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Brain Cells Fused with Computer Chips 200

valamaldoran writes "Looks like organic computers aren't too far off. Live Science has an interesting article about fusing brain neurons with silicon chips. From the article: 'The achievement could one day enable the creation of sophisticated neural prostheses to treat neurological disorders or the development of organic computers that crunch numbers using living neurons.'"
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Brain Cells Fused with Computer Chips

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  • by fatduck ( 961824 ) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @06:26AM (#15009388)
    Seems like programming for a neural network would have much of the same difficulties as quantum computing, only without the considerable advantage of computing power that quantum computing provides. Let's be honest, they just want to get in our brraaiinns..
    • How much do you want to bet that the ??IA would love to be able to embed DRM decoders in our heads? Without paying the monthly codec licencing fee, our brains stop working, and we can't see/listen to/talk about anything content related at all.

      (Yes, this is karma whoring, slamming the ??IA by responding to the first post, and just being a general anti-corporate jackass, but I don't give a shit. I couldn't see them trying to pull it off tomorrow, or even this year, but ten or so years down the road, it woul
    • by msobkow ( 48369 )

      I think there are a few different approaches that could achieve machine intelligence, but we really haven't answered some key questions before we take such chances:

      1. Is it moral to create a race of slaves when so many people are out of work?
      2. At what point does intelligence become sentience?
      3. How can a moral framework be defined and implemented so that such a being would have the compassion to consider all viewpoints and lifeforms as equally important to the whole?

      Anime studies some of those ideas, but I

      • I don't think so... it doesn't matter how intelligent something is, it can only work through it's "body" (or whatever interface it's given). The most intelligent system ever is no threat if it can only roll forwards, backwards, detect dust, and suck it up (yeah, I need to vac my room!).

        As for moral issues, it would be a problem if they were created with the ability to feel pain/unhappiness/etc and forced into being slaves, but if they were only programmed to want to do those things... no problem.

        The "so man
    • The brain works using massive parrallel processing and weighted pathways.

      Quantum processors work using probability and super positions.

      They're two entirely different technologies and cant really be compared. Neither in the complexity of there algorithms or there speeds in various situations.

      It should be noted that Quantum processors arnt very fast unless they are doing very specific tasks like cryptography. Unless someone comes up with more for the qubits to do they will never become anything more than a co
    • Awww, once again, attack of the layman.

      Okay, repeat after me: "Quantum computers are likely only fast for a small subset of hard problems."

      There are only /three/ problems that are believed to be outside P but in BQP:
      1) Factorisation
      2) Discrete logarithms
      3) Quantum simulation

      And we're not sure if those problems are actually outside P. So, Quantum Computers are not the computational power houses that everyone who watches Discovery Channel things they are. In most cases, they are no better than a classical c

  • Neurochips will replace up to 10,000 neurons in brains damaged by Alzheimer's and stroke: One day, a computer chip may do some of the work of a damaged hippocampus. check out Dr. Theodore W. Berger, University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

    the brain has billions of neurons, so this will still be small scale...
    • What about applications outside of the cranium? When will we see people with Skywalker hands?
    • Think locally (Score:3, Insightful)

      You're right in that this does not come close to having the number of neurons needed to help in disseminated diseases like Alzheimers. Where it might have promise sooner is in cases of severe locallized injury, such as spinal damage strokes from a small clot, or damaged nerves in an amputation/partial amputation type injury.

      We have yet to succeed except in a few lab experiments in regrowing neural tissue. Stem cells might help, but then again might not. Any means to reconnect damaged neurons could have p
      • I think we're missing an important point here. The most important thing aren't the billions of neurons, but the trillions+ of synapses that connect them. Just grafting new neurons in place of 'burnt' ones would accomplish exactly WHAT?
  • Hmmmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by Symp0sium ( 961148 ) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @06:28AM (#15009400)
    I guess it won't belong before resistance is futile.
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @06:30AM (#15009405)
    Some might remember this statement. It was said when they started decyphering the human genome.

    Just because we can "read" the letters doesn't mean we know what's written. Just because we can pump electricity into nerve cells doesn't mean we understand how they "think". It's still a long, long road to cyberpunk.

    Well, at least the technology aspect of this flavor of SciFi. The social aspect is almost achived.
    • Just because we can pump electricity into nerve cells doesn't mean we understand how they "think".

      We can simulate the weather knowing only simple gas laws.

      • A general large scale simulation of the weather is a lot simpler than simulating billions of neurons - in fact the weather problem probably becomes a lot more simplified when you work to larger scales.

