How justified the hype on the brain to improve?

Despite bold predictions from several tehnokompany on the future neural interfaces, expansion of brain science is still in its infancy. What do scientists think about all this hype, which was coming from Silicon Valley? Mikhail Lebedev, a neuroscientist working on brain-computer interface at Duke University, has recently received a prize of $ 100 000 from the Frontiers of the collection of works on the expansion of the brain, written over the past four years.

How justified the hype on the brain to improve?

The award should help him and his colleagues Iona Oprisu (neuroscientist at the University of Miami) and Manuel Casanova (doctor of the University of South Carolina) assemble an international conference on this subject in the next year. Edition Singularity communicate with Lebedev, to learn about his opinion about the development of this area.

if the hype is justified on neural implants and brain supplement that we see?

In the next 10 years we will see the emergence of realistic prostheses of various kinds and a variety of technologies for the rehabilitation of stroke and spinal cord injury. The way it is described in these high-profile articles - like the fact that people learn to type the power of thought and will receive several million electrodes implanted in the brain - all this will be, but 20 years from now.

I could be wrong, because new technologies are developing rapidly. If 10 years ago it was normal polumillimetrovy insert the electrode into the brain, they now have nanoscale. Of course, the brain activity decoding will long remain a problem. Do we know enough about the cognitive processes and to work with them?

We have a basic understanding. We know that some parts of the brain is more "cognitive" (related to the teaching and learning functions) than others. Therefore, if you want to get more details from the brain, you have to place the electrodes in or on these areas. But the idea of ​​the thoughts we are very mediocre, so I do not think that in the next 10 years we will learn to decode the free-floating thoughts.

What does this mean for hope people use the extension cord ability to communicate with the AI? Whether it is real in the short or medium term?

I think this is more than real, but the first success will come from the augmented reality when you are using your normal feelings that are very good to communicate with the AI. Call it ekzomozgom. Thus, the direct interaction - this is really a good idea, but it is still limited by the number of channels for that pairing. The main problem is that we really do not understand the brain code, so do not know how to make the interface efficient.

But my memory is limited, so the augmented reality glasses would be very by the way, if the AI ​​accompanies me when moving through the environment. Imagine that the computer and the brain work together, it is easy. Therefore, the brain gives examples and the computer is trained, and the brain takes advantage of the computing power of the external device. What kind of addition of the brain can be realized?

Take any brain function, and you can try to supplement it. Among sensory functions can be added to a new sense of brain. For example, you can add a sense of electromagnetic fields, which we usually do not feel, and this is a new feeling. You can place these new sensors on the perimeter of the head, and you get a panoramic vision. Of course, I would first experimented on animals.

You can also try to stimulate certain areas of the brain, but to date the vast majority of the work shows that you can only suppress certain data processing steps rather than improve. However, this inhibition may be useful if you find a use for it. Imagine, for example, that a person decides to certain tasks, and the computer knows the correct answer - why he sends overwhelming momentum in certain areas of the brain and induces him to a definite decision.

What are the main applications of brain supplements?

There are two main branches. First - it is non-invasive device that is easy to implement, and they seem to work. The only problem is that the quality of the signals that they provide is limited. If you look on the electroencephalogram (EEG) system, they are represented by the activity of a large number of neurons, and the most powerful of the EEG recorded during sleep. Thus, all the actions associated with, say, precise motor functions, are very small, and you can not find them on the EEG. In addition, EEG suffer from all kinds of artifacts. Of course, not only EEG devices use noninvasive methods. Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIR) is also very good non-invasive method. It allows you to select certain types of activity, but is very slow.

Potential invasive approaches has not yet been fully implemented. Now we have the opportunity to read, say, 100 neurons. In the future, when we read the millions of neurons, we can think about all the methods of decoding. The main obstacle today is that invasive surgery requires a device implanted in the brain.

What about the pharmacological approaches to expand the abilities of the brain?

Pharmacology is not exactly my strong point, but drugs compilers do wonderful things. They can develop molecules for specific tasks, which can operate for one brain receptor, but not to others, or for one area of ​​the brain, but not others. In principle, all of these methods can be improved and will deal with specific tasks.

You can even modify the brain cells are genetically as in optogenetics, which makes cells sensitive to light. It was not fully implemented, because the possibilities are many. The cells may be sensitive to magnetic fields, stretchability even to mechanical movements, unusual for neurons. Either could be implanted other cells of the body to the brain. Any ideas of science fiction today seem quite feasible. What are the potential drawbacks and disadvantages of brain supplements?

I'm optimistic, so I see mostly pros. We want to improve, we want to become less primitive people. The main disadvantage of all this will probably be the same as that of the drug administration. Let us imagine a man who implants itself in the pleasure center in the brain of the device and a constantly high. It is unlikely that you will like this, but many will attract.

When intervening in the brain of the system of motivation and fun it can be a problem. Immediately presented the military, who are taking under the permanent control of its soldiers. In addition, any brain-computer interface can act as a lie detector. You will notice things that you usually do not want to ignore it or to leave them in the property of others.

There is a danger that access to these technologies is uneven?

This I do not worry, because, of course, rich people first get access to the system expansion functions of the brain. Yes, they are expensive, clumsy and will run poorly. But as technology advances, they will be cheaper, and all have access. So that such problems should not be in a capitalist society.