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Hardware Implants Mimic Brain Cells

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 7 years ago | from the memory-upgrade dept.

Biotech 230

An anonymous reader writes "PopSci is reporting that Ted Berger, a USC scientist, has been working to engineer a brain implant the mimics the functions of neurons. Early tests on rat brain cells have shown promise, and if successful, Berger's implant could remedy everything from Alzheimer's to absent-mindedness — and reduce memory loss to nothing more than a computer glitch"

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Had to be done (4, Funny)

Darth Hubris (26923) | more than 7 years ago | (#18607783)

Press earlobe-eyeball-nose to continue

Re:Had to be done (2)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608163)

Good god a BSOD could be bad.

There is a treatment for Essential Tremor that involves electrical stimulation of the hypothalamus. You can only treat one side of an individual else they may lose the ability to speak. While I would hope this would improve treatment options (seeing as I have a moderate case), I would be fearful of the cpu latching up in some way or another.
-nB

Re:Had to be done (1)

vimh42 (981236) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608811)

BSOD - Flip the bird to continue.

That's great! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18607793)

...but will it run Linux?

So... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18607825)

In the future we will have cyberbrain sclerosis [wikipedia.org] ? For real?! Can't wait...

Java? (3, Funny)

HaeMaker (221642) | more than 7 years ago | (#18607829)

Does it run Java?

1.4? 1.5? Colombian?

Re:Java? (4, Interesting)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608057)

Does the main bus of your computer run Java? Does it run x86 instructions? Does it run anything of the sort?

This technology appears to be mainly about routing signals, not generating or processing them. It assists with memory by properly storing and retrieving those signals, but it does not interpret them. (As evidenced by his comment, "I don't need to understand music to repair a CD Player.")

The article is correct, however, in that this technology will bring us one step closer to understanding how the brain functions. Since these neurons are artificial, the signals passing through can be sampled and stored on an external device. This would allow researchers to reverse engineer many signals in parallel rather than trying to trace one or two signals through the brain as they've been doing.

Unfortunately, I doubt this technology will outright unlock the secrets of conciousness. Remember how neural networks were intended to be an invaluable research tool into self-awareness? Well, the resulting networks ended up working in a similar but fundamentally different way from the organic brain. That fundamental difference prevented the networks from fully simulating the human brain.

So we'll take the next step forward, and learn where our previous mistakes were. Not to mention, uncover thousands of new questions. :)

Re:Java? (1)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608207)

IIRC the Java spec requires a 32-bit von Neumann architecture supported by a filesystem that can support long filenames. If you're smart enough, in principle you can (inefficiently) simulate all these features yourself with a pencil, lots of scrap paper, the information in library JAR files, and the JVM spec. So if the artificial neurons can implement the functionality of the natural ones in intelligent people, you get Java support "for free" and you can avoid "reinventing the wheel" (investors love to hear that one).

Re:Java? (1)

Ced_Ex (789138) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608431)

Cuban. But it's not open-source just yet.

Time to recycle the MS-Borg icon (5, Interesting)

davidwr (791652) | more than 7 years ago | (#18607837)

Methinks it's high time to make a generic borg [slashdot.org] icon for cyborg-tech stories.

I Am Dyslexic Of Borg (0)

wiredog (43288) | more than 7 years ago | (#18609043)

Prepare To Have Your Ass Laminated!

Is "PopSci" the old Popular Science mag? (3, Insightful)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | more than 7 years ago | (#18607841)

Is "PopSci" the old Popular Science mag? The one with the futuristic scramjets and flying cars on the cover and pages filled with useless gadgets? (I think half its readers went to Wired and the other half went to SlashDot.)

Re:Is "PopSci" the old Popular Science mag? (1)

Yetihehe (971185) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608469)

Yes, but it's actually updated once a week (so like in real magazine, there are 4 mediocre articles a month (no, i didn't RTFM))

Pop Up Ads (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18607843)

This is completely off topic, but when did Slashdot start with the popup ads?

