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Scientists Develop Brain-Microchip Bridge 118

Posted by samzenpus
from the man-and-machine dept.
dreampod writes "Canadian scientists have developed a microchip capable of monitoring the electrical and chemical communication channels between individual neurons. This is the first time scientists have been able to monitor the interaction between brain cells on such a precise and subtle level. In addition to providing the ability to see more easily the impact of drugs on various mental disorders during testing, this provides one of the first fundamental steps towards real mind-machine interface."
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Scientists Develop Brain-Microchip Bridge

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  • singularity (Score:2, Funny)

    by laktech (998064)
    I'll be looking forward to discuss these developments at the Singularity Conference this weekend!
  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Wednesday August 11, 2010 @10:22PM (#33224240) Homepage Journal

    TFA is vague but it looks like the cells in question are being kept alive outside the organism. I suppose this could be adapted into an implantable device, but cochlear implants almost do that anyway.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by catbutt (469582)
      Cochlear implants go the opposite direction. Cochlear implants are like speakers, this is like a microphone.
      • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Wednesday August 11, 2010 @10:47PM (#33224386) Homepage Journal

        Cochlear implants go the opposite direction. Cochlear implants are like speakers, this is like a microphone.

        Thats true but the important thing here is the interface, which works both ways. This device may have more resolution though, and it seems precise enough to talk to individual neurons, rather than nerve cells.

        • by catbutt (469582) on Wednesday August 11, 2010 @10:58PM (#33224466)
          Well I'm not sure what you mean by nerve cells vs. neurons (they are the same thing, by my understanding), but for every neuron there might be 1000 synapses, so that might be what you mean. I couldn't tell from the story, though.
          • Well I'm not sure what you mean by nerve cells vs. neurons (they are the same thing, by my understanding), but for every neuron there might be 1000 synapses, so that might be what you mean. I couldn't tell from the story, though.

            The difference, I think, is that nerve cells are more isolated than neurons in the brain. So for a nerve you can use a large detector to isolate a signal but to get meaningful data from nerve cells (neurons) in a mass of neurons you need high resolution.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Sorry, they're the same thing. Neuron == nerve == nerve cell. A neuron consists of a cell body (the prokaryon), one axon (outgoing signal), and one or more dendrites (incoming). They connect to each other from axon to dendrite, at links called synapses. The signal is propagated by very high-resolution, high-frequency balancing and shifting ion gradients.

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                Actually, a nerve is not the same thing as a neuron (or "nerve cell" if you like). Nerves are bundles of axons extending from the neurons that travel to and from the sensory/muscle systems to the nervous system. For example, we have 12 cranial nerves [wikipedia.org] and about 30 spinal nerves [wikipedia.org].
        • by icebike (68054)

          But I'm not all that sure a single neuron is a reasonable long term target for such a device. After all that neuron could die just when you need it most, (or after a few stiff drinks).

          Also, I'm not sure a human can fire a single given neuron in the brain with any precision when (and only when) desired.

          I would expect that further research could allow clusters of these sensors to monitor small regions of the brain and detect when that region was fired in a specific way, (as opposed to some random triggering

          • by Low Ranked Craig (1327799) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @12:10AM (#33224864)

            (or the flaps, ailerons, engines, and missiles)

            Yes, but you have to think in Russian

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by catbutt (469582)
            Sure, but the idea is to monitor thousands or even millions of them....at least if you are planning on doing the kinds of sci-fi-ish things we'd like to do. The issue here is what resolution are we working at. Current technology is several orders of magnitude less than neuron level. Neuron level (or even higher, synapes level) would be good, even if each individual neuron may not be giving a lot of info. (just as every pixel in an image doesn't have a lot of info)

            Whether we can ever do it, and whethe
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by ozmanjusri (601766)
            I'm sure the keyboard and mouse have a few years left before people start drilling holes in their head for sensors.

            Sigh.

            You should have told me that 10 minutes ago...

      • So, you hook them together and you can hear your own thoughts!

  • Read the small print (Score:5, Informative)

    by arth1 (260657) on Wednesday August 11, 2010 @10:22PM (#33224242) Homepage Journal

    Before jumping on this, read the small print.
    They take out a piece of brain tissue, and implant it into the machinery, not the other way around. I'm not sure about you guys, but that kind of interface doesn't seem too useful to me, although it could be useful for diagnosis.

