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The future of brain interfaces

We're writing a feature to check in on scientists working on bridging the gap between brain and machine. We're planning on asking them, "What's taking so long?" When I think of brain-machine interfaces, a couple of things come to mind: The Borg from Star Trek, whose neural implants give it the ability to communicate telepathically as well as control implanted tazers and pincers. Then there's The Matrix, where a plug in the back of the brain connects the user to an elaborate virtual world. W

By | November 18, 2008

We're writing a feature to check in on scientists working on bridging the gap between brain and machine. We're planning on asking them, "What's taking so long?" When I think of brain-machine interfaces, a couple of things come to mind: The Borg from Star Trek, whose neural implants give it the ability to communicate telepathically as well as control implanted tazers and pincers. Then there's The Matrix, where a plug in the back of the brain connects the user to an elaborate virtual world. While scientists work out the kinks of making the brain connection, we want to hear your thoughts on what kinds of problems this technology should tackle first. Some readers suggested "body piercings that have a legitimate use," such as, say gaming or text messaging. Others want to see the technology help amputees and paralyzed individuals regain motor control. What's on your wish-list?
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Comments

Avatar of: john toeppen

john toeppen

Posts: 52

November 19, 2008

The ability to replace lost limbs seems like a great place to start. Extending existing truncated nerves and feeding signals into local microprocessors is a great lower risk approach. Picking up nerve endings where they are severed would also seem preferred for paralyzed people. Since the pickups might have limited performance microprocessors would seem necessary.
Avatar of: Tim Layman

Tim Layman

Posts: 1

November 19, 2008

Expanding on the previous post about replacement limbs, I'd like to see more work on artificial sight and interfacing with the optic nerve.
Avatar of: Mohan Boggara

Mohan Boggara

Posts: 1

November 19, 2008

Memory (both conscious and sub-conscious memory) is the most important component of the brain that plays a role in everything we do. Also, it is one thing that is almost taken for granted by every human being. The future brain-machine interface should augment/improve the brain memory..IMHO
Avatar of: Mark Samson

Mark Samson

Posts: 2

November 19, 2008

Electronic telepathy will be a revolutionary technology as soon as someone figures out an effective interface, preferably non-invasive, and a protocol to drive it. Feedback could be through conventional channels like earphones, images projected in eyeglasses, and so on.
Avatar of: Patrick Newsom

Patrick Newsom

Posts: 1

November 19, 2008

I agree that working our way up to more advance integration such as telepathy or unlimited data retrieval will be the logical step but after we have mastered crawling. Learning how to manipulate the physical environment is necessary in order to maintain our independance and freedom. Let's focus on helping others learn how to walk before we learn how to fly.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 2

November 19, 2008

The interface already exists it is called a cochlear implant.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

November 19, 2008

Let's just hope all this hype on man-machine interface doesn't bring up yet another AI winter...
Avatar of: Evan Rosa

Evan Rosa

Posts: 1

November 19, 2008

Rather than asking, "What's taking so long?" - you might consider asking a different sort of question. Maybe something like:\n\nWhere does the human element fit into the "brain-machine" hybrid?\n\nHow much of your brain are you willing to "lift" or "soop-up" before enough becomes too much?\n\nWhat about the mind? What non-physical consequences will this have on your human test subjects?\n\nAnd finally, the non-so-but-should-be obvious: Is this okay? Is this good? Is this helpful? Is this right? Is this human?\n\nFor all the "unbiased" science that purports to approach biotechnology and other research and experimentation, I don't hear these questions asked by the researcher or supporter very often.\n\nNevermind telepathy and virtual reality. I'm actually quite surprised that this passes as "science." I mean, you did reference Star Trek and The Matrix. Remember, that's William Shatner and Keanu Reeves you're talking about. What fine representatives for the cause! That's Hollywood-celebrity-pseudoscience on their very best day, imagined by a scriptwriter-not a qualified, well-thought-out, informed scientist. \n\nNow, I can appreciate prosthetic limbs for those in need, but augmenting our bodies for "super-human" strength and our memory and other naturally human limitations gets very sketchy, and I'm a little confused at the unfettered acceptance of many "scientific" communities. There is an air of "helping people" - but will this really help? Will it solve all their present problems, and create many more? With all the hunger and death, maybe science could come up with a better, more humane response to help people.\n\nI'm also quite surprised at the thought of "gaming and text messaging" being considered a "legitimate use" for brains teaming up with machines. You have made many 14-year-olds very excited. Now they may literally never have to lift a finger.\n\nAnd, in general, I'm disappointed in the "rational, unbiased, progressive" science community for conflating some really basic terms. My scientist friends, "can" does not equal "should." And we'd all do well to spend more time thinking about the "should" at least as much as the "can." This, I fearfully predict, will appear preposterous to most biotech scientists; and that would simply prove my point.\n\nBut you did, after all, ask me "What's on your wish-list?"\n\nAnd that is a very simple answer, friends. I want to become Krang, the Evil Brain from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that lived inside the big Devo-esque, alien wrestler-man's stomach. (http://www.x-entertainment.com/articles/0804/5.jpg).
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