Re:Pop Up Ads (0)

Jaqenn (996058) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608191)

When you went and got your PC infected last night. View less pr0n. Alternately, see if some web-based scanner can clean you up: http://housecall.trendmicro.com/ [trendmicro.com] .

unless you are testifying to congress... (1)

johnny cashed (590023) | more than 7 years ago | (#18607857)

Then it becomes, "I do not recall" this and "I don't remember" that...

Re:unless you are testifying to congress... (2, Funny)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608335)

No, it becomes "Sorry, had a HD crash".

Re:unless you are testifying to congress... (2, Funny)

Divide By Zero (70303) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608337)

General error reading drive C.
Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? f
C:\>

I'm sorry, Senator, I seem to have developed some bad sectors.

Re:unless you are testifying to congress... (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 7 years ago | (#18609197)

"Depends on where the meaning of "is" is."

Windows (1)

Jason1729 (561790) | more than 7 years ago | (#18607871)

It will run windows and the TOS will say MS owns all your thoughts and you can't think bad things about MS.

It's all good until... (0, Redundant)

rackhamh (217889) | more than 7 years ago | (#18607881)

I'd hate to see what happens when you get a BSOD.

Re:It's all good until... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18608427)

I've already seen it! http://youtube.com/watch?v=KEWEgDvrjdU [youtube.com]

Engineered humans? (5, Insightful)

Checkmait (1062974) | more than 7 years ago | (#18607891)

I am torn over this idea because clearly it represents a potential major advance in science and a cure to several insidious, incurable (as of today) diseases. We could probably extend the life expectancy of humans by a decade or so.

However, it also presents some less optimistic possibilities: for example, someone might be able to "program" humans as we program computers today. Imagine some terror organization such as Al Qaeda creating a fearless, seven-foot, feel-no-pain specimen....

Re:Engineered humans? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18607967)

No no - the russians already tried that in Rocky 4...

Re:Engineered humans? (2, Funny)

D4rk Fx (862399) | more than 7 years ago | (#18607995)

feel-no-pain specimen....

Well, I hope that they do leave the pain part out. Otherwise there will be a bunch of robots running around screaming:
'Why was I programmed to feel pain!'

Re:Engineered humans? (1)

x2A (858210) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608991)

"Why was I programmed to feel... shame?"

Re:Engineered humans? (2, Interesting)

future assassin (639396) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608045)

>However, it also presents some less optimistic possibilities: for example, someone might be able to "program" humans as we program computers today. Imagine some terror organization such as Al Qaeda creating a fearless, seven-foot, feel-no-pain specimen..

Or imagine someone local and maybe you know creating a device that takes you out and then they rob you or even better cause the chip to kill you.

Re:Engineered humans? (4, Interesting)

badboy_tw2002 (524611) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608047)

A decade? That's much to short sighted. Something like this could eventually enable immortality. Think about it - if you replace enough neurons, pretty soon most of who you are would live inside the machine. At that point, who's to say where your consciousness lives? Whats to stop you from transferring to a completely electronic brain and living on as long as you have juice? Of course, there's a lot of metaphysics around this - would "you" still be "you", what if you made a copy, etc. etc. Fascinating stuff. Of course, we're a long ways off from it, but if you look where transistors and such were 50 years ago, its not such a stretch to think this will be a possibility in the next few centuries.

Dr Korby? (1)

XanC (644172) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608271)

Is that you?

What Are Little Girls Made Of? [memory-alpha.org]

Re:Dr Korby? (1)

badboy_tw2002 (524611) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608535)

Heh, its definitely not a new idea. I think TNG had an episode along the same lines. :)

Re:Engineered humans? (1)

x2A (858210) | more than 7 years ago | (#18609053)

"would "you" still be "you""

Sounds very philosophical, but it isn't really... it's a language question: what do you define the word "you" to mean?

Re:Engineered humans? (1)

Mr Europe (657225) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608087)

Imagine some terror organization such as Al Qaeda creating a fearless, seven-foot, feel-no-pain specimen....

