Brain implants will become controller of future humans

Beijing time on November 15th, according to foreign media reports, about two years ago, Dennis Degray sent an unusual text message to a friend, he recalled: “I have a cell phone in my hand, no finger operation, through the brain nervous system to send text messages to other mobile phones, ” It’s a very amazing thing! ”

DeGrey, 66, fell 10 years ago and was paralysed from below his collarbone for years, and in 2016 he underwent a surgical procedure to implant two convex electrodes into the motor cortex of the brain, which controls body movements. Implanted electrodes record the activity of neurons in the brain and convert it into external activity, allowing him to move the cursor to select the letters on the screen by manipulating the joystick by hand, and he can even buy items on and move a robotic arm to build up building blocks.

Dennis DeGrey uses a “Utah Array” brain implant to manipulate the cursor on a computer screen.

Brain implants are equivalent to giving patients “Avatar” superpowers

DeGray’s brain implants are called “Utah Arrays” and he is a participant in the Brain Gate project, a long-running diverse study in the United States that develops and tests innovative neural technologies designed to restore communication to people with mental lying, amputations, or neurodegenerative disorders , mobility, and independence.

Although the Utah Array has been shown to be feasible to implant the brain, the technology needs to be further refined, and de Guerre opted for craniofacial surgery to implant the device, which is not a wireless device that extends a slot from the skull and is decoded by machine learning algorithms to transmit brain information to a computer. The device’s ability to perform tasks and execution is limited because it records only tens to hundreds of neurons in the brain’s approximately 88 billion neurons (each electrode typically records only 1-4 neurons).

A sewing machine-like robot developed by Neuralink, the company is pictured, which inserts electrodes into the human brain.

And that’s unlikely to continue, as the scar tissue implanted in the “Utah Array” gradually accumulates on the electrodes, causing the signal quality to gradually decline, and de Guerre’s “telepathic” ability will cease to exist when the experiment is over.

Only a few dozen people worldwide have brain implants in the Utah Array, with remarkable results, but it is not realistic for patients to use the system to provide a complete, fast, intuitive human-machine model around the clock.

Such a situation may be within reach, and in recent years, Silicon Valley’s brain-machine interface sector has been revitalised, inspired by “The Brain Gate” and other projects, and some prominent entrepreneurs and confident start-ups have begun to develop a new generation of brain implants that will ultimately help DeGrey and other disabled groups gain behavioral independence. And it works for everyone. Facebook, for example, is actively developing non-invasive brain-machine devices, while the company is developing wireless neural implants.

A picture of the sci-fi movie Avatar.

In July, Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, unveiled an implantable wireless system being developed by neuralink, which he revealed had been studied on monkey bodies and was expected to be tested in humans by 2020. So far, Neuralink has received $158 million, of which $100 million has come from Musk.

Although Neuralink’s latest brain implant is similar in size to the “Utah array” in DeGray’s brain, it has more electrodes, meaning it can record more neurons, and the Utah array typically has 100 electrodes and only 4-5 electrodes implanted in brain tissue, compared with 4-5 electrodes. Neuralink has developed a brain implant that has up to 1,000 electrodes and is expected to implant 10 electrodes into the brain.

The movie “Avatar” has a telepathic effect of the “Tree of God”.

The robot will “stitch” electrodes in extremely thin, flexible biocompatible polymeric materials, and Neuralink hopes to improve the brain’s wounds, Musk said. The process will be more like laser surgery than brain surgery.

Medical concerns have fueled the development of brain implants, but the technology has the potential to pose a threat to artificial intelligence.

Paradromics, a small start-up like Neuralink, is more focused on developing more, smaller electrodes, but its goal is to install higher-density probes on the surface of nerve implants, and their devices will be closer to the “Utah Array” – an array of probes with metal electrodes and does not involve robotic surgery. ‘We want to get into the market as soon as possible,’ said Matt Angle, founder and chief executive of Paradromics, which has raised about $25 million so far, with clinical trials expected to be launched in the early 2000s. That includes a large amount of money from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Program Institute (DARPA), which is aware that wounded soldiers on overseas battlefields need brain-controlled precision robotic arms and is then interested in brain-machine interface technology (BCIs).

Synchron, by contrast, has taken a different approach, recently revealing that its latest electrode stentrod device has been clinically tested in Australia for the first time, ahead of Neuralink and Paradromics.

The device does not cause cranial surgery and leave scars because it is inserted through the back neck veins of the stent, which is dispersed once placed close to the motor cortex, and 16 metal electrodes are embedded in the blood vessel wall to record neuronal activity. So far, one patient who was paralysed by motor neurone disease has been implanted with electrode stents, and four more patients are about to be tested.

