It's reminiscent of Cartman's runaway Trapper Keeper notebook in that long-ago episode of South Park, but researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison may be scratching the surface of a new kind of brain/machine interface by creating computer chips that are wired together with living nerve cells.
A team there has found that mouse nerve cells will connect with each other across a network of tiny tubes threaded through a semiconductor material. It's not exactly clear at this point how the nerve cells are functioning, but what is clear is that the cells seem to have an affinity for the tiny tubes, and that alone has some interesting implications.
To create the nerve-chip hybrid, the researchers created tubes of layered silicon and germanium that are large enough for the nerve cells' tendrils to navigate but too small for the actual body of the cell to pass through. They then introduced nerve cells to the tubes and found that the cells will readily thread their tendrils through them--even through complex geometries like helical curves--to connect with each other physically.
What isn't clear is whether or not the cells are actually communicating with each other they way they would naturally. Going forward, the team aims to get sensors into the chips to see exactly how they are interacting. But the fact that nerve cells will follow the tubes along a preset path designed by researchers belies thrilling prospects.
For instance, nerve-electronic hybrid chips would make great places to test neurological drugs or to study the way nerve cells afflicted with disorders like Parkinson's communicate. But even more tantalizing is the idea of a nerve-computer interface that would enable the kind of Skywalker-esque control of artificial limbs that is the holy grail prosthetics research.
...so, "We're not sure how what we did works, but won't it be cool when we know?!"
Actually, I guess it will be kinda cool. This is my favorite type of research. Just doing stuff no one thought you could, and then letting someone else figure out a use for it. :-)
I agree it's nice to know why something does what it does, but it's nice to be able to exploit the "what" before knowing the "why", sometimes it is more advantageous to put the cart before the horse... man/machine interfacing is quite a facinating subject, the relms of technology that this will open up as it progresses is staggering.
so are we one step closer to battlefield earth? lol but seriously imaging a world where you can download a bachelors degree into your brain. wouldn't it suck way less than dealing with financial aid? just sayin...
I know that all this article is about is the possible implications of the discovery I'd still like to think that this might actually be a step towards integrating a human brain with a computer or even uploading the human part of the brain to a computer. Such implications are far fetched however it's much preferable than a study which shows no potentialities for such things. It's good to know that there are still things to be discovered.
Curse you CodeZero and your never ending vortex!!! :) I can't avert my eyes no mater how hard I try! :)