        If you have any 'simple laws' that can quickly and accurately simulate even thousands of neurons all working in parallel, then my simulations predict you're going to get very rich, or at least become famous in the scientific community =p
        • If you have any 'simple laws' that can quickly and accurately simulate even thousands of neurons all working in parallel,

          Wouldn't this effectively be psychology?

          Psychology seems to be to the study of individual neurons what meteorology and weather prediction is to the study of gases and molecular chemical interactions.
          • No, I think that would be artificial intelligence, or biology. While in psychology you do study neurons and some basic theories on how the brain works, in psychology we tended to learn about the on a larger scale (different regions of the brain such as the hypothalamus, hippocampus, parietal lobe and that kind of thing), rather than single neurons.
      • I can, even without a computer, predict that the planets will still revolve around the sun in a few 1000 years, and you can rather easily calculate how much mass they should gain/lose by impact of meteors. It's a game of probability.

        On a smaller scale, you're far harder pressed. Weather is pretty well predictable on a large scale. It's still near impossible on small scales. How is the weather going to be in Hicksville in 15 days? It's near impossible to tell that, while it's easy to say that within the next
        • ame with brains... you can "stimulate" them to gain some effect... It is MUCH harder to stimulate certain cells to get a very specific effect.(edited for brevity)

          From the very little I understand about the state of cybernetics, creating neural interfaces is not about making a device that can be implanted into the brain/nervous system/etc and work right out of the box. It takes a little bit of training on both ends: the machinery learns some basic communication with the neurons by learning the patterns o
      • Really, so you mean you can actually predict the true accurate weather instead of the vague generalized guessing that we get on the news? You should be one of the richest people in the world in that case, cool...

        There's lots of things we can 'simulate', but 'approximate' is a better term.
    • Just because we can pump electricity into nerve cells doesn't mean we understand how they "think".

      I'm not sure that matters.

      For neural interfaces to control prostheses, we don't necessarily have to understand how the brain functions, exactly, because one thing we do know about the brain is that it can learn. People with brain damage can often learn to compensate, performing the necessary processing with different parts of the brain. Given that, it will likely be enough to create the connections, then

      • True, very true. But even then, it is a long road to at least enabling us to control a prosthesis. Despite the brain's ability to learn, you can't just offer it some kind of interface and hope it will figure out somehow how to interact with the artificial parts. You at least have to go half the way towards it.

        A jack to the brain might come into existance, but you'll have to learn how to use it. Once the brain knows how to tap into the stored information, it will accept a standardized interface. What remains
        • What remains to be seen is whether learning to interface is faster than actually learning the subject.

          Not that I really know anything about any of this, but I'll be surprised if it is. I can see a neural interface being a faster and more convenient way to retrieve facts that you didn't know, but I expect the process of integrating facts to create knowledge and draw conclusions to be unchanged.

    • Ah but they've been experimenting with electrodes in the brain for a while now and they've learned something.

      The brain's structure is not defined at birth, it develops based on usage and adapts to problems early in life, so if you insert something early enough it can become a functional part of the brain and perhaps even have the brain adapt to use it.

      It's still a pretty dicey concept (they've mainly been using it to restore some motor function or add new senses to lab animals) but it has some pretty so
    • I can't believe how this article failed to note that European doctors are in last place in this research. The United States has working brain implantable devices intended to help the blind see, paraplegics walk [state.gov].

      I remember watching a show on the discovery channel back in 2004, which showcased a paraplegic using a wireless brain implant as a mouse for a computer, and showcasing the research of Japanese scientists which were working on mapping brain signals, as to how memory is stored and retrieved, endeavo

  • by Ithika ( 703697 ) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @06:31AM (#15009409) Homepage
    The model and procedure for making the many parts of our body is encoded in our DNA. If we just drop in a a chip how can the body know to interact with it? Unless our genes are rewritten to include driver software (heh!) then the only likely result will be a mucus surface forming around the inorganic material, rather like a pearl forming around a piece of grit. At the basic level everything is done in terms of shuffling chemicals around. There is no "master planner" who will integrate our new chip capabilities (64-bit floating point maths or something) into the normal functioning of our brains.
    • by fatduck ( 961824 ) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @06:39AM (#15009433)
      The brain exhibits a property called neuroplasticity meaning that it will reorganize its parts for greater efficiency. When brain cells are damaged, other brain cells rearrange themselves to absorb the function that the damaged brain cells can no longer perform. Researchers doing experiments on brain-controlled prosthetics noticed that they did not have to place electrodes precisely on the brain because the brain would recognize the function of the electrodes and organize its neurons to facilitate their effectiveness (in effect, recognizing them as neurons).
      • I don't doubt that; but there's a huge step from BMI-based prosthetics to the kind of science fiction being alluded to in Zonk's "dibs on a datajack" comment.
      • Yeah, I saw a story on PBS about this (think it was on NOVA). Scientists had a monkey hooked up to a mechanical arm that it could control with its mind. The arm was in another area but it could be seen by the monkey. The monkey would control the arm to pick up a treat and drop it in a chute that would bring it to the monkey. It was quite amazing to see.
    • by FirienFirien ( 857374 ) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @07:04AM (#15009504) Homepage
      Over time, the human body learns to interact. A child picks up walking by practise, a musician gets better as they practise and worse if they don't, ditto with sports players and gamers and everything at all.