Synchron says the safety of electrode stents and how the brain-machine control system can be used to implement computer typing and cell texting remain into further study, although electrode stents can only read the overall activity of neuronal cells, and can detect about 1,000 neuronal cells, which are well-developed for patients. At the same time, the signal is small and more stable.

At the same time, There are still technical challenges for Neuralink and Paradromics, whether scars can be reduced by very small electrodes, and the problem of electrodes being dissolved and corroded by the human body, the smaller the electrode, the more serious the problem. So far, experts still don’t know how long the metal electrode probe developed by Neuralink will last.

“Can you accomplish more specific tasks than typing?” Brain commands for intelligent voice? Is it possible to communicate information between the brain? Or can you achieve enhanced memory? “

No one will be impressed by these initial companies unless they start recording the patient’s lifetime use of these products in time units, but people can measure the practical effect of these products on patients during their lifetime.

Also, even if we can record all these neuronal signals, can we decode? At the moment we don’t know how the brain works, it’s very difficult to try to decode these signals and actually generate some useful data, and a better understanding of neuronal computing power will be helpful, and it would be better to apply all available algorithms to hundreds of neurons.

None of the three companies have seen short-term non-medical applications, but they believe it could be extended to the general population as people begin to see the potential for huge changes in implantation.

Perhaps the most obvious application is brain-controlled typing, which imagines a scenario in which people who grow up in the age of mobile phone text ingress and computer typing (completely finger-operated) will gradually lose some of their ability to operate as they get older, and they will be frustrated by their inability to maintain the input speed. They may look for other ways to maintain their technical capabilities, and eventually they will see that the Brain Interface Technology (BCIs) is better suited to the human body and use it as a flashpoint for change in human capabilities. If the technology becomes secure, easy to apply, and provides better technical control, someone will be willing to pay.

Beyond that, it is not known whether the technology is more widely used to provide brain instructions to smart speakers. The human brain controls the car driving? Information communication between the brain? Enhance sinand and cognitive abilities?

If the technology can go beyond medicine, it could be used first in the military, for example, by providing silent communication between soldiers, or by thinking about certain instructions to activate devices, it is difficult to see most people undergo surgery for entertainment or convenience, but at a recent neurotechnical exchange in San Francisco, “We’ve used smart devices, such as smartphones, to expand people’s cognitive abilities and enhance their memory,” said Jonathan Toomim, a neurologist at the technology exchange. It is to increase the bandwidth of the human brain to a higher level among them. “

A recent report on the subject by the Royal Society concluded that in the coming years, the public should have a clearer picture of how neural interface technology is being used and regulated, and one concern is data privacy. While brain interface technology is described as “reading thinking” and “decoding thinking”, there are concerns that they will uncover the deepest secrets inside, record smaller areas of the brain associated with movement, and require ways of thinking to work with devices, but for the ethical reasons of personal privacy, people do not have to rely entirely on and follow the technology.

In addition, there are many urgent questions to be solved, who owns this brain data? What is the purpose of this brain data? At the same time, “brain data hackers” once the brain-machine system, potentially many security vulnerabilities, they will be brain owners do not agree to modify the way. The brain-machine system originated in reality, not science fiction, and the pacemaker had been hacked before.

Further ethical questions arise in terms of control and agency, and if the brain implant device does not properly understand your intentions, to what extent are you responsible as a device user for “saying” or “doing”? At the same time, how do we ensure that a technology can yield significant benefits.

It will be years to think about these issues, and Neuralink’s goal is to achieve human clinical trials, which are now expected to be somewhat unrealistic by the end of next year. But some experts predict that the technology will serve people with disabilities within five to 10 years, and that it will take longer, perhaps 20 years, for non-medical use.

Is this an alternative to brain implantation?

A wearable, non-invasive brain-machine interface device that can be worn at will without brain surgery, but the skull hinders the reading of neuronal signals in the brain and the design of a non-invasive brain device can be challenging.

In any case, some companies are still trying, and in 2017 Facebook announced plans to develop a wearable device that will allow the brain to command text input, averaging 100 words per minute (compared with the average, by comparison, Neuralink’s brain-machine device allows up to 40 words per minute, which is equivalent to an average typing speed per minute, and the Brain Gate project uses a Utah array to implant the brain, allowing for an average of eight words per minute. In July, researchers at the University of California demonstrated for the first time a complete set of spoken words and phrases based on brain activity, even though the device was surgically placed with cortical electro-tracing electrodes on the surface of the brain, while the company continued to study how to achieve the same effect in a non-invasive manner. And actively explore the use of near-infrared light to measure blood oxidation patterns – neurons when the activity of oxygen consumption.

Assuming that technical problems can be overcome, social factors remain a major obstacle, and Google’s smart glasses fail not because they are vulnerable, but because people don’t want to wear a mini-computer in their eyes all day long.

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