A Computer Inside The Mind? Here’s Why That’s Not Insane In the Brain.

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The notion of technology possessing human-like cognitive abilities has been around since antiquity; one need look no further than origin myths of countless cultures in which an omnipotent presence constructs beings possessing consciousness. But in 2016, artificial intelligence is not only a familiar concept, but one that can be seen everywhere. From the smartphones in our pockets to the cars we see on the road, man and machine are merging in ways that make science fiction transcend imagination and appear in tangible, real-world manifestations.

In fact, we’ve become so accustomed to things like robots and semi-sentient technology that developments in the artificial intelligence industry are no longer viewed with the same shock and awe as they were just a generation ago. But what about when the relationship is reversed, and it’s the human brain that gets implanted with technology? For many, that’s a development that is even more provocative, but as a recent Washington Post article suggests, it’s already here.

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Bryan Johnson is an entrepreneur who is approaching the booming technology startup world with an enthralling idea in mind: he wants to “find a way to supercharge the human brain so that we can keep up with the machines.” By that, Post reporter Elizabeth Dwoskin writes, he means “building a tiny chip that can be implanted in the brain to help people suffering from neurological damage caused by strokes, Alzheimer’s or concussions.” But beyond its applications in the medical world, the “neuroprosthetic” could potentially be used as a 21st-century tool in improving memory, bolstering cognition, and beef up intelligence. Though the device is years away from being fully developed, Johnson has the time and the funding to make it a reality.

computer brain

In his words, a neuroprosthetic can help to address a weak spot in the relationship between human and artificial forms of cognition. “Human intelligence is landlocked in relationship to artificial intelligence — and the landlock is the degeneration of the body and the brain,” he says. Neuroprosthetics could one day give human beings the ability to progress at the same rate as the computers, robots, and other forms of A.I. it invents in the future, and a technology-focused symbiotic relationship.

In terms of its work in relation to disease, neuroprosthetics are devices which “try to replicate the way brain cells communicate with one another” in brains affected by diseases like Alzheimer’s. The software in these devices “tries to assist the communication between brain cells by making an instantaneous prediction as to what the healthy code should be, and then firing off in that pattern,” explains Dwoskin. Now, Johnson and his team of neuroscientists are “starting to sketch out prototypes of the device and [are] conducting tests with epilepsy patients in hospitals.” There is a setback in that, as it operates today, the technology requires patients to be hooked up to a computer, so the most pressing objective is figuring out a way to make the technology portable.

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For more information about Johnson’s ongoing work, visit the official website for his startup, Kernel, which proclaims “our mission is to dramatically increase our quality of life as we increasingly extend healthy lifespans.”