      This isn't restricted to behaviour. With practise over the past years, I've gained control of muscles in my face that other people don't even know exist; I find it fun to twitch them and distract people. People who split their tongues as body modification can, with practise, control both tips independently, even though the tongue is hardly designed for it; the muscle is there, and with the cut the movements change.

      I very much doubt we need gene modification to control this. While it will of course be hard at first to activate the right neurons, in the same way that most people don't know how to twitch the right muscles to wiggle their ears, tic their cheeks (even though I can tic my left cheek easily, I don't yet have the fine control of my right, though from knowing that I was formerly unable to tic either and can now tic the left one under full control, I have no doubt that the right one will come with practise), or pull the really difficult one that moves the scalp back and forth, they all have the muscles there, they all have the neurons there to do it. Hook the chip up to an interface, then do random things like think about chocolate, wiggle your toes, try to talk in French; when you find something that triggers the chip, you'll be able to practise that trigger and eventually disassociate it from the chocolate/toes/translation to become a simple signal-to-chip.

      Watch a pro musician or even a pro gamer play, or a fast typer type. There isn't a conscious decision to play that note or press that key; it's too fast for that. It's something that's practised enough, and it's instinctive and automatic.

      Just needs practise.
      • I'm inclined to agree. The brain is designed to find patterns and to make sense of black boxes. We're programmed to assume that a response to stimulation is the result of a process, and we can develop understandings of that process through exposure and experimentation. That applies on both a conscious and a basic neurological level. We are designed to develop comprehension.
        • I suspect that you don't really mean "designed" or "programmed" at all, assuming that you don't subscribe to creationism theory...
          • I don't really consider it relevant whether the program or design arrived by it's own means or by some nebulous creator. Evolution -- and any scientific area really -- is generally designed to describe the mechanism without regard to the origins of it. Religion is more concerned about who or what made the mechanism the way it is.

            If science were to look at a wood screw, it would explain the dimentions and construction of it, and attempt to make guesses about the use of the device. Religion would be more c

      • Watch a pro musician or even a pro gamer play, or a fast typer type. There isn't a conscious decision to play that note or press that key; it's too fast for that. It's something that's practised enough, and it's instinctive and automatic.

        Well I'm not sure if it's instinct, but it is not waiting for feedback. When I type, it's basicly pipelined, I don't need to see the keys, I don't have to wait for the screen to respond. I could type this blind and still do at least 98% correct. Same with music once you sta
        • When I type, it's basicly pipelined, I don't need to see the keys, I don't have to wait for the screen to respond.

          I saw evidence of this in my typing the other day when setting up my new KVM's OSD, so it would show the machine name when I switched to it. As I was typing "ATHLON", I watched the letters on the screen appear "ATAHTLHLONON"! The KVM recorded a "keypress" based on just a "key-down" or "key-up", not a "key-down/key-up" pair. (Although then I typed slower, and saw that it would merge a "k

      • What you say is true, but there limits. Somethings just can't be learned because the underlying hardware and control structures do not exist. Your ability to learn new facial movements may be impressive, but it may be that you have a particular genetic predisposition to do that.

        Simply put, if the nerves from the brain to allow a muscle to do a specific movement do not exist, no amount of practice is going to help let you make that movement.

        Rolling tongues, as a concrete example, is something that some pe
      • Look for wireless monkies looking up where to buy bananas in the next few years!

        The only question will mapquest or google maps be better from a neuro-heuristic perspective which will the monkies use ADVERTISERS NEED TO KNOW!
    • "At the basic level everything is done in terms of shuffling chemicals around. There is no "master planner" who will integrate our new chip capabilities..."

      Since when does the "device driver" dictate the API for the O/S? The trick is figuring out the undocumented API that the implanted chip driver needs to implement. If there is such an API for the calcium pump computer that is typing this post then a metaphoric "pearl forming around a piece of grit" is a very real possibility.

