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Brain Implants Will Repair and Augment Us in the Near Future

 

Brain-implants-pictureBrain Implants, machines that will be surgically implanted into a person’s brain to perform one or more functions, are going to be reality in the very near future.  And the technology has gotten far enough for us to at least categorize what many of these implants will possibly do once we’ve developed them.  We understand that most if not all will fall into two main categories:  Restorative Implants and Enhancement Implants.

The structure of the human brain and the functions that each of the major sections of the brain enable us to identify the types of implants that might be implanted in specific areas.

CEREBRUM:  As the largest part of the brain, the cerebrum will also be the site in which the largest assortment of implants will be located.

Restorative Cerebrum Implants:  The brain implants would mainly be used for restoring or repairing damage caused disease or trauma.  For instance, an implant that can return muscle control, motor reflex and speech to a strok victim.  Or an implant in the Temporal Lobe to return lost memories.

Augmenting Cerebrum Implants:

  • Cognitive Enhancement:  Super-enhanced memory recall, on-demand photographic memory through implants in the Temporal Lobe.
  • Sensory Enhancement: Brain implants that would most likely be placed in the Occipital Lobe to offer night vision, telescopic vision, video recording through your eyes, vision into different spectrums (ultraviolet or infrared for example), enhanced hearing; Internal compass letting us always know which direction we’re heading.
  • Increased Reaction Time:  An implant into the Frontal Lobe enhancing processing speed to the Perietal Lobe to enable someone able to have a much faster than normal reaction speed.
  • Direct Brain-to-Brain communications:  It would almost be like telepathy, with two or more people being able to communicate with each other using their brain implants.
  • Neural Net:  An Internet for brains.  The brain implant would enable access to the Internet for data retrieval and uploading.

Before we are able to build these types of brain implants, we will need to better understand how the brain codes, stores, recalls, and uses information.

Spinal Cord:  Although this is not part of the brain and would thus seem to be a subject for another article, I would be remiss if I did not address implants that interact directly with the brain via the Central Nervous System.  This exciting category of implants could one day soon enable paralyed individuals to once again walk.

WHERE THE TECH IS TODAY:  There are already brain implants in use today.  Pacemakers for the brain that help control Parkensins Disease have been around since 1997.  Thousands of people walk around with Cochlear Implants that restore their hearing.  And we are at the early stages of using implants to restore the movement to  paralyzed people.  And there are many other exciting projects that are closing in on the useof brain implants to either restore or enhance functionality:

Electrodes: This first part of the process is also the most important.  How do you bridge the natural with the artifical?  Electrodes connect the brain to the implant but in doing so can cause scarring and are attacked by the immune system as a foreign body.  Current technologies wrap them in materials that enable them to smoothly slide through tissue or cover them in neurotransmitters and encourage surrounding neurons to grow new connections.  Hydrogels, like those used in contact lenses are under development.  It is possible that stem cells from a person that is going to receive the implants could be grown into neural connectors so that the brain accepts the implant as a natural extension of itself.

Powering the Brain Impant:  The implant will need power to run whatever functions it has.  Current technology is geared towards that types of wireless charging seen on cell phone charging pads.  But there is also some research being currently conducted to use body chemistry as a method of powering the implant.

Controlling Artificial Limbs:  Direct brain control of artificial limbs has been demonstrated repeatedly over the past year as patients have had electrodes implanted into their brains that interface.

Brain Communication:  You know that inner voice of yours?  You talk to yourself and it’s such a personal thing that it almost seems hard to imagine that everyone else is doing the same thing?  What if that inner voice could be projected and heard by others?  Some of you might say that would result in you getting slapped a lot.  But there are some interesting opportunities that are being investigated that could take advantage of this ability.  Scientists at the University of California, Berkley, are trying to build a prosthesis that can read your inner voice and convert it to speech.  This would enable those you cannot speak because of paralysis to communicate.  It could also possibly be combined with other technology, such as a wireless broadband brain implant, to enable non-verbal communication between two or more people with such implants.

The field of brain implants is rapidly growing.  The ever-increasing capabilities of medical imaging are enabling researchers to map brain activity as it relates to motor and sensory actions in ways that have never before been possible.  As we increase our knowledge of how the brain works, we will find amazing ways to augment ourselves beyond what nature ever intended.

 

Author: Ed Ruth

RESOURCES:

Brain Implants:
http://s.telegraph.co.uk/graphics/projects/the-future-is-android/index.html

Brain Decoder Can Read Your Inner Voice:
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22429934.000-brain-decoder-can-eavesdrop-on-your-inner-voice.html#.VFNoE2fphC8

http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/528131/cracking-the-brains-codes/

Figuring out how the brain works:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/12/opinion/the-trouble-with-brain-science.html?_r=3

http://www.realclearscience.com/articles/2014/05/17/5_brain_advances_for_the_next_decade_108659.html

http://www.kavlifoundation.org/science-spotlights/nanotechnology-and-challenge-building-powerful-new-tools-brain-research#.U5M6-HaaZQw

http://www.realclearscience.com/articles/2014/05/17/5_brain_advances_for_the_next_decade_108659.html

Michio Kaku: Advances in Neuroscience: http://online.wsj.com/articles/michio-kaku-the-golden-age-of-neuroscience-has-arrived-1408577023

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/stephen-hawking-transcendence-looks-at-the-implications-of-artificial-intelligence–but-are-we-taking-ai-seriously-enough-9313474.html

Scientists find secret of reversing bad memories
Bad memories could be reversed after scientists discovered the part of the brain which links emotions to past events: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/11059605/Scientists-find-secret-of-reversing-bad-memories.html
First Human Brain-to-Brain Communication
http://www.gizmag.com/brain-to-brain-word-transmission/33674/

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