November 19, 2008

Major Depression, Schizophrenia, Bi Polar and Alzheimer's come to mind - Electronic interfaces to overcome / correct the defficiencies in these areas appear critical noting the enormous burden of disease on the community, carers and sufferers with these conditions.\n\nTo this end, the development of exquisitely placed and networked nano-electronic devices at nerve synapses or other appropriate nuclei that replace the chemical action of pharmaceutical compounds by the specific electrical stimuli would also be a novel way of overcoming the relatively poor performance / side effects of existing compounds that treat these disorders.
Avatar of: Tracey Thue

Tracey Thue

Posts: 1

November 19, 2008

Read the book "Feed" by M.T. Anderson, for an example of what we don't want to see develop! This book is on the reading list for my daughter's high school English class.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 11

November 19, 2008

I am resisting the temptation to make a snide remark and instead will respond at face value:\n\nMy very favorite interface was that of Minority Report, where Tom Cruise waved his hand (in the far future police headquarters--YIKES!) and the wanted person's image appeared in the air in front of him and everyone else. \n\nThat's similar to the currently portrayed IRS man-machine interfaces which can be seen on the CSI's--Criminal Minds and Numbers come to mind...but not quite there yet. I would like to wave MY hand in the air and get a picture...\n\nAs to the cochlear implant suggested--sure. But is that as--well, cool--as a handwave that can bring up a scene from an interactive resolution systems interface?
Avatar of: john gregory

john gregory

Posts: 1

November 19, 2008

would like to see an interface to text or spoken voice that could speed rote memorization

November 20, 2008

Brain-machine-internet interfaces should be the tool to make a new man.\nAs the one-cell organisms becamed pluricellular organisms, a big mind shared by several interlinked minds over pass the natural status of each individual man. \nJuan Jesus Gonzalez\n
Avatar of: Michael Penney

Michael Penney

Posts: 1

November 20, 2008

I would like to see humans be able to control machines with great facility. For example, I would like to see quadraplegics and other disabled people control wheelchairs, computers, phones and other devices easily. I don't have a clue what type of device is best for this: an external array of sensors or an implanted array. I would like to see a table showing which type of device is most suited to which type of problem. Hey, an array of solutions lol!
Avatar of: Nelson Thompson

Nelson Thompson

Posts: 12

November 20, 2008

I've been in a wheelchair for over half a century (polio) and I thank all those that want this technology to help me walk. But I'm not interested. What I would like is implants in my hands so that just by twitching my fingers, I could generate text. Think of "air-typing" with the keyboard gone. The text would go directly to my cellphone, of course.\nAdditionally, I would like the text output of the cellphone to appear directly in my field of vision! (Say, a retinal HUD) I twitch, I see a list of names scroll up, I blink, the call is made.\nIf I want to "walk", I'll just watch Angelina Jolie walk in one of her movies, thank you.
Avatar of: Neil Shotton

Neil Shotton

Posts: 2

November 23, 2008

Perhaps, a longer view of what is a good objective of the mind-machine interface is appropriate. \n\nIn the short term, we have things like the brain-gate, a system in clinical trials that are ?designed to restore functionality for a limited, immobile group of severely motor-impaired individuals.? \n\nIn a slightly longer view we have Charles Leiber at Harvard and his group provides this: "We describe the first artificial synapses between nanoelectronic devices and individual mammalian neurons, and also the first linking of a solid-state device -- a nanowire transistor -- to the neuronal projections that interconnect and carry information in the brain"\n\nAdd to this the speed and incredible arborization of all things related to recombinant DNA and synthetic biology and it is obvious that humans as we know ourselves now, are extinct. \n\nOur choice is to watch the Singularity unfold and perhaps be regulated to pet status or worse, or to follow this road, with a twenty-five year objective to become the Singularity.\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

November 24, 2008

My mother-in-law died of Alzheimer's and my mother is now suffering from vascular dememtia. It really sucks to lose who you are. As long as we are living we should be able to have that, at least.
Avatar of: Donald Duck

Donald Duck

Posts: 39

November 24, 2008

The takeover will be simple. \n\nFit a cellphone with wifi connectors to implants, be the implants brain peircings, tounge piercings or just a tight hat.\n\nMaking advanced hearing aids that connect to the brain a little bit cheaper.\n\nDone.\n\nThe only 'controversy' that could bring the ethics of man/machine hybrids would be hacking, tapping into conversations, privacy issues...\n\nImplanting cameras and strength enhancers into one's body will never be popular, as how do you replace the quickly outdated model of yesterday? People prefer something that can be removed from ones person easily.

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