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Brains on a Chip 64

Posted by michael
from the pass-the-onion-dip-and-salsa dept.
jhouserizer writes "The New Scientist magazine has an article reporting on new advances in keeping brain tissue alive (and working) on a "chip", with electrodes that can monitor the brain activity. Could this be a step toward computers that can learn as humans learn?"
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Brains on a Chip

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  • byebye body (Score:2, Funny)

    by Inominate (412637)
    So when can I have my brain removed and bolted directly into my computer?

    Who needs holographic displays, or high quality speakers when it's all piped directly into your mind?.
    • Digital rights management sure would suck though.
      • by Tablizer (95088)
        Digital rights management sure would suck though.

        All the porn stars are gonna copyright their bodies, and bill you everytime you fantasize about them.
        • All the porn stars are gonna copyright their bodies, and bill you everytime you fantasize about them.

          And the RIAA will charge you through the nose whenever you get a song stuck in your head. ;-)
  • The future? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FosterSJC (466265) on Thursday October 17, 2002 @07:25PM (#4474428)
    This can't really be the future of computing can it? I mean, we all are aware of the biggest difference between computers and thu human brain. Humans have great pattern recognition, while computers have great calculating/processing powers. Slicing pieces of brain and attaching them to chips hardly seems likely to enhance either the brain's computational ability or the chip's recognizing abilities. If anything, this is a step forward in facilitating communications between man and machine. I could see uses in reversing paralysis, but thought-upgrades or what have you are a long way off.
    • Re:The future? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Myco (473173) on Friday October 18, 2002 @09:25AM (#4477783) Homepage
      You're being too literal here -- assuming that the end result will look just like a particular intermediate step. Nobody's saying we're going to build computers out of brain tissue. Well, maybe somebody is but that's not the point.

      In order to potentially imitate the human brain, we still need to learn a lot more about it. Since there's no manpage for the brain, it's a black-box problem and we have to reverse engineer it by trying various combinations of inputs and outputs (as well as analyzing the physical structure, of course). This new technique allows us to do so more effectively, hence improves our ability to understand. That's all.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 17, 2002 @07:33PM (#4474473)
    Replace the neurons one by one with an equivalent electrical doodads until the whole kaboodle is machine. Then you'll be effectively immortal, unless you skimped and purchased from the Shack or something.
    • "I'm sorry, sir, our warranties don't cover that."

      "Well shit, I guess that means I'm dead."

      I'm sorry, but someone would just plain have to get screwed. Actually, almost everyone would dave to. Imagine the kind of control that could be exerted onto someone whom humans designed and manufactured.

      "Good afternoon, sir. All your cyber-organs are belong to us."

    • In other news, a man was zapped to death today when he ran around his home for two hours in woolen socks, and then reached for his doorknob...

      It is completely impossible to say anything intelligent or enlightening in a space this size, excep
  • Who will it be? (Score:3, Informative)

    by silicon_synapse (145470) on Thursday October 17, 2002 @07:34PM (#4474477)
    Well this brain tissue will have to come from somewhere. If it comes from humans, we could have the same issues as with stem cell research. If it comes from animals (more likely) PETA will defecate copious amounts of brick
  • "The New Scientist magazine has an article reporting on new advances in keeping brain tissue alive (and working) on a "chip", with electrodes that can monitor the brain activity. Could this be a step toward computers that can learn as humans learn?"

    Not quite, The scientists are really just developing a a way for keeping your brain alive while watching TELEVISION!
  • forget blade servers, gimme a rack full of these.
  • Being able to send instructions to a computer hardwired to your brain.
    • What about the interface? Microsoft wont allow anything REMOTELY related to computers being used without an OS, Preferably theirs. Its a vicious circle I tell you. Back to the Linux Windows war, not even mentioning cross ubgrade issues between different manufacturers... "Sorry sir, your MS BRAIN professional is currently unlicenced, well have to confiscate your brain..." ps: computer viruses in your BRAIN !!!
  • Oh contraire. (Score:2, Interesting)

    Could this be a step toward computers that can learn as humans learn?

    No, it's a step towards brains that feel as computers feel.
  • by Deanasc (201050) on Thursday October 17, 2002 @09:42PM (#4475271) Homepage Journal
    I've been trying to find something, anything on this breakthrough besides a press release. It sounds like cutting edge neuroscience but I haven't found anything peer-reviewed in any of the journals. I leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions.
    • by Alik (81811) on Friday October 18, 2002 @09:38AM (#4477878)
      That's because it's not a breakthrough, it's commercialization of stuff that's been done in the academic labs for a couple years. Amazingly, it *does* take time to go from neat idea to marketable product. Electrode arrays can be a real bitch to fabricate.

