?"

I love the topic/content and your style of writing. Awesome article. Well-Done, keep it up.

"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 same could have been said a dozen years ago about cell phones. A new and expensive technology that only the wealthy will be able to use leaving us poor folks in the dust. My 13 year old cousin and her iPhone would disagree...

Give it 10 years and she's going to be "thinking" her text message to her BFF.

I wonder if they could make this device work with prosthetic limbs. It would be great if they could give people robotic arms that work with a thought, even if you would need to carry another computer around with you to translate the thoughts into action.

wow. you can test this on me if you want haha. would be great to have before test and stuff considering im at school.

would love it

About 19 years ago I told a local newspaper during an interview that soon we could market our products right from our own small towns with upcoming technology, then within 5 years the internet proved me right.
Then about 10 years ago I remember thinking 'someday we'll have the Library of Congress implanted in our brains, which will eliminate the need for teaching manuals or schools; want to learn to scuba dive or gourmet cook? Just order the workbook downloaded to your brain chip & away you go!'
So my next prediction is this: by the end of this millennium, or maybe even sooner, we won't need cars or any sort of current transport devices, just walk into a tube, or put whatever objects you want to send into a tube, push a button, & you or the object will beam to the desired location at the speed of light.
The problem with all these advances is that as long as there are evil people there's too much room for abuse of these new technologies...we need to solve this last problem first before we advance too far....LOL

This will be impossible, even in 5,000 years.

Neural implant-interfaces will be at first opposed by politicians, moralists, and media,

BUT

* it is a given that special need persons (physically challenged, mentally deficient) should not be denied these technological advancements so as to give them equal advantage.

THEN

* Guinea-pigged into acceptance of these techno delights, our grateful pioneers will sing their delights to sharp eared businesscrats.

* techy-hobbyist nets will hint of hot virtualsex programs that upgrade neural implants into orgasmatrons .

* the military will admit to a few trials with tank/plane jockeys and Stranger-than-a-Ranger special mission types.


* Games-Sex-Education-Entertainment available at K12 MART!

* Corporate hiring incentives underscore Japanamerica's preference for electro enhanced abilities.


AND

You'll want one too!

While your brain attains entrainment
from the electro-neural entertainment
that you choose from the arrangement
of smile-dials on your mind machine
acetacholinetic drugging is gonna
keep your mind from lugging
carrying out the cellular garbage
and make it clean.

Ray Kurzweil's "Singularity" is *indeed* near. Said another way, Transhumanism is definitely afoot; bring it on; very cool!

The cyborgs are coming...

and dont forget the possibilities of overriding someones implant to spam him with (customized) advertisement through all senses
mhhh coffee do you smell thet mr jones?
straight from the fields of costa rica ( visual of costa rican coffee plantages)

We're starting to seriously mess with human brains.

I knew this day would come. *jumps out window*

but not really. we can't do most of that with currently fully developed technologies, so how would we do so with something in such an early phase. it's a nice idea and all, but I'll pass.

also, that's a ridiculously stupid title. what would it matter what darwin thinks. the guy's dead. darwin had nothing to do with neuroscience (in the context that he's often referred to anyway).

It is incredible that something like this to succeed, this procedure is not for nothing complex, I did not think that was 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.

In my opinion it can be possible but if it will happen I think that it is because humans beings are not doing anything else in the planet because it is something inadmissible that compromise ourselves control and intelligence.

We just had it coming. didnt we?!

Super awesome post man, can you do me a favor and post some more of these Quality info about implants! thanks

Also i never left a comment on this blog.. Maybe because the “comment” link is not so impressive eye-catching.. But that what i like about this blog. Its nice and quite, no people leaving stupid comments or having bullshit discussions. Its just a good blog to get your latest information in design/art world. keep it up

hi, you have a great blog, clean and easy to read. But the comment page so hard to load, may be you can fix this

yeah please fix it :)

great blog. thankyou for this

Sería genial si pudiera dar a la gente brazos robóticos que trabajan con un pensamiento, incluso si se tendría que llevar a otro equipo con usted para traducir los pensamientos en acción.

you explained it very well.. i just hope i never experience this!


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