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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.
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When thoughts control machines | The Economist

843 Folder Collection
Jerry Liu published on March 26, 2019    Jerry Liu translated    Evangeline reviewed
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