That's why we must immediately start creating patriotic, eight-foot, feel-no-pain fighters !

Re:Engineered humans? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18608133)

Not to be rude or flame anyone but it is disappointing to see something like this...does everything have to do with Al Qaeda these days, Is everyone that brainwashed ???? I would be more concerned about U.S. Military & Government using it against its own people well before Al Qaeda did anything with it or figured out how to make it work. I would be more concerned it would be used by certain administrations that do not believe in checks and balances systems and rules a country like a regime more then elected officials. My guess is this has probably already been done by DARPA and we are now just hearing it about it.

Same as it ever was (1)

hypermanng (155858) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608149)

The "software" of the mind isn't the sort of thing you can sit down and code any more than our genes code for basketball skill. I'm sure they could teach people with hardware brains to be all sorts of things, but that's nothing new [amazon.com] . The brain may be suitable for Von Neumann implementation, but the mind can't be written in C++. Or LISP, for that matter.

Minds have to write themselves [ed.ac.uk] , or they don't work.

Re:Engineered humans? (1)

Half a dent (952274) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608333)

"Imagine some terror organization such as Al Qaeda creating a fearless, seven-foot, feel-no-pain specimen...."

Unfortunately Al Qaeda didn't need this kind of technology in order to "program" their followers, they did a horribly effective job using traditional methods.

Re:Engineered humans? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18608423)

As do Christians, Muslims, all religions...

Re:Engineered humans? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18608671)

Get back to us when those hordes of Christian terrorists start flying planes into buildings and setting off bombs, champ. Your relativism is stupid.

Re:Engineered humans? (1)

x2A (858210) | more than 7 years ago | (#18609113)

Christians have killed plenty in the name of their religion, and used terror tactics on plenty of non-believers. Maybe different weapons and on different scales, but fundamentally, still the same.

Re:Engineered humans? (1)

jlf278 (1022347) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608517)

"Imagine some terror organization such as Al Qaeda creating a fearless, seven-foot, feel-no-pain specimen...."

Uhm, what does this have to do with the article? And how is it in any way a reasonable or likely downside to innovating such an amazing leap in technology? Alzheimer's in incurable; while a fearless, seven-foot (still confused about that part), feel-no-pain terrorist can just be tasered or shot.

Re:Engineered humans? (1)

ArcticCelt (660351) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608769)

>Imagine some terror organization such as Al Qaeda creating a fearless, seven-foot, feel-no-pain specimen.... Or imagine some corrupt manipulative entity use it to control the population instead like let's say... the government!

Re:Engineered humans? (1)

joshier (957448) | more than 7 years ago | (#18609127)

Well, that's just it... Us humans have advanced so much in technology and science, but we still lack that same advancement in general social order.

It's like a monkey with a gun, he may one day find the trigger, but if he isn't sure what the reason for it is, he may kill himself and/or other monkeys..

We really don't know much at all, and this is especially true for a peaceful social world...
br>War and corruption is the evidence of this.

Re:Engineered humans? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18609153)

Well.. If you believe that Al Qaeda exists (as a real and sophisticated group) - despite all actual evidence to the contrary - then it seems you have already been sufficently programmed via the old school analog method.

Perhaps you should use the internet - instead of the TV - for compiling more accurate data sets.

We should be far more worried about governments - and by extention their highly unregulated Intelligence Agencies - misuing this technology.

But - as with all technologies - we should not fear it simply because of its potential for mis-use.

Re:Engineered humans? (1)

Wingnut64 (446382) | more than 7 years ago | (#18609227)

However, it also presents some less optimistic possibilities: for example, someone might be able to "program" humans as we program computers today. Imagine some terror organization such as Al Qaeda creating a fearless, seven-foot, feel-no-pain specimen....
Heh, the same type of organization that has cost-effective suicide bombers as it's backbone? To be sure, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see 'cyberbrain hacking' a la Ghost in the Shell within my lifetime, but the idea of some terrorist group with 1/100,000th the budget of their enemies making an army of invincible nuclear mutants is just laughable. Besides, it's already possible to 'program' humans to a degree; parents and religions (among others) have been doing it for most of our history.

