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Mind-controlled machines: a technological marvel underway

Updated: Mar 16, 2021

Some would consider it a pipe dream to connect the human brain to the internet, to think of a query and automatically download the relevant information. But now, this pipe dream has become a reality. For the past few decades scientists have been working towards restoring replaced function and independence to aid people with disabilities. In fact, they designed a brain implant that goes directly into the motor area of the brain.

In a pioneering clinical trial at Brown University, volunteers were given brain implants to allow them to control devices using solemnly their thoughts.. Today, the academic venture of this pilot clinical trial that we call Brandy, has 13 enrolled participants, who have a sensor placed in their motor cortex. Each of them is able to control the cursor moving on screen. Some of them are even able to control a prosthetic limb or robotic limb moving through space to reach and grab objects. The sensors detect the neural signals associated which are then decoded by a computer in real time.

Participants can immediately control a robotic device, simply by imagining a desired movement. Thus, technology can transform the lives of people with disabilities by enhancing the abilities of the entire human race. The problem, however, is that modern technology can only record the activity of a couple of hundred neurons while our brain contains 85 billion neurons. Listening to all of them in real time has proved an impossible challenge for neuroscientists.

The costs of these discoveries, however, are tremendous. The brain initiative aiming to find new ways to map the activity of an entire brain, led by neuroscientist Professor Rafael,

is a $6 billion fund. Brian Johnson founded “Connell”, a neural interface startup, with $100 million of his own money. Byan Johnson, however, is not alone in this dream. Elon Musk’s latest company, NeuroLink, has funded this project as it endeavors to enhance humans by connecting them to computers.

As Barack Obama said: “the research gained powerful backing there’s this mystery waiting to be unlocked. The brain initiative will change that by giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action and better understand how we think and how we learn and how we were remembering”. That is why the funding and support of this endeavor is extremely important. It wouldn't just further human knowledge on the function of our body but aid the ones in need.

Still, If we allow the Internet into our minds, what’s stopping it from reading the thoughts we’d rather keep private? This is much worse than data privacy. We’re referring to the content of our minds. If we discover how to enhance our intelligence, who gets to go first? It’s all these ethical questions that keep pace with advancing technology. Building our mind could radically transform society but some argue that the transformation is already underway and if we don’t use machines to improve ourselves we risk being left behind.

If superhuman intelligence is created in the future, humanity will gain a lot as long as it handles the situation carefully.


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