    • by catbutt (469582) on Wednesday August 11, 2010 @10:39PM (#33224344)
      I think it's what is known as "an important first step". That is, having communication between neurons and electronics. Once you've done that, it is another (admittedly large)step to make it practical.

      Obviously, it's harder to do in a living organism, so you work out certain details in a test tube, so to speak.
    • I think there is a gap in medicine. You have scientists, technicians (doctors) but few engineers. If there were medical engineers they could take a device like this and package it for implantation. One obvious application would be an electronic bridge between two bunches of nerve cells.

    • by icebike (68054) on Wednesday August 11, 2010 @11:23PM (#33224608)

      Before jumping on this, read the small print.
      They take out a piece of brain tissue, and implant it into the machinery, not the other way around. I'm not sure about you guys, but that kind of interface doesn't seem too useful to me, although it could be useful for diagnosis.

      I rather suspect if it were the other way around, (implants for arbitrary interfaces) there would be a bit of a hue and cry. Especially when human subjects are discussed.

      Its the safe way to do the research without attracting the attention of political or religious groups.

      Its pretty patently clear that implantation is the ultimate goal, and this opens a whole can of worms best left unopened while the research is young.

      • by causality (777677) on Wednesday August 11, 2010 @11:55PM (#33224786)

        Its pretty patently clear that implantation is the ultimate goal, and this opens a whole can of worms best left unopened while the research is young.

        Yeah, we'll keep it under the radar and let it gather lots of momentum, entrench itself in terms of research thus far invested, and then we'll spring open that can of worms. Surely that will avert the controversy concerning brain implants!

      • yes, a can of worms would be open if you went against god! If god intended you to have chips in your brain, you would be born with them! just like speaking and writing!

        mbrlkjhjakd!

      • by Jedi Alec (258881)

        I rather suspect if it were the other way around, (implants for arbitrary interfaces) there would be a bit of a hue and cry. Especially when human subjects are discussed.

        Besides, even if the technology cannot be made small enough for an inconspicuous implant, I reckon there's plenty of folks willing to wear a funky looking helmet/contraption on their heads if that means being able to send electrical impulses to their paralyzed lower body.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Falconhell (1289630)

      Benji mouse :"It has to be prepared"

      Mouse 2: "Diced, We will replace it with an artificial brain, no-one will notice.

      Arthur Dent :"I will"

      Benji mouse: No you wont you will be programmed not to!"

    • by Barny (103770)

      Ever read Anne McCaffrey brain/brawn books?

      Being able to remove a full brain, keep it on life support (the next step) and interface it to a computer would be rather useful I would have thought :)

    • You know, I've often wondered why we don't join some of our existing technologies together and get on with things. I know it may not be as simple as it sounds, but we have this tech already:

      http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/54170/title/Let_there_be_light [sciencenews.org]
      (Allows for manipulation of neurons with light)

      http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nl051811%2B [acs.org]
      http://nanotechweb.org/cws/article/tech/41146 [nanotechweb.org]
      (Nanoscale OLED displays)

      http://www.egmrs.org/EJS/PDF/vo281/1.pdf [egmrs.org]
      http://www.azonano.com/news.asp?newsID=6802 [azonano.com]
      (N

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        We have peanut butter, jelly and bread. Why can't we get this all together to make a sandwich?

        Becausw we're not American and it would make us sick?

      • by Dekker3D (989692)

        If the light could both be from the mechanical AND the biological side, you'd have quite a bit of confusion. You want different kinds of signals for input and output.

    • by Syberz (1170343)

      They take out a piece of brain tissue, and implant it into the machinery

      Didn't they use semi-organic components in the computer (gelpacks I think) in Star Trek? I seem to recall an episode when the organic components of the computer caught a virus (real one, not computer) and that borked the systems of the ship.

      So yeah, my point is that using organic components in a computer seemed to achieve a rather important purpose in Star Trek so it stands to reason that what we are learning here could be useful.

  • Vampire Plug (Score:1, Interesting)

    What I really want is a vampire plug that sits on my optic nerve(s) and captures everything I see and records it to a hard drive. I would like it to automatically tag timestamps with my thoughts at the time, but that can wait for version 2.0.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by arth1 (260657)

      What I really want is a vampire plug that sits on my optic nerve(s) and captures everything I see and records it to a hard drive.