      "If we just drop in a a
  • Ooooh, a bright future ahead for the human race. within a couple of decades we'll be able to artificially enhance our brain with implants. In essence, all we need now is a wireless connection and we'll be able to create a network of minds rather than computers. Think of it, an entire species linked in a network, focussing on the betterment of mankind. What could possibly go#@$^#@@#$@#$... NO CARRIER We are the borg, you will be assimilated. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to
    • We are the borg, you will be assimilated. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is useless.

      The word you're looking for is 'futile'. Hand in your geek card :-)

      The Borg were great, until that Species 8472 business. We've seen how these guys can adapt their equipment to anything they come up against, and how they can extrapolate countless potential applications from a single example of a new technology - look what they made of the Doctor's holographic emitte

      • you could put it down to creativity rather than the 'logical' brute force measures that the Borg use? .> I didnt see a lot of Voyager after going to University (pretty much stopped watching TV)

        To resist it is useless [lyrics007.com]
      • The word you're looking for is 'futile'. Hand in your geek card :-)

        Damn you Douglas Adams, and your witty guide.

        The Borg were great, until that Species 8472 business.

        The Borg were great until Voyager really. Species 8472 was just the beginning. The borg episodes are full of plotholes in voyager. For instance, the episode where seven of boobs^H^H^H^H^H nine rejoins the collective as an individual, and the voyager crew saves her. Meh, I guess voyager was just full of plotholes. In fact, how many shu

  • by Scarletdown ( 886459 ) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @06:36AM (#15009427) Journal
    Will it run Linux? And if so, just imagine a beowulf cluster of these organic computers!

  • I guess... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Symp0sium ( 961148 ) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @06:39AM (#15009434)
    ... this will lead to some kind of brain O/S elitism Having said that I don't think I would be using Microsoft Windows Seizure Edition.
  • Even if one of these was implanted into the brain of a woman, you can still bet that no-one would be able to write a manpage for her. ;.;
  • Singularity! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Illbay ( 700081 ) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @06:49AM (#15009460) Journal
    Looks like the ride toward the singularity [wikipedia.org] just picked up its pace.
    • Agreed. Interestingly enough, the evidence towards the Singularity lays in accelerating growth of technological change. So, it's pretty nifty to see not just a linear or geometic change in technology, but a change which appears to be networked, neural, and therefore, exponential in nature.

      If you're looking for a good book that deals with cyberpunk, the Singularity, and transhumanism, I highly recommend Accelerando [accelerando.org] by Charles Stross. Note: It's a very post-modern, post-millennial, post-cyber kind of b
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @06:52AM (#15009471)
    "I have a headache due to high CPU usage. would you like to:
    a. Shut down some applications.
    b. Let me sleep for a while and get back to you.
    c. Get me some Aspirin already!"
  • by Chr0n0 ( 833566 ) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @06:59AM (#15009489)
    That this would give a new meaning to the term "Brainfreeze"


  • A little FUD (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FirienFirien ( 857374 ) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @07:11AM (#15009527) Homepage
    While it's a long way off, there's possible problems with it just as there's problems with almost all tech these days. An example, Illyan from the Vorkosigan series:

    In the book Memory (by Lois McMaster Bujold) we see a man with an "eidetic memory chip" in his head. Technology is far along advanced that this effectively is a huge hard drive, giving this man perfect memory of everything for the 20 years or so that he's had it in. He's then hit by something which screws up the chip in his head; and since his brain has come to rely on it as memory storage, he starts getting scrambled memories, and acts as if they were real, losing touch with reality.

    I know it's a long way off and a bit extreme... but we can only hope that the early adopters will have some protection against failure and/or bugs and/or malice.
    • He's then hit by something which screws up the chip in his head; and since his brain has come to rely on it as memory storage, he starts getting scrambled memories, and acts as if they were real, losing touch with reality.

      And how is this different from damage to organic brain? People with brain damage can behave also pretty weird, have all kinds of hallucinations or weird perception distortions like being unable to percept one side (left or right depending on the placement of damage).

      I would be more afraid

  • by Timberwolf0122 ( 872207 ) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @07:18AM (#15009544) Journal
    Well I for one welcome our new cyborg overlords.
  • Would you do it? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <moiraNO@SPAMmodparlor.com> on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @07:19AM (#15009548)
    Fast-Forward into Cyberpunk. Not the friendly Gibson kind, but one with intrusive neural interfaces. People showing clear signs of severe mental deseases but reporting from of the Network that they feel superb and can sense when the stockmarket is about to shift. They are so powerfull they're not even interested in money anymore and experience enjoyments mere mortals can't even dream of. They can slow down time and play WoW 12 live. Their bodies are bloated, drooling, twitching pieces of flesh, with eyeballs turned inward, watched by carebots. It's the better option than just occasionly jacking in and experiencing severe borderline like disorders by trying to cope with the real world when not logged in. Normal programmers are extinct, because these humans interfaced with machines do the jobs to get free acccess everywhere and they do them 10.000 times better than anybody else.
    The question:
    Would you get yourself a neural jack and hook up?
    I wouldn't.
    • Re:Would you do it? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @07:26AM (#15009568) Homepage Journal
      Would you get yourself a neural jack and hook up?

