In wet lab 412C on the University of Southern California's Los Angeles campus, Vijay Srinivasan is poking a long, evil-looking needle at a slice of rat brain about half the size of a fingernail. All around him, coils of cable are piled near hulking microscopes. Glass vials and fluid-filled plastic dishes compete for space with spare keyboards and computer chips. The place looks more like a computer-repair shop than a world-class laboratory.
"Watch this," says Srinivasan, a design engineer working with USC's Center for Neural Engineering. A thin wire runs between the needle and a tiny silicon chip hooked up to a boxy signal transmitter. He flips a switch, and a series of small waves shimmers across a nearby screen-waves that mean exactly zilch to me. Watch what? I wonder.
Srinivasan explains that the chip is sending electric pulses through the needle into the brain slice, which is passing them on to the screen we're watching. "The difference in the waves' modulation reflects the signals sent out by the brain slice," he says. "And they're almost identical in frequency and pattern to the pulses sent by the chip." Put more simply, this iron-gray wafer about a millimeter square is talking to living brain cells as though it were an actual body part.
Ted Berger, Srinivasan's boss and the mastermind behind the tangle of coils and electrodes, has arranged this demonstration to provide a small but profound glimpse into the future of brain science. The chip's ability to converse with live cells is a dramatic first step, he believes, toward an implantable machine that fluently speaks the language of the brain-a machine that could restore memories in people with brain damage or help them make new ones.
Remedying Alzheimer's disease would, if Berger's grand vision plays out, be as simple as upgrading a bit of hardware. No more complicated drug regimens with their frustrating side effects. A surgeon simply implants a few computerized brain cells, and the problem is solved.
Down the hall, Berger rises to greet me in his office. An imposing man with a shock of gray hair, Berger, 56, has the thick build of an aging athlete and the no-nonsense manner of a CEO. Can a chunk of silicon really stand in for brain cells? I ask. "I don't need a grand theory of the mind to fix what is essentially a signal-processing problem," he says. "A repairman doesn't need to understand music to fix your broken CD player."
This guy will create the first real android. I have no doubts it will be anything but great.
- The best guess is a Theory.
I am fascinated and hopeful. Having a loved one who suffered a devastating stroke at 32 when she was pregnant with her 3rd child- all I can say is this would be a God send- her biggest diability is having nearly zero short term memory. It is hard to function or learn anything when you can only remember for about 5 min...I say thank you for working so hard on this. Maybe in the future others like her won't have such devastating consequences to a brain injury. We all could have our sister, wife , mother and daughter back and she would feel like a contributing and fulfilled member of our family and society again....please keep up the good work!
Ted Berger is operating much like Thomas Edison...trial and error. It works for darwiniwn evolution, but is very time consuming. He will ,no doubt trurn up a large number of useful gadgets; useful in connecting up to the live neurons.
Interpreting he results of 100 neurons pales when compared to understanding 10^13th neurons, (the brain's compement).
The real trick to emulating human memory is in the nature of recall, finding associations anywhere in the cortex. This might suggest the nature of the neural code for memory
I like his work and hope he finds the results he is looking for
this iron-gray wafer about a millimeter square is talking to living brain cells as though it were an actual body part.
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