Human Brain is undoubtedly the most sophisticated and powerful tool of all time. With over 86 billion neurons packed together, it’s larger than any other network. Understanding human brain is very complicated and no one really knows exactly how it works.
So, the question that arises is, ‘Can we harness the true power of Human Brain?’ If yes, then how it can be used?
Now, before diving into this vast ocean of ‘neurons’, I want to clear some things and debunk a very common myth about our brains.
Your brain is NOT a computer. Relating human brain with a computer is nothing more than just a metaphor. Although our brain shares some of it’s functions with a computer, our brain has some unique functionality and characteristics.
For example, a computer stores some information as ‘bits’ of 0s and 1s and then retrieves it back when required. On the other hand, our brain doesn’t really store information, instead it ‘experiences‘ it. If you command a computer to store the pic of an apple, then it will store it exactly in the same way as it is and then retrieve it for you. But our brains do something different. When an infant sees an apple, some neurons fire up in a specific pattern but as soon as the apple is taken away from infant’s vision, the neurons will stop firing. Now, when the infant sees the apple again, some neurons start to fire up in the same pattern as before. An infant cannot remember the perfect picture of an apple until and unless you introduce the apple to him over and over again. Studies have also shown that an infant’s brain tries to priortise faces over other scenes and objects.
So, the function of brain is not based on storage and retrieval, instead it’s based on different ‘experiences’. Our memories are not based on data, they are based on ‘experiences’. This is why whenever you see someone who is sad, a couple of sad memories of yours just play in your mind automatically.
One huge difference between computers and human brain is that computers are ‘programmed’ to do a particular thing, whereas a human brain ‘learns‘ from different stimuli and experiences. Human brains have ‘choice‘ while computers do not.
Your question might be that Artificial Intelligence can also learn just like a human brain does, so how is it different from a human brain? Well, the difference is huge. Human brain collects data from different stimuli, processes it and generates some abstract and unique outputs based on the input. On the other hand, AI only works on the data that’s feeded into it. If you don’t feed data, AI cannot work. In simple terms, a human brain ‘thinks and analyses‘ the situation in different ways whereas AI cannot think by itself unless the data is feeded. Best examples are ‘DREAMS‘ and ‘IMAGINATION‘.
Also, humans are capable of expressing themselves through ‘emotions‘ while on the other hand AI can only copy human emotions but cannot generate it’s own emotions.
So from this we can conclude that a human brain is ‘MORE‘ than just a computer.
What is Neuralink?
Neuralink is a Brain Computer Interface(BCI) implant which can interpret, analyse and program electrical signals from our brain to improve our ability to control machines and prosthetics directly from our brains.
Neuralink aims to help people with brain disorders, as well as to integrate AI with human brain. They basically want to enhance the current interfaces and ‘bridges’ that we use to jot down our ideas from our brains to the real world, to make everything more effective. Neuralink was officially launched in 2019 and until now, Elon Musk has given some interesting updates about it.
Elon Musk recently confirmed that Neuralink chip will allow users to listen music directly from the chip. The job of our ‘ears’ is at stake. Haha. Anyways, it seems a fancy thing, right? Well, but how will it work? I assure you, there’s no magic.
Neuralink: The Ultimate Chip!
Let me introduce you to some brain terminology. As mentioned earlier, our brain has around 86 billion neurons. These neurons communicate with each other by sending ‘neurotransmitters‘ through small gaps called ‘synapses‘. Now remember that there are two types of cells in our brain, neurons and glial cells. Here we’ll focus on neurons.
Neurons can generate something called as ‘action potential‘. Action potential is basically a potential difference between two neurons which allows them to transmit electrical impulses. Action potential is generated by Na+ / K+ transfer. Action potential also generates an electric field around the neurons which can be detected by an electrode. If you want to know more about action potential, head over here. Neurons communicate with each other via neurotransmitters which are transferred with the help of an electrical ‘spike’ generated by an action potential.
According to a research paper published by Neuralink, arrays of specialized ‘threads‘ also known as polymer probes (with each array having 48 or 96 threads and each thread containing 32 electrodes attached) will be implanted in the brain via a robotic surgery similar to LASIK eye surgery.
These threads of around 4 to 6 micrometers in width are meant to be ‘flexible‘ so that they don’t damage the brain. The robot will make a small hole in the skull, insert the threads into the cortex of the brain and then close the hole by placing a chip (N1 sensor in the image below) which will be connected to the threads.
This N1 sensor will connect wirelessly to another external device(bluetooth enabled) placed behind one of the ears, which will send the signals to a computer such as your smartphone via an app.
The electrodes attached to the threads will record electric field generated by the action potential. The system will then analyse the signal, and then stimulate specific neurons by transmitting the same electrical signals to the brain as recorded earlier.
You can play games, control your phone, play music, control prosthetic arms and limbs directly through your brain if you let this chip to be implanted in your brain. According to reports, it can also control hormone levels in the brain so that a patient can get some relief from disorders like anxiety and depression.
This is not an entirely new technology. There are many brain computer interfaces which have been developed for physically disabled people so that they can control artificial arms and limbs directly through their brains, but those techniques are quite invasive in nature. Neuralink is relatively less invasive than other BCIs.
Elon Musk says that Neuralink is developed so that humans can compete with Artificial Intelligence. Do you think AI can take over humans? Atleast I don’t think so. I may be wrong but again, more research is needed.
Recently, Elon Musk showed a live demonstration of how Neuralink will work in reality. The demo included several pigs with neuralink implant which recorded their brain activity in real time. Elon Musk claimed that one of the pigs had the implant since 2 months and she was looking fit and fine.
Elon Musk also announced a change in the previous design of the Neuralink chip which you can see below.
Instead of two devices, now there will be only one chip which will be implanted in the skull and will be connected via a smartphone app.
Here’s a quick look on how the electrodes will look like in the brain.
WARNING: VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED.
According to Neuralink, some of the diseases and disabilities which can be cured by the implant are presented in the image below.
You can watch the live demonstration video below:
Have you ever heard of the term ‘Cyborg’? If yes, then you might be knowing about this but if no, then here’s something astonishing for you. Well, what are cyborgs in the first place?
Cyborgs are nothing but humans with mechanical or electronic computer implants. They are depicted in movies like ‘Alita : Battle Angel’, ‘Terminator’ series, etc. But do they really exist outside the world of science fiction?
Well, YES THEY DO!!
Neil Harbisson is the world’s first official CYBORG.
He was born with ‘achromatopsia‘ which is a state of complete color blindness. He is an artist with an implanted antenna in his skull which allows him to “hear” different wavelenghts of light. The antenna implant detects the ‘visible‘ as well as ‘invisible‘ wavelenghts of light and then it vibrates his skull, so that he can hear them. He can also hear Ultraviolet and Infrared light.
Mind blowing, isn’t it? What if I say that we are all becoming cyborgs in one way or the other. Our ever increasing technology dependence is leading us to becoming cyborgs indirectly.
Obviously, there are some ethical questions about implanting a chip in your brain. Every coin has two sides. Now, it’s upto us how we use these implants to make the best out of it without any evil intention.
How far have we reached?
Human brain is so complex that it may take nearly 200 years to just fully understand it.
Lets go a step further. Can we download whole human brain and upload it to the internet? Can we just look into other person’s dreams?
Don’t stress your mind. That’s not going to happen anytime soon. Maybe you should talk to your 200 years old future self (if possible)…
To be continued on 25/08/2300.
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