      I would because it is the only realistic way that my mind can survive longer than my body. I don't think it has to be as bad as the picture you paint. Many people use limited neural implants now: cochlear implants. Even today we have people who spend too much time with technology at the expense of their health. Regardless of the type of interface in use I believe we will remain essentially the same.

      • Why do you assume your body would die? Lots of things could happen in the cell reconstruction department (and everything related to medicine)...
        • Given enough time, even a perfectly healthy body will end up involved in a fatal car accident or other such personal catastrophe. But if your mental functions can be downloaded to a reinforced brain casing of some sort, it just becomes a matter of acquiring a new prosthetic body.

        • Why do you assume your body would die?

          Depends on how old you are. I am 40, most of the men in my family die between 60 and 70. Twenty years is not long at all in medical science. And you still need to allocate 10 or 20 years to bring a product to market.

          When I graduated some friends of mine went into medical science, and I went into aerospace. 15 years later they are restarting their careers outside their original field.

          The big difference is pay: people working in research get paid less, consequently sci

      • Could you take responsibility for the actions of your mind long after your body is dead? Do we take responsibility for the action of our mind while we're alive?

        I'd be affraid of my mind going insane without the rest of me to keep it in check. With my abilities I could be one of those cyberpunk criminals with all sorts of implants and enhancements. I'd let it happen if I weren't affraid of the consequences. But by then maybe that won't matter to me anymore. The world would be so different, maybe I would
    • Yes parent post, this does sound very Cyberpunk, however it does apply to Gibson too. Consider the exchange where Molly goes to find the Panther Moderns in Gibson's book Neuromancer:

      Behind the counter a boy with a shaven head stared vacantly into space, a dozen spikes of microsoft protruding from the socket behind his ear.
      "Larry, you in, man?" She positioned herself in front of him. The boy's eyes focused. He sat up in the chair and pried a bright magenta splinter from his socket with a dirty thumbnail.
  • Great (Score:2, Funny)

    by ms1234 ( 211056 )
    Do we really want blond computers?
  • 1.  It will only think Microsoft Thoughts.

    2.  It will only think one thought at a time, unless you buy MS Brain Enterprise Server

    3.  Sometimes, it will stop thinking.  The human will need to be killed and brought back with the paddles.  This will be considered normal.

    4.  Windows software will suddenly make sense.

    5.  All your thoughts will be covered under DRM.  You can share thoughts with up to three other people, but only if you are in a connected wireless area and your thoughts can register their new owners.

    6.  You may live longer, but large parts of your life will be spent watching a blue bar slowly crawl across your field of vision.

    7.  All sex will be done by oblique references.  Nudity will not exist in any form other than pixilated and blurred images.

    8.  There will be Open Source brains -- called "Open Minds" but the people who choose them will be considered insane and untrusted by the rest of the MS Brain using world.  These people will be locked away in insane asylums.

    9.  There will be Apple OS-X brains.  The people who choose this will be seen as misguided flower children, wandering in airports with be smiles and preaching their message of peace and good music.  They will be largely ignored.

    10. There will be <>(@!*@($&&) *  [[<< 0x000000BE or ATTEMPTED_WRITE_TO_READONLY_MEMORY >>]]

  • by SwansonMarpalum ( 521840 ) <redina AT alum DOT rpi DOT edu> on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @08:59AM (#15009805) Homepage Journal
    For a more thorough treatment on the subject, check out ISBN 0-553-38343-4
  • "..this ingredients that make the human body and mind. Like all the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others. But my thoughts and memories are unique only to me. And I carry a sense of my own destiny. Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way. All of that blends to create a mixture that forms me and gives rise to my conscience. I feel confined only free to expand myse
  • ... and they have a plan.
  • With all this new fangled tagging it would be nice to have consensus on a good tag for articles related to neural/computer interfaces. Any suggestions?
  • I don't have any neurological problems so far, but can I have a math coprocessor implanted?
  • "Once men turned their thinking over to machines in hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them."

    "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a man's mind," Paul quoted.

    "Right out of the Butlerian Jihad and the Orange Catholic Bible," she said.

"Plastic gun. Ingenious. More coffee, please." -- The Phantom comics