      See:

      Biosensors & Bioelectronics 16:527-33
      Brain Research Protocols 2(4):229-42
      Journal of Neuroscience Methods 101(1):31-42
      Journal of Neuroscience Methods 114(2):135-48

      Plus, as the other poster mentioned, Jerry Pine's work. However, AFAIK, Pine's no longer working on that project, having found other interests. Pity, because the neurowells (as noted by Peter Fromherz in the New Scientist article) give the kind of single-unit interface that might be very desirable. I know that my group is planning to use similar approaches.
      • just out of curiosity...has anyone done a realistic model of a single neuron ? or at least a complete emulation of a single neuron in software ? that includes all the growth and electrical/chemical effects ?
        i check minduploading.org (MURG list at http://minduploading.org/mailman/listinfo/murg) but they dont seem to have accurate models.
        • Including all growth and electrical/chemical effects is not yet possible, because they are not yet all known. Furthermore, knowing all of them would probably tell us that there's no such thing as a generic neuron model; each cell has a very specialized gene expression profile that near-optimizes it for its role in the network. It may be that this can be reduced to expressing a neuron as a function of some hundred-odd parameters (as a guess), but it is not yet clear what the controlling parameters are.

          The MURG question of computational modeling of the human brain is a very open problem with no solution in sight. I was not familiar with them, but they do at least seem to be composed of people with useful technological skills. It'll be interesting to see if they come up with anything cool.
  • Anybody remember that episode of Star Trek, "The Perfect Computer"? Or Emerson Lake and Palmer's "Karn Evil 9 (third impression)" and the last verse thereof?

    Counter to my previous idea of a beowulf cluster of these, is anybody even remotely concerned about the possible outcome? Frankly, I'm scared shitless.

    • Well.. It has possibilities though!

      First... If you got a shitty job, you can put your brain in "autopilot"-mode, and watch television yourself while your at work.

      This autopilot could ofcourse also be programmed to handle domestic problems... Now thats a use! (-:

  • by rotwhylr (618309) on Thursday October 17, 2002 @10:15PM (#4475457)
    The LAST thing we should want is a computer that learns like a human. With my luck I'll probably buy one that complains about homework and gets F's before dropping out of school and mooching off me for life.
  • by WhiteChocolate42 (618371) on Friday October 18, 2002 @01:51AM (#4476483)
    YOUR TOWN- In a related story, several zombies broke into a local CompUSA, chanting "Braaaaaains" and licking every processor in sight.
  • "Everything tastes great when it sits and a Ritz"
  • Man, I hate it when my nice, clean, acedemic world of Computer Science gets involved in messy ethical problems.

    Science needs to keep a handle on what's right and wrong. I'm not saying this shouldn't be researched, but I would hate to see this become an industry.

  • Sounds like something Hanibal Lector maight cook up.
  • What about the interface? Microsoft wont allow anything REMOTELY related to computers being used without an OS, Preferably theirs. Its a vicious circle I tell you. Back to the Linux Windows war, not even mentioning cross upgrade issues between different manufacturers... "Sorry sir, your MS BRAIN professional is currently unlicenced, well have to confiscate your brain..." ps: computer viruses in your BRAIN !!!
  • I fried up the brain on my AMD Thunderbird and toasted it with a nice chiante'. **slurping noises**


  • The article is about medical applications, NOT computing. This doesn't have anything to do with computing. The researchers have found a way to keep larger portions of the brain alive so they can monitor the effects of psychoactive drugs. This may lead to new avenues of research for Alzheimers, Parkinsons, ALS, and many mental disorders. The chip is actually a tiny EEG. The first product is targeted to be an anti-anxiety drug.

    I think the most interesting aspect of this story is the living consciousness aspect. Can this piece of brain (or pieces intercommunicating) which is biologically active, become self-aware? Although these experiments have only been done on rats, if it were human brain tissue, would it be "alive" in an ethical, moral, or legal sense? These questions are probably several years away from being relevant, but is there any doubt we are heading down that road?
  • "..for each side the only acceptable outcome was the complete elimination of the other."

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