Re:Engineered humans? (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 7 years ago | (#18609399)

"However, it also presents some less optimistic possibilities: for example, someone might be able to "program" humans as we program computers today."

Not with the current architecture. The easiest* way to program a neural network is trough experience, what we already do and are (mostly) able to perceive.

Now, future architectures may be succeptible to that... We'll have quite a new use for firewalls then.

*By 'easiest' I mean the only way that doesn't need a cumputer several orders of magnitude faster than the one you are programming.

When was the last time you encountered a glitch? (1)

Demon-Xanth (100910) | more than 7 years ago | (#18607933)

"reduce memory loss to nothing more than a computer glitch"

9:32AM? 5 mintues ago? While loading this page...

I'd had to lose my mind as often as the average PC loses it's.

Re:When was the last time you encountered a glitch (2, Funny)

D4rk Fx (862399) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608097)

I'd had to lose my mind as often as the average PC loses it's.
I'd say you already do.

Re:When was the last time you encountered a glitch (2, Funny)

Elemenope (905108) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608321)

No, no, no! Obviously it's the new and highly successful shotgun approach to English grammar! Shotguns are the wave of the future in lingustics; don't you forget!

Let's do it RIGHT this time! (5, Funny)

StefanJ (88986) | more than 7 years ago | (#18607935)

Let's build DRM into those artificial neurons, so that the Man of the Future loses bladder control and convulsively vomits if he tries to access pirated media.

Re:Let's do it RIGHT this time! (4, Funny)

MoodyLoner (76734) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608015)

I must be running a beta.

Or do American Idol and Survivor do that to everybody?

Re:Let's do it RIGHT this time! (1)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608235)

Only those above the sheeple advertiser intelligence index.
(they still on the air even? I remember watching survivor but man it was a long time ago (first season))
-nB

You know..... (5, Funny)

LordPhantom (763327) | more than 7 years ago | (#18607983)

I, for one, welcome our new hyper-intelligent engineered-brain rat overlords! I've also invested in cheese futures.

Is absent mindedness something you can "cure" (4, Insightful)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 7 years ago | (#18607987)

or is it just part of being human, and more importantly, a part of who you are as a person? I exhibit all the signs of adult ADD(lets not go into the debate of whether it is really a disease or not) but I refuse to take personality altering drugs. I may wind up more successful etc. but I lose a fundamental part of who I am. I won't take anti-depressents for the same reason. So I personally fail to see how absent mindedness is something different. Its part of who you are, embrace it!

Re:Is absent mindedness something you can "cure" (1)

Shados (741919) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608049)

Yeah, I agree with you (and I'm about as far from ADD as it gets, so I'm not biaised). The thing really, is that most mental "issues" are simply defined as "Problem XYZ, when XYZ starts being problematic in the person's everyday life". Very, very vague, with no black or white, just an ocean of gray area.

Really, someone with ADD is just someone normal, whom's "Uniqueness" (for lack of better word) is incompatible with sociaty as it is now. The drugs and stuff can be useful, but only in extreme scenarios (in other words, I doubt more than 1/100 person who takes them today really should)

Re:Is absent mindedness something you can "cure" (1)

qwijibo (101731) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608237)

Any quirk's need to be "cured" depends on its impact on the individual. If you have a bunch of symptoms that don't impact you severely enough to be willing to try the drugs, you don't need it. Other people could have more or less severe symptoms, but have a much more negative impact on their lives.

If your absentmindedness can be compensated for by checking several times if you locked the door, turned the water off, etc, it's not a big deal. If you are driving, go to change the radio station and get so caught up with the radio that you forget you're driving, that is likely to be a more severe problem.

Re:Is absent mindedness something you can "cure" (2, Insightful)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608253)

Having seen Alzheimer's in my family, I can tell you that anything that might cure that would be worth it for me. It is the most horrible tragedy to see someone lose a lifetime of memories, it is unthinkable until you see it for yourself how devastating it really is.

