Paralyzed patients may write with ideas faster than you type, and the progress of the “Human Enhancement Project” is beyond imagination

In many sci-fi works, we can see enhanced versions of humans such as "robotics" and "biochemicals". In the "Justice League" produced by DC, Cyborg, one of the protagonists, is a typical example.

In the plot setting, the semi-mechanical body gives him superhuman power. What is more sci-fi is that his brain has been transformed into an extremely powerful quantum computer that keeps pace with the Internet 24 hours a day.

This means that the steel frame can arbitrarily manipulate any information on the Internet, and no firewall can block it. In the digital world of one and zero, he is the absolute overlord.

Whether it is an extremely powerful brain or an indestructible body. These superpowers of Steel Bone, to some extent, reflect the desire of mankind to dominate the destiny and even dominate the world.

The latest advances in cutting-edge technologies such as brain-computer interfaces and implantable chips have increased the possibility of steel bones being born in the real world.

20 years later, learning may become "obsolete"

The steel bone is comparable to the brain of a quantum computer, derived from the power of the Apocalypse Mother Box. But in the real world, the mother box does not exist. The vision of human beings to improve brain functions is pinned on the brain-computer interface (BCI).

Simply put, BCI technology can establish a direct connection between the human brain and external devices. For example, the brain receives information from a computer or sends information to a computer.

▲ Picture from: techslang

This sounds illusory, but the research surrounding BCI has a long history.

In 1924, German psychiatrist Hans Berger discovered the existence of brain waves. Since then, research on BCI technology began to appear one after another. It was not until the mid-1990s that it began to bloom in full swing.

▲ "Father of Brainwaves" Hans Berger. Picture from: EPILOG

In 1997, Johnny Ray, a Vietnam War veteran, suffered a rupture of a blood vessel in the brainstem and a stroke almost completely paralyzed him. His thinking skills are normal, but he cannot speak. The following year, Johnny Ray underwent BCI surgery. Through the brain implant, he can express himself by indicating phrases on the computer screen through his mind. For example, "I'm thirsty" and "It's nice to talk to you."

Over time, Johnny Ray even learned to control the movement of the computer cursor to spell out his name and his doctor's name in the alphabet. About BCI-related technical standards and directions have also begun to become clear.

In 2005, Cyberkinetics was approved by the U.S. FDA to conduct the first phase of the motor cortex brain-computer interface clinical trial in nine patients. Quadriplegic Matt Nagle became the first patient to use a brain-computer interface to control a robotic arm. He was able to accomplish tasks such as robotic arm control and computer cursor control through motion intent.

▲Matt Nagle in 2005

I can't express it in words. I was thinking "the cursor is in the upper right corner," and the computer's cursor really went to the upper right corner. Now I can control it on the entire screen. It brings me a sense of independence.

Matt Nagle once said in an interview.

By around 2012, BCI was already capable of more complicated tasks. Allow paralyzed patients to use robotic arms to eat, drink, and type and communicate by themselves.

Different from the previous selection of letters by controlling the cursor movement, the latest BCI technology has realized "handwriting input". According to a recent study published in the journal Nature, neuroscientists have realized real-time translation of handwritten signals into text, and the typing speed has increased to 90 characters per minute, which is close to 3/4 of the normal typing speed.

▲ Picture from: Depositphotos

The subject of the study was a 65-year-old man who was paralyzed by spinal cord injury. The experimenter placed two 4×4 mm sensors on the outer layer of the motor cortex of the man’s brain. Through more than 100 hair-thin electrodes, they are connected to the brain nerves to record and process brain activities related to writing.

This technology can not only decode the patient's writing intention, but also automatically correct it in real time, with an accuracy rate of over 99%. In other words, if the handwriting in the mind of the patient is not standardized enough when writing letters, the BCI can be automatically corrected by the algorithm.

▲ Picture from: NPG Press

It can be said that BCI related research has brought new hope to many patients, especially paralyzed patients. The rapidly growing BCI-related companies are also pushing BCI technology from the laboratory into real life.

