It sounds like it’s been taken directly from a science-fiction movie but creating a direct interface between a computer and the brain may well become a reality. The rise of nanotechnology makes it possible to imagine the integration of tiny communication devices directly at the heart of our neural networks.
Some have their smartphones literally grafted into the palms of their hands. But tomorrow, it is directly in their brain that the object could soon be housed. At least, one of the technologies that makes it so indispensable: the virtual cloud in which our digital life is located.
Last year, scientists presented innovative technology, called BrainNet, allowing three people to share their thoughts, or to play online using the power of the mind. All, of course, via the cloud.
‘[BrainNet] uses the electrical signals recorded through the skulls of the “senders” and the magnetic stimulation through the skull of the “recipients,” allowing them [thus] to perform cooperative tasks,’ said nanotechnology specialist Nuno Martins from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in a statement. A feat made possible thanks to the implantation, directly in the brain, of tiny elements: nanobots.
In the cerebral maze
Smaller than the diameter of a hair, these nanoscopic devices have the ability to circulate freely in the human body. A faculty that could allow them to reach the unfathomable depths of our brains, as envisioned by nanotechnology researcher Robert Freitas Jr, from the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing, California: ‘These devices could traverse the human vascular system, cross the blood-brain barrier, and self-position precisely among, or even within, brain cells.’ An ‘augmentation’ of the human being which would thus create a real direct neural interface, or, in the original BCI version, ‘brain-computer Interface.’
‘[Nanobots] could then wirelessly transmit encoded information to and from a cloud-based network of supercomputers to enable real-time monitoring of brain status and data extraction,’ says Robert Freitas Jr. A vision of the human future of which we are all free to judge the relevance, but that in any case the researcher Nuno Martins shares:
‘With the advancement of neuronal nanorobotics, we envision in the future the creation of “superconnections” that could harness the thoughts and thinking power of any number of humans and machines in real time.’ When? A few decades at most according to the scientist and his colleagues…
Thus augmented, human beings which have become cyborgs could according to certain futurists - at the head of which is Elon Musk and his company Neuralink - unite while freeing themselves of their cultural differences. An idyllic perspective that we are naturally entitled to doubt...
There remain - whatever they may be - some obstacles to overcome before reaching this point. First of all, and not least, ensuring that such technology does not compromise human health. The other issue is simply to find a way to ensure the proper functioning of the technology, as finally granted by Nuno Martins himself:
‘This challenge includes not only finding the bandwidth needed to transmit data around the world, but also the means to enable data exchange with neurones via tiny devices embedded deep in the brain.’ The brain transplant of a smartphone is certainly not just around the corner.