Embrace absent-mindedness (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18608307)

Yes, embrace abse... what was that again. Why do I have a crayon in my ha... Ow! I better get this out of my no... Ow!

Re:Is absent mindedness something you can "cure" (1)

Bat Country (829565) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608527)

That's certainly your choice, if you feel your personality is worth preserving at the expense of your usefulness.

Me, I'll take the blue pill and be able to pay attention to my friends when they're talking to me, listen to my boss when he's explaining what he wants me to do, and remember what I was just typing...

Wait, what was I saying?

Is absent mindedness something you can "cure" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18608841)

or is it just part of being human, and more importantly, a part of who you are as a person? I exhibit all the signs of adult ADD(lets not go into the debate of whether it is really a disease or not) but I refuse to take personality altering drugs. I may wind up more successful etc. but I lose a fundamental part of who I am. I won't take anti-depressents for the same reason. So I personally fail to see how absent mindedness is something different. Its part of who you are, embrace it!

(Note to self....Wait a minute, I vaguely remember reading something about "Hardware Implants Mimic Brain Cells" but I can't remember where. I might as well find it and post it on Slashdot because it couldn't possibly be a dupe and it may allow me to express my outrage at it.)

All Things Can Change (1)

EgoWumpus (638704) | more than 7 years ago | (#18609087)

People have been considering these issues for thousands of years; Buddhism is based around the idea of 'mindfulness' - of being able to give the entirety of your attention to one thing (be it a task or a problem or what have you - or nothing at all), to fill your mind with it and not let your mind become distracted by other things. It has even been shown that consistent 'practice' allows you to alter your brain chemistry to something closer to what you want: perhaps the ultimate expression of free will. But not everyone is in a position where they can make a reasonable attempt at that. Depression is a real problem, even if you deny that ADD is. There are many therapies, and I think the one thing anyone can take away from it is that no one solution fixes the problem. People need help over their pain points; sometimes that is cognitive behavioral therapy, and sometimes that is drugs, and sometimes that is them choosing to get over themselves. But all of this is predicated on the idea that you *want* to change; if you don't, then eschewing such options as anti-depressants is probably fine. On the other hand, if you want to change something about yourself you have to remember that change is change; that you are always losing a part of you for a new part of you - be that time, or the 'quiet' part of your personality, or what have you. Personally, I think it's a wonderful thing that a person who is losing hours and days and years of their life to depression can seek a chemical aid to help them regain that time. Indeed, I know plenty of people for whom 'losing part of their personality' is not such a risk, given the opportunity cost of staying depressed, or staying ADD or what have you. We are humans, and as humans we use tools to achieve our ends; sometimes chemical ones. As W. Somerset Maugham said, "If you don't change your beliefs, your life will be like this forever. Is that good news?"

Brain Augmentations.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18608039)

Something makes me think brain augmentations won't have the same appeal as augmentations of other body parts....

Re:Bra!n Augm3ntat10ns.... (1)

sxtxixtxcxh (757736) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608643)

GUARNT33D 2W0 4DD THR33 1NCH3S T0 Y0UR BRA!N

Raises some interesting questions (4, Insightful)

Orange Crush (934731) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608059)

I find the philosophical issues especially interesting. How much of the brain can be replaced before the original "self" no longer exists? I guess it doesn't really matter in the scheme of things so long as the pattern is replicated . . . I guess our brains are constantly gradually replaced throughout our lives--the molecules we were born with aren't necessarily the molecules we're currently made out of.

Re:Raises some interesting questions (5, Interesting)

Tipa (881911) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608129)

It's that old thought experiment -- if you have an axe and you get a new head for it and then later replace the handle, is it the same axe?

Re:Raises some interesting questions (2, Interesting)

brunascle (994197) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608329)

it's more than that, it's also a question of when/if someone loses their sentience/conscious self/soul/whatever you want to call it.

