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  • Imagine if you could connect your brain to the internet.

  • You wouldn't need to type into a search engine,

  • you could just think your query and download the relevant knowledge directly into your mind.

  • Such a world would involve the biggest single upgrade in human intelligence since our species evolved.

  • Seamless brain computer interfaces are a long way off

  • but the melding of minds with machines is already under way.

  • The implant goes directly into the motor control area of the brain.

  • It's the neuro technology that we've been developing for years

  • and it's designed to help restore or replace function or enhance independence for people who are paralyzed.

  • In a pioneering clinical trial at Brown University,

  • volunteers have been given brain implants that allow them to control devices using thought alone.

  • To date, this academic venture,

  • this pilot clinical trial that we call Braingate

  • has enrolled 13 participants

  • and each of those has had the sensor placed into the motor cortex and each of them has been able to control cursor movement on a screen.

  • Some of them have even been able to control a prosthetic limb or a robotic limb moving through space to reach and grab objects.

  • The sensors detect the neural signals associated with the intent to move

  • and they're decoded by a computer in real time.

  • We're tapping into the native part of the brain that controls movement naturally.

  • So, simply by imagining intuitive movements,

  • participants can immediately control a robotic device.

  • The technology could transform the lives of people with disabilities but it could go further,

  • enhancing the abilities of the entire human race.

  • One problem is that current technology can only record the activity of a couple of hundred neurons.

  • Our minds are generated by a bewildering network of 85 billion neurons.

  • Listening to them all in real time has proved an impossible challenge for neuroscientists.

  • But in 2013, their research gained powerful backing.

  • There's this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked

  • and the Brain Initiative will change that by giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action

  • and better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember.

  • The Brain Initiative is a six-billion dollar fund to find new ways to map the activity of an entire brain.

  • Leading neuroscientist Professor Rafael Yuste was at the front of the queue of funding.

  • The goal of the Brain Initiative is precisely to be a methods to read and manipulate the activity of neuron circuits

  • so that we can eventually help patients that have mental or neurological diseases.

  • In 2017, Professor Yuste's team

  • announced that they had successfully recorded the activity from every neuron of an animal, albeit a very simple one,

  • a tiny freshwater relative of the jellyfish called a hydra.

  • In a way, you could argue that we're trying to read the hydra's mind

  • because we can measure the activity of every neuron in hydra while the hydra is behaving.

  • And once you've learned to read neural code, you can learn to write it too.

  • Can we input thoughts into a hydra,

  • can we write the patterns of activity

  • and change the behavior of the animal?

  • We're trying to do this in hydra and we're trying to do this in mice.

  • We can imagine that you could do this with humans in the future.

  • The human brain is vastly more complex than the hydra

  • and converting the electrochemical signals of the mind into the digital language of machines remains a huge technological challenge.

  • But history has shown that where there's a will and plenty of money,

  • there's a way.

  • That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

  • I hope to achieve making neuroscience the new rocket science.

  • We're not speaking publicly currently about what we're building.

  • We will in time.

  • Tech entrepreneurs are turning their minds and their money to developing brain machine interfaces.

  • Bryan Johnson founded Kernel, a neural interface startup with $100 million of his own money.

  • Everyone's trying to find how to go from where we're at now

  • and the next big jump to where we're going to be

  • and in building Kernel,

  • my objective is to radically improve humans in every imaginable and unimaginable way.

  • Bryan Johnson is not alone in this dream.

  • Elon Musk's latest company, Neuralink

  • aims to enhance humans by connecting them to computers.

  • DARPA, the research and development arm of the American military is also at the forefront of this technology.

  • Brain computer interfaces are coming.

  • But are we ready?

  • I think every day of the potential dangers of building technology without thinking carefully about the consequence of this technology for society.

  • If we allow the internet into our minds,

  • what's to stop it reading the thoughts we'd rather keep private?

  • We're not talking about data privacy.

  • This is much worse.

  • We're talking about the contents of your mind.

  • And if we discover how to enhance our intelligence,

  • who gets to go first?

  • You need to ensure as a society that there is equitable access to this technology

  • so that it doesn't end up in the hands of a privileged few.

  • It's vital that ethical considerations keep pace with advancing technology.

  • Melding our minds with machines could radically transform society.

  • But some argue that the transformation is already under way

  • and if we don't use machines to improve ourselves, we risk being left behind.

  • Humans are the most intelligent species on this Earth.

  • We are now giving birth to a new form of intelligence in the form of AI.

  • At what point do we feel uncomfortable within the delta between our own improvement and that of our machines?

  • AI, the thing we need to contemplate very seriously,

  • for me, it's best that could ever have happened to us

  • and it's critical that we try to co-evolve with this unbelievable powerful form of intelligence that we're now building.

  • The matrix is not imminent but enough research is now being done on brain computer interfaces

  • that it's time to think hard about their potential implications.

  • If superhuman intelligence is created in the future,

  • humanity could reap huge benefits as long as it's handled with care.

Imagine if you could connect your brain to the internet.

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When thoughts control machines | The Economist

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    Jerry Liu posted on 2019/03/26
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