      The Man would like you to have that too. I mean, if you have nothing to hide, why would you possibly be against it?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by master5o1 (1068594)

      The only thing a Vampire plug would enable you to do is sparkle.

    • What I really want is a vampire plug that sits on my optic nerve(s) and captures everything I see and records it to a hard drive.

      Don't watch any vampire movies in this state, or one or more MPAA members will try to slay you.

  • Chemical dialogue (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mevets (322601) on Wednesday August 11, 2010 @10:31PM (#33224300)

    I thought this sort of thing was quite difficult, without vapourizing the tissue and dropping it into a mass spectrometer. I know CSI can drop a grain of goop into a breadmaker and have it pinpoint every compound, dna profile and isotope distribution in a few seconds, but I kinda guessed that was a TV-ish thing.

    The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. - GB Shaw

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The device in question does not measure chemical signals directly. It measures the flow of ions "in" and "out" (through the membrane) of individual neurons. When one neuron communicates with a second neuron, typically the source neuron releases a chemical (neurotransmitter) onto the target neuron, where receptors sense the chemical and in response open ion channels (pores in the membrane). Ions (such as sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium) then pass through these channels, changing the potential difference

  • The soul (Score:1, Insightful)

    by WarJolt (990309)

    I wonder if 100% of the brain is monitored and analyzed if somewhere in there we will finally find a soul.

    • I wonder if 100% of the brain is monitored and analyzed if somewhere in there we will finally find a soul.

      I take the opposing view. Once we model all of a working mind I think we will be surprised to find out little is going on there in reality.

    • I take the view that the universe is 4-dimensional, but only on a microscopic (or smaller) scale; an atom or molecule or even something smaller (quantum sized) might have a depth or "space" attached to it (which can be altered by manipulations/chemistry), but unless you can combine and expand these spaces with extremely small, precise mechanisms (cells), there is no way to make it workably large. Once you have a large cellular network, though, it may be possible.

      So more or less, I theorize that we have no

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by guyminuslife (1349809)
        I take the view that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively; life is just a dream and we are all imaginations of ourselves.

        Here's Tom with the weather.
        • Seems more like a gaia dreaming of her father. How else do you explain the complete and utter superiority of women coupled with the ubiquitous nonsensical dominance of the tragic male figure?

          That being said, you sound like a kook, homeboy!!! Keep on. ;)

        • by DryGrian (1775520)
          Moderated +1 Bill Hicks Reference, 3 points left.
    • by tehcyder (746570)

      I wonder if 100% of the brain is monitored and analyzed if somewhere in there we will finally find a soul.

      No, and when we don't all the religionists will just say that it's not a physical object or process, so they never expected to find it anyway.

      • by dgower2 (1487929)

        We already believe that because the bible said it thousands of years ago. Please, continue to expose your complete lack of knowledge regarding Christianity (which in not "religion" to true Christians).

        It's not the brain that causes a husband to make sacrifices for his wife and children; when I wrap my arms around my beautiful wife and tell her that I missed her, it wasn't my brain that caused that; when someone finds a wallet full of cash and returns it to its owner with the same amount of cash in it, it's

  • xkcd (Score:1, Funny)

    by Luke Wilson (1626541)
    obligatory xkcd [xkcd.com]
  • sounds cool where are the Bionic arms and legs?

  • With individual brain cells you won't get anything close to that. Even trying at will of doing something, probably won't be very useful, will be more like getting slow binary signals or morse code. And raising the number of cells should be not help, your concience just works at another level, would be like hiting with a building a touchscreen of the size of the iphone.
    • by catbutt (469582)
      True, but take a look at a relay or vacuum tube of 75 years ago, compared to a silicon transistor today. That's about where we are with this stuff.

      My guess is that a lot of information goes from one side of the brain to the other via the corpus callosum, and if you could monitor just that traffic (which is still massive), you could gather a lot. Making sense of it is a different matter. I don't think its unreasonable to think that they might be able to do it in 100 years though.
  • A bridge allows passage both ways, this allows the machine to read the cells, the other problem seems to be it applies to cells outside the brain, although I suppose an implant is the next step.
  • Ah we'll see something like Interface (ISBN: 0553372300) is just a few short year. Kinda like fusion as a practical source of electricity...