Re:Raises some interesting questions (1)

brunascle (994197) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608387)

to clarify, i'm talking about becoming a robot not just becoming someone else

Re:Raises some interesting questions (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18608519)

No, the axe/computer brain example are exact analogs. It is saying that if you replace a fundamental part of the whole, is the same original whole reclaimed? The only difference is that with humans, our composition is such that we are sentient.

What is interesting about the question is it ponders what constitutes a thing. Assuming there is some "self" is very much akin to the belief in Platonic ideals. I think once we begin creating machines with enough complexity to be sentient we will see a huge drop in the importance of questions such as those posed, since such machines strongly favor a materialistic description of the universe. At this point, the "self" is essentially a wiring of the brain, and memory states, continually changing and essentially continuously mutable and replicable. The natural conclusion is then the absense of a self, since it lacks any defining characteristics.

Great mambo Chicken (1)

bigattichouse (527527) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608145)

See: The Great Mambo Chicken [amazon.com] explores this somewhat.

At what point are you more machine than person?

Re:Great mambo Chicken (4, Funny)

ciaohound (118419) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608493)

At what point are you more machine than person?

Well, if Obi-Wan is any authority on this, I guess it's when you have both arms and legs cut off and you can't live without a breath mask and respirator.

Re:Great mambo Chicken (1)

Bat Country (829565) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608583)

At what point does it matter?

Prosthesis is great, artificial organs are wonderful, and in fact anything which makes my body function better than its stock equipment is OK by me.

I think the only point it'd begin mattering is if the alterations began reducing your capacity to feel emotion.

And a few people could use a little reduction in that department.

Re:Great mambo Chicken (2, Insightful)

Orange Crush (934731) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608919)

This makes me wonder how they'll address the chemical interactions in our brains. What'll happen when large portions of bio-brain have been replaced or augmented by hardware that doesn't respond to or produce neurotransmitters like seratonin or hormones? No sense bolting on silicon if it just turns us into bipolar schizophrenics.

Finally! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18608183)

Now I'll be able to remember where I left the keys to my skycar.

Vista Implant? (1)

shdwtek (898320) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608195)

You have just been given a memory. Cancel or Allow?

I'd call that a feature (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608401)

Imagine you're led to believe to see some nice hot babe reclining on some car and instead you get to see some rather grossly overweight woman (you know, the one you have to roll in flour to find the wet spots)...

Wouldn't it be really a feature if you could simply eliminate that picture from your memory with but a click?

Re:I'd call that a feature (1)

shdwtek (898320) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608507)

Yeah, I had thought it could be used in a positive manner also. It's a bitter sweet thing, perhaps.

Re:I'd call that a feature (1)

jojoba_oil (1071932) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608969)

Haven't you seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?

I think if someone was to simply eliminate images/experiences from their mind, they wouldn't learn from anything. They'd end up repeatedly going back to the grossly overweight woman -- and hell, why not just marry her? I'm sure she has a wonderful personality.

Bender Quote on Considering Move. (1)

srobert (4099) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608249)

"I have a lot of great memories about my place (presses button) and now they're gone."

Fixing something that might not need fixing... (1)

486Hawk (70185) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608331)

Why did I think of this [damninteresting.com] after reading this?

I can have dead brain cells repaired? (3, Funny)

Azathfeld (725855) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608369)

YES! Time to go back off the wagon!

At what point do we cease being human? (2, Interesting)

Giometrix (932993) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608375)

At what point are we no longer human? Our thoughts stem from the firing of neurons. If half of those neurons are computer chips, was it a human thought or a computer generated though. I'm all for finding cures to Alzheimer's disease, but I do not want to be a glorified computer case. I did not read the article (yet), and I realize that the part of the brain discussed in the article is probably different than the creative parts of the brain, but I still think its a valid question; at what point do we stop being human (as we know it)?

it depends... (1)

vena (318873) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608621)

do you define yourself by your fleshy overcoating, or by the thoughts, emotions, and actions you experience and provoke? "human" can be considered purely biological, a species classification, or as the root of philosophical definitions like humanism and humanity (adj). i think there is a problem with your question, though - there is a very big difference between computer generated and stored.

