In today’s fast-evolving world, BCIs to address tomorrow’s challenges

Original article can be found here (source): Artificial Intelligence on Medium

In today’s fast-evolving world, BCIs to address tomorrow’s challenges

Way faster, more adaptable, how BCIs may help us to respond to perceived changes in our environment? Neurotechnology promises to push off the limits of what humans could achieve with ‘nano chips’, a generic term that may well open up different realities. The value of brain machine interfaces (BCIs) is obvious: of course we’re thinking of reactivating certain areas of the brain that have become deficient with age or due to neurodegenerative diseases. But why not also connect and stimulate certain areas of the brain with these ‘chips’ to unlock new abilities? Science fiction’s already featured how BCIs could play a major role, not only in the evolution towards ‘augmented human’, but even up to a radical change and what might our species look like in a few decades… A glimpse that makes sense when we look up to the stars, and in a future where other planets would become inhabited. BCIs are still at an early development stage. So where are we now? And what might take shape in the future…

Glasses and virtual worlds

In order to create interface between humans and machines, it all starts with the obvious link, that of electrical activity of the brain. That’s the option chosen by Facebook and a team of researchers funded by the firm aimed at mind reading; one could say a kind of telepathy. This is why the algorithms have the mission of translating electrical activity into words, the expression we know and share for thought. Recording of neural activity is done by implants, and then decoded by AI. Apart from the fact that the method is intrusive, experts in neurology have one criticism: The implant is put in the cortical area. The brain is a complicated system that runs its code in a network to process a result. The researchers’ team has in mind the creation of augmented reality glasses with sensors and controlled by thought.

This is a most interesting perspective on several levels: The eye, ours, would be at the heart of the interface. This is thanks to its ‘camera’ configuration: it’s there that images are formed as a result of the brain’s processing. A nod to science fiction, which for a long time has imagined the role the eye could play: From ‘Blade Runner’ in the lifespan of replicants’ program, to ‘Westworld’ (the book) or ‘Altered Carbon’ – AIs can build ‘constructs’ that can be seen as virtual particle space-time units, this with their eye and in interaction with the machine.

Back to reality and what could make us ‘improving’: The eye would become 3D pictures interface. The shaping of pictures in our mind is faster than words, and non-linear, and therefore would provide richer information, as in a hologram. Equipped with their sensors, RV glasses would have the role of a transmission/reception device between the brain and machines.

Not to mention social function – we’re talking about Facebook – of possible interactions between new human-tech hybrids (cyborg sounds so old school one), this to make new friends for example.

AI: Closer encounter of the 3rd type

Another path is to achieve interaction between the brain and AI in its multifaceted (body) envelopes – and by implication, interaction from within. This is the way chosen by Elon Musk and his company Neuralink. A first device has been presented: that of an implant behind the ear with a network of filaments equipped with electrodes, which are deployed not in one but several areas of the brain. The advantage in its principle over similar systems is using gold for the electrodes, which is almost unalterable and highly conductive, and above all miniaturization. Applications in the medical field for severe degeneration or robotic prosthesis control seem to be the most obvious in the short term. However, Neuralink’s stated goal is to achieve symbiosis between humans and AI.

Expanding our vision much further into the future, what extrapolation could be made on the basis of this neural lace system? A few months ago, scientists succeeded in developing mini-brains in laboratory, from stem cells, whose complexity would be the same as that of a 3-month-old fetus. The study reports that ‘current cultures are already isomorphic with respect to the structure and activity of the sensitive brain in critical areas’. Computer models by Elan Ohayon of the Green Neuroscience Laboratory, who’s conducted research with his team, suggest the possible development of mini-brains with sensitivity and consciousness. Hybridization in the future between ‘human’ body parts and robotic body parts (prostethics) or parts from synthetic biology seems probable.

Could a configuration such as the one Neuralink has started to feature be the missing link to connect organoids or hybrid system in a humanoid shape?

A (glowing) worm…

If we have a look years ahead, computers will no longer be only the so-called classical, binary ones, but we’ll also have to deal with quantum ones. For nano chips, other types of material could come into play, such as diamond metalens i-e nanostructured diamonds with defects inside, which are already being produced to make qubits. Their diameter is that of hair, about 30 microns.

In an attempt to extrapolate what’s already possible, my path crossed that of a tiny creature: a worm-like bacterium – Magnetospirillum Magneticum. Studies have pointed out how the interaction between bacteria and liquid crystal contributes to the creation of something new, where bacteria are given new optical, physical and electrical abilities. What’s special about ‘Magneto’ is that when it ingests iron, it produces nano crystals, powerful mineral magnetite, which can bear different polarities. Electrical connection could be made by mixing human proteins and cell membranes grown in the laboratory.

This system – simply injectable – could play the role of ‘information relay’ (organic satellite) in the interaction between the brain and AIs. ‘Glowing’ one isn’t because it emits light, but because it could receive light. We may think of magnetic memories that are boosted by lasers. We could imagine encoding information in ‘Magneto’ by an equivalent principle.

In our objective to improve abilities, to stimulate, to be compatible with the functioning of AI, and for building large scale communication networks, ‘Magneto’ could prove to be a prime candidate.

Who knows, maybe one day we’ll not have just one brain-machine interface but several? …

Picture: PIRO4D.