Neurocomputer interfaces will give people extra power

One day on a rainy morning, Bill was driving his owna motorcycle, when suddenly a mail truck stopped in front of him. Bill did not have time. The accident paralyzed his lower body. His autonomy - what was left of her - was reduced to voice commands, which allowed him to raise and lower the blinds in the room or adjust the angle of the bed with a motor. Otherwise, he relies on round-the-clock assistance.

Vanya does not know Ann, who has Parkinson's disease;her hands tremble when she tries to apply makeup or weed the garden. None of them knows Steve, who became blind in adulthood due to a degenerative disease and whom his sister helps to navigate the world. Presenting the three of them together sounds like the beginning of a bad joke: a blind, paralyzed, and parkinson guy somehow enter the bar. But their stories are combined in a new documentary ‘I Am Human’ (“I am a Man”), which was recently presented at the Triberica Film Festival.

The film tells about the trinity, which passesexperimental brain treatment. Their skulls are opened, electrodes are inserted inside, all with the hope of restoring lost abilities — movement, sight, and control over the body — and returning freedom. For each of them, this journey is both medical and philosophical. The documentary also examines the promise of neurotechnologists to expand the limits of the brain with chips in the brain.

Tharin Southern, one of the film's directors,says she started thinking about the brain exactly at the same time when the TV series “Black Mirror” and “The World of the Wild West” began to gain popularity. She was fascinated by how science fiction rethinks the role that machines can play in human evolution — not just improving with people, but actually changing the human look.

Neurocomputer interfaces: the future of the human species

Hundreds of thousands of people around the globe alreadyuse neurocomputer interfaces (which connect the brain to the computer), their scientists have been developing since the 1970s, largely due to DARPA. Some experts believe that their number will reach one million in the next ten years, and the science behind all this will become even more difficult. All this is embodied in real life and it is cooler than science fiction.

But the inner workings of our brain are still notquite clear, and the real impact of this kind of neurotechnology is just beginning to appear. There are hundreds of billions of neurons in the brain, each one “as complex as Los Angeles” and 500 trillion connections, says neuroscientist David Eagleman. Treatments like those offered to Bill, Stephen, and Ann are mostly experimental. There are no guarantees that they will work.

"It is curious that we can count steps, calories,sequencing the genome, doing a blood test and measuring the pulse, but we have practically no understanding of our brains, ”says Brian Johnson, founder and CEO of the neuroscience startup Kernel. "We have a piece of introspection, but otherwise it's a black box."

It is the fear of this unknown that separates.characters of the film "I am a man" from science fiction. The decision of Bill, Stephen and Anna to insert implants into the brain is a much more complicated reality than anything else in the Black Mirror. “Someone breaks your skull,” says Ann in the film. "You do not know what will happen."

Ultimately, she decides to go deep.brain stimulation. During this procedure, an electrode is implanted into the brain, which stimulates individual parts (in the case of Ann, it suppresses the motor system). In patients with symptoms of Parkinson's disease, the procedure was a wild success. The implant sends “data” from the brain and feeds the current to the brain, facilitating non-stopping tremor.

Stephen was offered another experimentaltreatment called "Argus", which includes implantation of the chip under the eye. The chip clings to the brain with electrodes. Bill, who needs constant care, voluntarily experiences a neurocomputer interface that could restore a lost connection between the brain and nerves in the body. In order to “retrain” his brain, Bill looks at the animation of arm movement, imagining how he himself moves his hand again, and a group of scientists writes an algorithm that decodes Bill’s intention, which is then sent to electrodes implanted in his hand and head. The idea is to give Bill control over his own muscles.

“It’s all like Star Trek,” Bill says on screen. There are wires sticking out of his head. "It looks like science fiction."

And yet, the main question about the other: what makes us human? How can technology contribute to the evolution of our species - helping us recover lost and pushing us to something that was impossible before?

Neurocomputer interfaces promise to returnsight blind, restore hearing to the deaf and give a sense of control over your body. But some scientists and entrepreneurs are likely that neurotechnology will provide us with super power. What if we didn’t just try to restore sight to blind Stephen, but to improve it so that he could see in the dark? What if some device not only brought back control of his hand to Bill, but also allowed him to type words by force of thought? Could we cure depression with neurocomputer interfaces? Become more empathic?

These are not science fiction scenarios. Ilon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, each of them has invested in the development of neurocomputer interfaces to improve human abilities. Neuralink Mask aims to improve human cognitive abilities so that people can compete with AI. Zuckerberg's idea is more in a mind-reading machine. Johnson's Kernel startup is working on creating a neurocomputer interface to develop real-world applications in high-resolution brain activity.

“I hope that we will reach such a point of technological progress, when it is not limited to technologies, but reinforced by them. So it’s a matter of choice: who we want to be. ”

But while the first class of real humancyborgs will not be like robots in the Silicon Valley view. These will be people like Bill, Stephen and Ann, who, thanks to the small mechanisms in their brains, will again be able to feel a little more humane.

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