Re:At what point do we cease being human? (1)

Bat Country (829565) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608637)

Wait, you are a Slashdot reader and you'd prefer not to be a glorified computer case?

Shit, half the people here would mod their skull to have a mini-ATX mediacenter, a beer tap, and a glow in the dark USB R2D2 jammed in there if they thought they had better than average odds of survival.

I'm all for replacing my shortcomings with hardware - hell, I do it already.

Why remember anything when you can Google it?

Re:At what point do we cease being human? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608847)

I'm all for finding cures to Alzheimer's disease, but I do not want to be a glorified computer case.


If you would be that with artificial neurons, why are you anything else with natural ones?

Re:At what point do we cease being human? (2, Interesting)

dj_tla (1048764) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608951)

Our thoughts stem from the firing of neurons. If half of those neurons are computer chips, was it a human thought or a computer generated though.

Is there really a difference? Our brains are incredibly complicated, but just because they are biological doesn't mean they're not just computing devices. It may be unsettling to some to believe, but this idea of 'free will,' that we're in control of our minds and can freely choose to do whatever we want is an illusion created by the very brain that tells us what to do. Sure, you can just randomly say "Hey, let's break the monotony!" and jump off a building, exhilarated by the feeling of freedom, but it's all a function of the inputs your brain has received over its lifetime. I have no doubt that, given the same inputs, you would do the same thing all over again.

This also brings up something interesting I remember from classes about computability theory. The halting problem [wikipedia.org] can be expressed as: if a turing machine is given a turing machine as an input, can it determine if the input will finish running? Keeping in mind that a turing machine can simulate another turing machine. If one considers the brain a computing device, like a turing machine, then extending the halting problem metaphor, will we ever be able to reverse-engineer the brain to the point that we can recreate it?

Re:At what point do we cease being human? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18609035)

Read Isaac Asimov's "Bicentennial Man" for excellent commentary on the idea. (I haven't watched the movie so I cannot comment on how well it follows the book). Bicentennial Man [wikipedia.org] [wikipedia.org]

At the very end, the protagonist (the robot) is declared to be human after he goes through a complicated brain transplant (computer-to-human). The resulting operation makes him very weak, and he dies soon after.

Playing the Alzheimers card to get funding? (4, Interesting)

KokorHekkus (986906) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608411)

I don't thing this could be useful for any Alzheimers treatement in a very long time if ever (and we've probably solved it in another way even if it ever gets there).

As I understand it Alzheimers is basically a case of protein misfolding creating amyloid plaques on the neurons and that really screws up the functions (perhaps some with actual medical/biological knowledge can expand on that). Anyway, it's not just one part that you can hot-swap to use a computer term... it's happening all over the affected area. So you're not going to just plop in a new frontal lobe and call that a cure are you?

And yet the researcher goes on and makes a big point of this:

Today an estimated 4.5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's, at an annual cost of some $100 billion, according to the Alzheimer's Association and the National Institute on Aging. "And those figures are just going to climb as my generation gets older," says Berger, who can rattle off the grim statistics from Alzheimer's and other brain disorders that disturb memory. Another 5.3 million Americans are victims of traumatic brain injuries
I do belive that this technology could have many many wonderful uses but that Alzheimers isn't one of them... and by using on of the scariest biggest diseases just to flag down some interest he's doing not only himself but the whole research area a disfavour.

Let's not forget... (1)

petepac (194110) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608425)

...The_Terminal_Man [wikipedia.org] by Michael Crichton.

Mentat inside? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18608433)

Mentat inside?

Use for the opposite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18608459)

Sort of cool, but couldn't be sort of used for the opposite (i.e. forget on demand). Granted the technology is in very early development... suppose, I commit some great, amazing crime. I hit the "Wipe" button. Now, I no longer remember what I did, or where I put the money (until I find the "breadcrumbs" to the money). So I clearly do not remember anything and I can pass a lie-detector test pretty safely.

Another use could be for spies and the like (no better way to send a message than a mental one-time pad).

