Friday, January 19, 2007

A Potential Brain to Computer Interface

In my readings and writings on education I have become convinced that this generation of kids may enjoy a life expectancy that is indeterminate by our current measures and that their health, well-being, and mental facilities will become unimaginably broadened by technologies currently in development.

This article describes a potential neural connector to an intelligent computing extension that will enhance the abilities of the humans who chose to so progress. This is a glimpse of the very near future.
From: Neural 'extension cord' developed for brain implants, news service by Tom Simonite

In 2001, Smith and colleagues developed a way to grow new lengths of nerve fibre by gradually pulling apart groups of connected neurons (see Nerve racking stuff). Lengths of nerve generated in this way, and measuring up to 10 centimetres, have already been used to fix damaged nerves in the limbs of human patients.

Protein coating

The data cables are created in the same way. A group of neurons is cultured on top of an array of 96 electrodes covered with a protein coating that causes them to attach. When placed 100 microns (about the width of a human hair) from another patch of neurons on a separate plate, the cells grow towards them, eventually joining neuron clumps together.

A motor is then used to slowly draw the two plates apart – causing the nerve fibres to continuing growing, at up to 1 cm each day. "We plan to use the free end to interface with the nervous system," Smith told New Scientist, "while the other end interfaces with a computer."

Tests have already shown that electrical signals can be transmitted in both directions along the cord. "Tests in animal models are next," says Smith. Connecting the chord to electrodes outside of the brain means the reaction of neurons to non-organic material can be controlled. In future, the cord could connect an amputee's nerves to a sophisticated prosthetic, he says, and might even offer a way to connect artificial eyes or ears to the brain.

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