18 September 2008

We Are All Cyborgs Now

Electromagnetic brain stimulation and brain machine interfacing have just received an important boost: an electrode coating made of carbon nano-tubes that improves both the sending and receiving of impulses between the electrode and the brain.
This type of therapy increasingly shows promise for diseases ranging from epilepsy to depression to chronic leg and back pain...By implanting electronic nerve stimulators, doctors elsewhere have provided a quadriplegic patient with the ability to move a computer cursor at will, and monkeys have been able to move objects in a virtual world with mere mind power. For individuals who lose an arm or leg and rely on prosthetics, implanted stimulators offer promise in restoring feelings of sensation.

"The key to success for these types of brain-machine interfaces is where the electrode meets the nerve tissue," said Dr. Edward Keefer, instructor of plastic surgery at UT Southwestern and lead author of the study appearing in a recent issue of Nature Nanotechnology. "When we coat the electrodes with carbon nanotubes, it improves the stimulation of the nerve and the feedback from the sensors.".... Depending on the way the nanotubes are fashioned, researchers were able to bolster either the stimulation or receptive capabilities to improve performance. In some tests, the nanotube coating improved performance by fortyfold, while in others it improved by a factor of as much as 1,600. _SD
We are learning that stem cells from bone marrow can block brain damage from stroke. Scientists in Adelaide are learning how to do the same thing using stem cells from the teeth. We already know that deep brain stimulation can boost neurotrophic factors in the brain, leading to maturation of neural stem cells into mature neurons in the brain, and sparing brain function in neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's. And there are other high tech ways of preventing stroke damage being studied, including implanted neural chips that act to bridge damaged tissue to allow regenerative healing of the brain, and chips that will learn to function as part of the brain.

Longer term, artificial memory chips will likely be implanted to provide encyclopedic knowledge in specialties, general knowledge, or cross-disciplines.

For all of these purposes and more, we will need the best possible interfaces between brain and machine. Interfaces will need to be safe, sensitive, durable, and completely compatible with the individual's immune system and physiology. The above use of nanotechnology with brain-machine interfacing technology is another example of the convergence of advanced technologies leading to an eventual discontinuity (singularity) between present day experience of being human, and what humans of the future will experience as normal.


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Blogger Loren said...

You catch that article on the test where longer nanotubes caused asbestosis type problems in rats? Best to do a bit more work before sticking some of those in your head.

Experiments have shown that the human brain can interface independently with electrodes aside from the original command set for that electrode.

What I want to do is go to Japan, and study a bit with Sankai, who invented the hybrid assistive limb, a true cybernetic suit that's actually in production at this time:
I'd imagine the same independence shown by the monkey with his electrodes can trickle down to the muscles, allowing output at least that's non-invasive, and has decent bandwidth. But then, I just want power suits, not extra memory or brain power.

Thursday, 18 September, 2008  

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