Sounds sort of like a movie (Bourne Identity).

Re:Use for the opposite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18608733)

Another use could be for spies and the like (no better way to send a message than a mental one-time pad).
Sounds sort of like a movie (Bourne Identity).


More like Johnny Mnemonic.

Some memories need to go away. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18608549)

Do we really want out minds to be cursed with a crystal-clear, never-fading mental image of things like goatse.cx or tub girl? This could give new meaning to the phrase "some things can't be un-seen."

immortality and identity (1)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608561)

Suppose you add artificial neurons to a brain, and remove natural neurons as they die. Eventually, you end up with your mind running entirely on artificial neurons. Is your mind now effectively immortal?

And is it still you? Or a copy of you running on the artificial brain? If it is a copy, when does it cease to be you?

If they can act like neurons.... (2, Interesting)

PotatoHead (12771) | more than 7 years ago | (#18608813)

then, we've got an interesting interface here. Sprinkle a few of these into the motor cortex, then have the person work with feedback systems to learn to differentiate those controls from the natural ones. From there, all sorts of potential exists for communication.

Instead of the computer being an active part of the brain, it becomes more like a PDA that you don't have to carry. Motor feedback signals, generated from the neurons would then become something like morse code.

Would be damn nice to be in a job interview, using Google in real time, while answering the questions with ordinary speech!

Sounds good to me! (1)

Hampton_Comes_Alive (1084219) | more than 7 years ago | (#18609031)

what could possibly go wrong with this? I'm sold.

Obligatory Johnny Mnemonic reference (1)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 7 years ago | (#18609047)

I'm wet-wired for 80 gigs.

I'm tired of /., Cowboy Neal and all...this! *I want ROOM SERVICE*! I want the club sandwich, I want the cold Mexican beer, I want a $10,000-a-night hooker! I want my shirts laundered... like they do... at the Imperial Hotel... in Tokyo.

Lots of research, both ways (1)

L4m3rthanyou (1015323) | more than 7 years ago | (#18609049)

I know Ted Berger, actually. TFA isn't joking about the "spent the last decade" part. He's been working on this stuff for as long as I remember.

Last time I saw him in the news, iirc, he was putting neurons on silicon chips to create functional circuits of some kind. Amazing stuff.

Interesting Timing (5, Insightful)

jfdawes (254678) | more than 7 years ago | (#18609291)

This guy is making chips that can "talk" to the brain in signals the brain can understand, even if he doesn't know what the signals mean. Pure mimicry.

Oddly enough, the people mentioned in Hacking Our Five Senses (Apr-03-2007) [slashdot.org] are using similarly arbitrary but mechanical means to also send signals to the brain (admitedly using existing pathways).

Would it be possible to combine these two techniques, as well as a few miniturization techniques (and perhaps standard "ports") to enable people to not just replace storage capacity but indeed "add" senses?

Instead of using a belt to buzz "north", use implants to send one of a set of predetermined signals. It won't matter what the signals would originally mean (if anything) - because if Hacking Our Five Senses is any indication, the brain is capable of creating maps for the the new signals anyway.

Borg indeed.

Artificial brains? (1)

phorm (591458) | more than 7 years ago | (#18609351)

Quick, install one in a politician, I can nominate a few!

Real Life Ghost in the Shell? (1)

Sinbios (852437) | more than 7 years ago | (#18609355)

Sounds like the beginnings of cyberbrains [wikipedia.org] ... Ghost in the Shell fans, rejoice!

Groundwork for a "backup"? (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 7 years ago | (#18609393)

If we were to create a "backup" of a human mind, this would be were I would start. We liken information to bits in memory or magnetic storage. The [human] brain doesn't really seem to operate on the concepts of stored and retrieved information. The brain actually seems to operate under a concept of recalled processes and pathways. So it's not the content that is as important as the path to getting there if that makes any sense. So in order to backup a brain, you would have to record the configuration of pathways rather than attempt to store "the data" in whatever mysterious means it may be which is bound to be vastly and wildly different from person to person.
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