However, the goal of BCI technology is not only to "compensate" the defects of the patient's mechanism, but also to "enhance" healthy human functions.

For example, Musk's Neuralink company intends to achieve "telepathy" between healthy people within 10 years. That is, two people with brain-computer interfaces can communicate directly with brain signals without speaking. At this time, communication will no longer need language as a carrier.

▲ Picture from: VOI

Neuralink also plans to create a "whole-brain interface" within 25 years. Almost all neurons in the brain can communicate smoothly with the outside world.

The Neuralink team hopes that in the future, humans who use their BCI technology can upload and download information directly from the computer like Neo, the hero of the Matrix.

In addition to Neuralink, many companies or teams are developing the possibility of BCI to enhance human brain functions. For example, a computational memory team in Pennsylvania has successfully enhanced the memory of the human brain through BCI in the laboratory.

The team led by Ramses Alcaide is committed to brain-controlled VR games and launched the world's first brain-controlled VR game in 2017. The goal is to realize the scene in the movie "Ready Player One".

▲ Brain-controlled VR game device. Picture from: Neurable

Another example is MindX, which is trying to realize real-time connection with the brain through smart wearables such as glasses. Users only need a thought to query information through glasses.

Based on these BCI technology companies, artificial intelligence expert Nikolas Kairinos (Nikolas Kairinos) believes that 20 years later, BCI technology will greatly improve the learning efficiency of the human brain. "Through implantable chips, the human brain can quickly remember and query any information. By then, the matter of "learning" will become obsolete."

▲Nicholas Kerinos

This is not a fantasy. With the blessing of BCI technology, in the future, one glance and ten lines will no longer be exclusive to science fiction plots, but will become an achievable function of human beings.

Bionic machinery makes the body more "perfect"

As mentioned above, the reason why Steel Bone became a superhero is not only due to his quantum computer-level brain, but also his indestructible semi-mechanical body.

In the real world, humans are also enhancing body functions through mechanical transformation. Like the brain-computer interface, the original intention of mechanical transformation of the body is to help people with certain physical defects to regain related abilities.

▲ A boy with a bionic arm. Picture from: daemon3dprint

We have heard many examples of mechanical prostheses that make people reborn. For example, Hugh Herr, who was unfortunately amputated, spent 20 years researching prosthetic machine systems after he was admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and finally developed a bionic prosthesis that allowed him to regain his climbing ability.

This bionic prosthetic system contains 24 sensors and 6 microprocessors. Not only can it sense position, speed, pressure, temperature, etc., it can also control muscular tendon-like actuators to move the "artificial ankle", enabling Hugh Herr to run, jump, dance, and even rock climbing.

▲Hugh Herr. Picture from: MIT News

There are too many similar cases. The mechanized transformation of the human body is not just for "repairing" human body functions. Another goal is to "enhance" the ability of the normal human body.

For example, SuitX, a company founded by the Ergonomics Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, is using mechanical exoskeleton to enhance worker efficiency and prevent injuries at work.

▲ Picture from: Suit X

At present, in factories such as General Motors and Fiat, there are already workers wearing SuitX mechanical exoskeleton for work. These machines are designed to reduce muscle fatigue. By reducing the muscle activity of the back, shoulders and knees by 50%, the risk of workers' muscle injuries is greatly reduced.

SuitX currently offers a variety of wearable bones. There are mechanical bones that are enhanced for different positions such as shoulders, backs, and legs. In addition to reducing the wearer's muscle fatigue, it can also help users lift heavy materials easily and improve work efficiency.

According to a new study published in the journal Science Robotics, scientists have confirmed that the human brain can support additional body parts.

The research team led by Dani Clode installed additional robotic fingers for experimenters and trained them to use robotic fingers for housework. After a while, the motor cortex of the brain was scanned by FMRI, and it was found that the brain had fully adapted to the additional body parts.

This means that the human brain has the ability to coordinate the "third arm" or "third leg." This lays a theoretical foundation for the mechanical enhancement of the human body.