  • Imortality (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jbssm (961115) on Wednesday August 11, 2010 @11:03PM (#33224498)

    I believe this will be an easier way to immortality than any genetic treatment.

    If you think about, from the moment on that you can store you memories and later thoughts in a chip, just like you do in your brain, how can you distinguish between what goes on in your biological brain and digital one? Where is the barrier?

    I know we are still far from that time. Perhaps decades at the best, but just think about the philosophic implications of that and how the concept of life, intelligent life and humanity will need to be re-defined.

    It's a "brave new world".

    • by JWSmythe (446288)

      A person is a sum of their memories from birth to present. Every moment is training us to be who we are, intentionally or otherwise. Through every seemingly unrelated event, we become the person who we are.

      If the memories and the relationships we form between those memories and the way things work, are recorded precisely and could be transferred to another body, we would achieve immortality. More precisely, each generation these memories are transferred to would be an extens

      • Imagine being locked in a tank, where you are fed intravenously. You cannot see anything but blackness. You cannot hear anything except the steady rhythm of a machine.

        One plot point in Mr. Holland's Opus is that the human womb transmits sound. It's low-pass filtered, but it's enough to make human babies react differently [birthpsychology.com] to the rhythms and tone contours of the mother's language than to those of a foreign language.

        Any attempts to escape are countered by the fact that the tank you are in is padded where you cannot breach it

        This study [drmomma.org] claims that the child's lungs send the birth signal when the child is ready to escape.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        What you guys are missing is that everyone's synapses connect differently, and no two paople have the same number of neurons; even identical twins'. You would first have to have an exact duplicate of your brain, both structurally and chemically, before you could transfer your memories and have the new being be you.

  • I, for one, welcome our microchipped brainiac overlords.

  • Opponents of "socialized medicine" argue that capitalism is necessary for cutting-edge medical research, here is an example of the opposite.

    • by dreampod (1093343)

      Though it may come as a surprise if you had listened to the republicans lately but Canada is actually a capitalist society and while we 'socialize' the cost of it, the fact of the matter is it is good solid capitalist sense to do so because we pay vastly less for better outcomes and manage to cover everyone simultaneously.

      However the research for this project is out of the University of Calgary and is not funded by our health care system but through the standard mix of research grants, university funds, and

  • I forget if it was a Shadowrun book, or a William Gibson novel, but one of the protagonists had been captured, and the bad guys had cheerfully plugged THEIR equipment into the hero's skull jack. Think "A Clockwork Orange", only without the need for eyedrops.

    You really don't want an implant that can allow someone to root your brain.

  • by countertrolling (1585477) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @01:12AM (#33225114) Journal

    Another Bridge to Nowhere...

  • ...to study these devices under varying physical conditions...say, a determinate study to isolate the fractional conductivity effects of Grey Goose vs. Jägermeister...
  • Get 535 of these ready for implant and equipped with a basic math & econ101 enhancement module and send them on your fastest aircraft along with a team of implant technicians to Washington DC.

    Stat!!

  • I for one (Score:2, Funny)

    by speculatrix (678524)
    I for one welcome our new implanted-micro-chip-augmented human overlords.
  • I have always been most curious on what impact direct machine brain interfaces would have on Human communication. If we can communicate thought, feeling, and memory at the speed of light where is the barrier between you and I? Where do I stop and you begin? Would the direct connection of billions of humans to one another form a self aware super intelligence?

    There are times where I feel this may be our only chance at survival as a race. If we don't unify to the point where each one of us sees that harming
  • I'm a tinfoil hat wearing freak on my worst days, but any fear of this project is trumped by my William Gibson fanboy-isms and my desire to keep my career moving long after Carpal Tunnel Syndrome cripples my hands. In all seriousness - does this announcement constitute a good reason to start working on the scaffolds for a new DNI-based X desktop?
  • I sure wish that we could get more insight as to what it monitors and how we can use that to our advantage...brain chemistry being a big part in so many brain illnesses, i think sometimes it may well be the door to a healthier tomorrow...as well, making a chip interface to hook up to your computer is finally here...count me in...

  • This could eventually lead to direct neural interaction with the Internet (or its future outgrowth, the Metaverse)... Beware of the Snow Crash [wikipedia.org]

He: Let's end it all, bequeathin' our brains to science. She: What?!? Science got enough trouble with their OWN brains. -- Walt Kelly

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