Humans have built the largest structures they possibly can. From the Burj Khalifa to the International Space Station and the Large Hadron Collider.
What’s next? How much bigger can big get? The answer is… not much.
Space is limited and materials are reaching a threshold; space at the top is coming to a standstill, but there’s plenty of room at the bottom. By observing the world from a nanoscopic level and beyond, there is potential for creativity to run wild.
The world at the nanoscale level can seem infinitesimal when compared to everyday objects. Anything that the mind can conceive of, can become a reality.
From super-strong materials with electrical and heat properties (think Iron Man suit) to nano-bots that can be used for medical procedures and spying, the world on a nanoscale has endless possibilities. Nanoscience is as creative as art. One industry that looks to take advantage of this creativity and scientific breakthrough is the field of Neurotechnology.
Recently, Elon Musk unveiled plans for his new venture, Neuralink. Using a technology known as a brain-interface machine (BMI), Neuralink plans to allow patients to control computers and devices using their mind. The immediate comparison that comes to mind is The Matrix, where anything the mind can conceive of, becomes reality.
No, that’s not the case with Neuralink’s BMI, at least not in this early stage of development. The main problem that they are looking to solve is finding a solution to help patients with motor and speech disabilities, communicate more effectively.
As of right now, people that are diagnosed with motor and speech disabilities have difficulties communicating and working in a timely, efficient manner. How is Neuralink able to do this?
Before understanding the procedure, it’s important to know what targets Neuralink are attempting to hit with their solution. Their target is to reactivate neurons that are damaged or “shut off” within the brain. A neuron is essentially a small switch in the brain that turns a signal on or off. These signals can dictate whether your body can lift a finger, think happy thoughts, or fall asleep to name a few actions.
Now, there are billions of these neurons in the human body, each with a specific function. Sizing up at a minuscule .004 mm (4 microns of a neuron vs. 5 microns of a red blood cell), neurons are the transistors to the central computer known as the brain. When these neurons are damaged, the signal for a particular function is turned off.
For example, if a neuron in the motor region of the brain is damaged, a person would not be able to control the body part that is designated to that neuron.
Neuralink’s solution is to perform a minimally invasive procedure that inserts threads, that are slimmer than human hair, through the skull and into the brain. A machine has been engineered that will precisely place these threads into the motor regions of the brain where neural activity is absent.
Once these threads are placed near neurons in the brain, they give off electrical signals that “jumpstart” inactive neurons. By “jumpstarting” these neurons, a patient would be able to regain motor control associated with that specific neuron.
Looking further down the road, Elon Musk and Neuralink look to achieve a “symbiosis with artificial intelligence“. This loops back into The Matrix, in which access to information and learning becomes exponentially faster. Using the electrical signals of the brain and synchronizing it with electric signals from computers, it would be possible to learn anything in just a small amount of time.
Neuralink is not the only venture making strides in brain-machine interface industry.
Kernal is an LA-based startup with a team of neuroscientists, physicists, mathematicians, and hardware and software engineers that are developing a non-invasive wearable technology to improve and explore human cognition.
Neurable is a software company that uses machine learning to measure ad analyze the electric signal coming from the brain. Their brain-sensing product allows users to control AR and VR experiences using the brain data their software has collected and analyzed.
Paradromics is an Austin, TX-based company that looks to use their BMI for large volume data sharing between computer and humans. Their expert and technical team are dedicated to addressing critical health issues, such as paralysis and speech inability. They recently received funding from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) as part of the Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) program.
One of the more impressive ventures in this space is run by a 16-year-old high school student, Alex Pinkerton. His company, Brane Interface, “measures the magnetic fields of human thought with an external low-cost and compact brain-computer interface.” His company is developing an external tool made from graphene that can link the human brain with an external device (like a smartphone).
The Neurotechnology industry is focused on the next step of human civilization. The internet changed the way humans access information. BMI’s will change the way humans use information. Neurotechnology pursuits are only a small portion of what can be achieved when innovation, creativity, and diligence are brought to nanoscience.
Maybe we’ll be able to Brain Blast on command in the near future. Until then, there’s plenty of room at the bottom for creativity to flourish. The future will tell of what new innovations are yet to come.