Paulina Kieliba of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, believes that mechanical enhancement of the body may have value for society in many ways. For example, allowing surgeons to work without assistants, or allowing factory workers to work more efficiently.

▲ Use the "sixth finger" to grab objects. Image from: Robotic Science

In addition to mechanically enhancing the human body, the latest developments in implantable chips have further expanded the way for humans to understand and control the body.

A recent study published in the journal "Science Advances" showed that engineers at Columbia University created the smallest single-chip system in the history of the world. The volume is only 0.1 cubic millimeters, even invisible to the naked eye. It can be implanted into the human body through a hypodermic needle to measure body temperature.

▲ The smallest implantable chip in history, located in the needle tube. Picture from: Columbia University

The chip system can be powered by ultrasound and transmit data. At present, the device can only measure body temperature, but the person in charge of the project said that it will eventually realize the function of monitoring respiratory function, blood sugar level and blood pressure, and the prospect is very broad.

Understand the body, strengthen the body. The development of implantable chips and bionic machinery has made human body functions more "perfect", realizing the various abilities that once existed in science fiction films.

Such a future, you may not want to see

Although the development of brain-computer interfaces, bionic machinery, and implantable chips, humans have never been closer to "perfection." But with the good, there are also concerns about safety and ethics.

▲Picture from: Syfy wire

The first is the security issue. When human memory relies on brains and computers, if an error occurs in the cloud or is attacked by hackers, the memory is likely to be tampered with and eliminated.

This is not alarmist. Neil Harbisson, the first "modified man" who had an antenna implanted in his skull and was legally recognized by the government, once stated that his antenna had been hacked and received unknown information.

▲Neil Harbisson. Picture from: The Times

Another example is when a hacker controls a person's external mechanical arm and hurts another person. Does the controlled person bear joint and several liability? These issues are not only about the law, but also about ethics.

If we say that security concerns can be erased by a more powerful "firewall." Then the inequality of wealth will further deepen the gap between people in the above context, and it is inevitable.

In the 1960s, in response to social calls for equality in education, the U.S. government filmed and broadcast a TV education program "Sesame Street". The purpose was to provide children from poor families with opportunities for enlightenment education and reduce pre-school education for rich and poor children. The education gap.

▲The classic image in "Sesame Street"

It turned out to be counterproductive. The survey results found that children from wealthy families have much higher ratings of programs than poor children, and the effect of education is also better than the latter.

In 1970, Ticino and others put forward the "knowledge gap" theory on the basis of a large number of empirical investigations: the speed of obtaining information and the amount of knowledge for those with high socioeconomic status are higher than those with low socioeconomic status. The knowledge gap between the two will widen over time, forming a knowledge gap.

It can be imagined that when the brain-computer interface enters the consumer market. People with strong financial ability will have the opportunity to quickly obtain and remember information through related technologies. As Nicholas Kerinos predicted: learning will become an obsolete thing.

▲ Picture from: clueylearning

By then, how will people with weak economic capacity and unable to afford brain-computer interfaces compete with those with brain-computer interfaces? Educational fairness may become a false proposition.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg of several chasms. Not to mention that the mechanically enhanced human body is superior to ordinary people in terms of strength and durability.

These "superpowers" may eventually evolve into "money abilities." This is much more realistic than arguing about what human beings are, or mind control.

▲ Batman may be the representative of “banknote ability''

However, the advent of every era will be accompanied by one or another worry. For example, at the beginning of the steam age, people in cars did run faster and farther than people on bicycles. The first group of people who owned computers did indeed look higher and farther than others. But in the long run, revolutionary technology will always benefit the world, not just serve the rich.

I know this sounds tacky, but we believe that the development of artificial intelligence such as brain-computer interfaces will eventually improve people's lives on a large scale on a global scale.

Nicholas Kerinos said so. Whether we believe it or not, these technologies are already on the way, and changes are happening quietly.

TalkFresh. Work email: wanghelong@ifanr.com.

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