Neuralink and The Human Brain: For the longest time, The human mind has been a mystery. It was believed in the past, That human beings could never understand. The workings of the brain, How could anything Possibly come to understand itself.
But in the past thirty years, amazing progress has been made in this field. The CT scanner first allowed us to see the structure of a living brain. We could use dyes to enhance visualization of the arteries, And directly view the substructure of the brain. We could see that thin layers of processing cells. Covered the outside of the brain.
This layer is about 5mm thick and is called the Cortex. Cortex is the Latin word for tree bark, Which is what early Roman doctors thought this layer resembled. This is where conscious thought occurs. And is the next frontier of human understanding, And one very innovative company… Is making great strides in exploring that frontier.
The cortex of the brain looks grey on some of our scans. And became known as gray matter, We also found that most of the brain was a type of wiring.
These wires carry electrical impulses and are called axons. Different areas of the cortex process different types of information. To understand neural processing. We need to define a few landmarks…
Here we see a human brain And here is the central commissure. This divides most of the brain Into the left and right half. Almost all animals have this division. Think of these as separate computer systems. These computers communicate with each other And control opposite sides of the body.
The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body. And the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body. The wire cross-over down here, Vision is processed in a complicated way. But you also end up with the right visual field Being processed on the left side of the brain And the left visual field is processed on right.
The sides of the brain or hemispheres communicate with each other. In most animals, these separate processors have limited communication. Through this structure here, Called the anterior commissure And this one, Called the posterior commissure…
In these animals, the sides of the brain can be fairly independent. You always mount a horse from the left side. So, the right side of the brain will know what’s going on If you try to mount a horse from the right side.
The left hemisphere might panic And throw you off, Humans, other primates, and cetaceans. All have a very thick extra connection called the corpus callosum. This is a massive network of cross-communication between the hemispheres.
If this is cut, as it must sometimes be to stop terrible epileptic seizures. The person will seem to have two separate brains. On the left side of the brain, Observing the right visual field, Will does not know what is seen in the left visual field.
By the right hemisphere. Their hemispheres are divided up into territories called lobes. The frontal lobe extends from the forehead. Back to this dividing line, called the central sulcus. A sulcus is a fissure in the brain, The frontal lobe starts at this raised area.
A raised area of the brain is called a gyrus. This is the precentral gyrus. It has direct control over the movement of the body. As we move forward toward the forehead from this gyrus. We find more complex motor programs stored here.
And further forward, working memory and decision making. In what is called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Toward the lateral side, we find processing for interest and attention. Toward the inside of the hemispheres. And the area is called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Is also involved in decision-making.
Humans have two main types of decision modes. Emotions are processed here, In the anterior cingulate gyrus. This area sends emotional evaluations to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. This helps you make fast emotion-based decisions…
Maybe you just don’t feel right about someone who knocks on your door. Other parts of the frontal lobe, process information logically. These two often conflict, We see something we like and want to grab it, But we know that this is not accepted in modern society.
The frontal lobe helps us control our impulses. Damage to this area has profound effects on someone’s personality. To read more on this lookup Phineas Gage. The frontal lobes in both hemispheres contribute to decision-making.
Going back to the central sulcus and going back to here, Called the postcentral gyrus. We find direct processing of sensation from the body. The body is actually mapped over this area. The area shown here is called the parietal lobe.
Think of the parietal lobe as an area for sensory processing And for a virtual reality simulator of the world. A stroke in this area will have someone completely ignore The left or right side of the world. They will ignore all the food on one side of a plate Until you rotate the plate.
Then they will be aware of it. This is not blindness. Vision is processed back here. This is called the occipital lobe. The eyes bring images back through the optic nerve To the optic chiasm, where the left visual field of both eyes Goes to the right side.
And the right visual field goes to the left, These fibers terminate at this area, Called the calcarine fissure.
There is some sub-processing of vision on the way, But most visual processing starts here. Moving out from here we find more advanced visual processing, Shapes, colors, movement, objects etcetera. Working up the virtual reality simulator.
We can also use our frontal lobes to imagine an object And have it projected into the virtual reality simulator. Picture a red Starship landing on the Moon. Here is where that movie is played. Internal visualizations are sometimes easier If we close our eyes and block out external visual input…
By closing our eyes, we free up processing power To create our imaginary ship. An injury to the back of the brain Can cause blindness, Even though the eyes are working perfectly. When someone does go blind all this processing power Does not sit dormant.
