In 1924, exactly at the end of the Qing Dynasty and the beginning of the Republic of China, Lenin passed away. The Soviet people renamed Saint Petersburg Leningrad to commemorate this revolutionary leader. In the same year, in the Soviet Union’s hostile country during World War I-Germany, a doctor named Hanks Berger discovered for the first time a sign in the human brain-the EEG signal .
Through EEG signals, activities in the brain can be converted into electronic signals for reading, and at this point, people have found a way to obtain information from the mysterious brain.
At that time, Hanks Berg may not have realized that, based on his findings, a few decades later, top laboratories around the world would explore something called the “brain-computer interface.”
“The Matrix” constitutes people’s initial imagination of the brain-computer interface. The protagonists in the movie are connected to the computer through the interface behind the brain and enter the virtual world.
People living today will say that if the core of artificial intelligence is to make computers have the ability to understand and understand like humans, then the “brain-computer interface” may make humans themselves stronger.
This “stronger” may be to restore the disabled to normal, may be super human, or even eternal life.
The Pandora’s Box has been opened
Back in 1969, a monkey became the first experimental object of the brain-computer interface, which marked the formal formation of the brain-computer interface technology. Soon after, the US National Defense Research Agency quickly established a research team on brain-computer interface technology, and the importance attached to it by the National Machine is evident.
However, for the next 40 years, the brain-computer interface, as an extremely avant-garde technology, did not leave the laboratory. Looking at this technology today, it is still very advanced. Scientists at that time struggled to explore how to connect the human brain to the computer. After accumulating small progresses again and again, in 2009, Professor Theodore Berger of the University of Southern California conducted an experiment. He put a chip capable of nerve recording and stimulation in the brain of a mouse.
Then, he put the mouse in the cage, and if he went to eat the left, he would call it. Later, the mouse would stop eating the left and choose the right. Slowly, the mouse began to eat to the right automatically, proving that it had a memory.
Later, Musk’s company did a similar brain-computer interface experiment with mice | Neuralink
Subsequently, Theodore Berger put this chip from this mouse into the brain of another mouse who had never been to this experimental scene. As a result, the mouse automatically ran to the right to eat, never to the left.
This means that memory can be transplanted, from one mouse to another. So, what if the subject of the experiment is a human?
An American businessman named Bryan Johnson was very interested in this. He thought, if memory can be transplanted, can consciousness be transplanted as well?
The American philosopher of science Hillary Putnam once proposed a hypothesis called “brain in a tank”: If the brain is immersed in a tank filled with nutrient solution, the nerve endings of the brain are connected to the computer. The computer continuously sends information to the brain, including information such as “feeling”, then the brain will think that it lives in the real world.
Hilary Putnam in his book “Reason, Truth, and History” puts forward the hypothesis of his “brain in a jar” | wikimedia
Bryan Johnson thought that if human consciousness could be transplanted into a water tank, like the “brain in a tank”, would human beings have achieved eternal life in a certain sense?
Perhaps with such expectations, Bryan Johnson found Professor Theodore Berger to co-found the brain-computer interface startup Kernel in 2016. In the same year, Neuralink, a brain-computer interface company invested by Elon Musk, was also established in a low-key manner. Musk said, “If you can’t beat the machine, then it becomes a machine.”
At the same time, researchers at Stanford University succeeded in connecting a monkey to a computer via a brain-computer interface for “idea typing” – 12 per minute.
It was also during this period that in addition to the aforementioned companies that adopted invasive solutions, BrainCo, a brain-computer interface team born at Harvard University, also tried to bring the “non-invasive brain-computer interface” technology into the field of daily consumer electronics. As the name implies, “non-invasive brain-computer interface” means that there is no need to open a chip hole in the brain, but the sensitivity will be weaker than that of the invasive brain-computer interface.
The Pandora’s Box of the brain-computer interface seems to be opened. Since then, brain-computer interface startups around the world have been born, bringing this avant-garde technology to the commercial exploration period.
The most recent “future”
In July 2019, Elon Musk held the first press conference three years after Neuralink was established. At that time, they also followed Professor Theodore Berger’s experiment of invasive brain-computer interface in mice. Elon Musk announced four technologies at the press conference:
- Electrodes, used to connect with certain areas of the brain, require craniotomy;
- Machines like “sewing machines” can quickly tie many electrodes into the brain;
Third, ultra-low power consumption, high-performance chips. Musk confessed that the chip can solve any brain, and can also be used to restore vision, hearing and limb movements;
Fourth, the algorithm.
From the technical results published by Elon Musk, we can also see the composition of a set of invasive brain-computer interface solutions. At the same time, these are the major difficulties currently faced by intrusive solutions.
Neuralink’s proposal to install an invasive brain-computer interface on the human head | Neuralink
Competitor Professor Theodore Berger said that Kernel will test more patients with epilepsy, help them recover, and help people with dementia improve their memory before pushing the technology to healthy people. This also means that “superman” with super memory may appear first among patients.
However, this is still a relatively distant “vision”. Recent progress is that not long ago, with the help of the Battle Memorial Institute, a person with quadriplegia named Ian Burkhart achieved the simultaneous restoration of motor function and tactile sensation through a brain-computer interface.
Ian Burkhart’s head is a brain-computer interface device that has been implanted into the cerebral cortex | Bloomberg
This is a landmark feat in the field of paralysis treatment.
In the past, because of an accident, Ian Burkhart’s neck was all conscious. In 2014, Ian Burkhart plucked up the courage to decide to participate in the Brain-Computer Interface project at the Battle Memorial Institute—opening a hole in his brain and implanting a chip. Then connect the computer or intelligent auxiliary prosthesis through the chip on the head.
Through the brain-computer interface, Ian Burkhart’s brain can be directly connected to the computer and intelligent prosthetic limbs, and issue instructions simultaneously | Bloomberg
With the team continuously improving the algorithm and Ian Burkhart’s 6-year insistence, he was finally able to control the movement and tactile sense of his right arm.
In addition to this latest scientific progress, NASA has trained their astronauts through brain-computer interface technology earlier to increase their attention and concentration, and thus their work efficiency. For example, what can be done in the past 4 hours, maybe 1 hour later.
However, the imagination of the brain-computer interface definitely does not stop there.
On the one hand, the brain-computer interface is “opening” the secrets in the brain, allowing the data in the living body to be captured more; on the other hand, it can be connected to a supercomputer that is stronger than the human brain, or it can be connected to more than the human body. Strong machinery.
As Musk said, the brain-computer interface is just a small step he hopes Neuralink can achieve. In the long run, he hopes to develop a device that can achieve “symbiosis” between humans and AI.
This is easily reminiscent of the protagonists in the movies “Alita”, “Ghost in the Shell”, “Matrix”.
The protagonist of the movie “Alita: Battle Angel” is the state of the cyborg, which may also be the future of humanity
The movie is science fiction, but it is also a mirror where we meet the future. After all, when will we get there? In China, what progress has been made in the development of superhumans? Where is the Chinese brain-computer interface company ranked globally? Who has used brain-computer interface products? How will the brain-computer interface change human society?