The other senses, Like hearing, can use this area… Sound is normally first processed here, This area is called the temporal lobe with more complicated sound Recognition as we move out from the primary auditory cortex. Blind people don’t have better ears than the rest of us.
They just have more sound processing capacity. This reassignment of unused processing occurs very quickly. Sometimes we will close our eyes, So, we can hear things better. There are significant differences between individuals, In these processing areas, But for the most part, This is how it works.
One unique thing about the human brain is that The left hemisphere, In most people, Is where we find math processing, Here at the angular gyrus, Language comprehension, Here at a place called Wernicke’s area… And speech control Here at a place called Broca’s area.
If we injure or have a stroke in the left hemisphere We often have trouble speaking, Or understanding what is said. These were called Broca’s aphasia And Wernicke’s aphasia respectively.
Interestingly, While the left hemisphere seems to be The logical language and math processing side. The right side of the brain, in most people, Seems to be the creative artistic side… While speech is located on the left side.
Visual art, singing, and music appreciation is often right-sided function. Deep in the brain are sub-processing centers. These have many names but are often called nuclei. These nuclei have defined but complex functions.
There are processing areas like the substantia nigra. That releases motor programming. Damage to this area causes a condition called Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease causes someone to have difficulty moving Despite knowing exactly what they want to do. Here is a structure called the thalamus, Remember one of these is one side.
This is a relay for sensation from the body. It goes through here and sub-processed, Before reaching conscious awareness. This structure is called the amygdala. The amygdala looks for things that might harm us, It in fact gets a direct feed from the eyes, And can take action before we are consciously aware of the threat.
That’s why a garden hose in the grass can make us jump. Jumping when he comes upon a hose will not kill us. Not jumping when there is a snake can kill us. When things go wrong with the brain… When a spinal injury leaves us paralyzed, Or blind. Is there any way to bypass the damaged parts…?
And communicate directly with the brain? Neuralink corporation was founded in 2016 by Elon Musk and several others. It is dedicated to developing a brain-computer interface sometimes abbreviated BCI. A BCI allows a computer to see and analyze neuronal activity in a living brain, and it allows the computer to send electrical signals to those or other neurons.
Scientists have been working on this for years. A keyboard is one way that humans interact with computers now, And by voice, But what if you can’t move? Or speak?
Devices had been developed, Like the eye movement device used by Dr. Steven Hawking. That bypasses hand movement and speech. But this was very slow. What if we could communicate directly with the brain itself? Mainly to improve the lives of people with disabilities.
When used to try to restore normal brain function, the device is often called a neuroprosthetic. When someone has suffered a stroke or develops a disease like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, they lose the ability to control part or all of their body.
This loss of function can leave them unable to move, speak or even breathe. In the past, we had no way of bridging the gap. Between the brain and the computer. Other companies had tried to create implantable computer chips…
These spikes would go down into the cortex And could listen to the signals being produced. You could put one here. Where the movement of the arm is controlled. To let the person control a robotic arm, With just their thoughts, Amplified and interpreted, By the electronics and computers…
In the brain-computer interface. We could also put one here. Where sensation from the arm is processed. So that the person controlling the arm, Can get a feel for what it’s doing. Experiments in sensory feedback Have dramatically improved the use of these devices.
If someone has lost their eyes. We could put one back here. And use a camera mounted on glasses. To send visual input into the brain. A system like this has allowed a man in Canada To drive a car. Now all of us love science fiction. Know that this was predicted long ago.
In fact, The difference between Neuralink and these early attempts. Is that the human brain is fragile. Having the consistency of firm gelatin. Placing spikes on a chip into the cortex has worked. But may not be the best option. But it has allowed a quadriplegic to control a robotic arm. And a paralyzed person to speak through a computer.
But these electrode arrays have been limited. These are the spikes used by others. And this is what Neuralink has developed. These tiny flexible electrodes Allow multilevel sampling and stimulation… Making brain-computer communication two-way.
Placing these into the brain is also very difficult. So Neuralink designed and built an amazing Neurosurgical robot… Now, Through a whole in the skull less than 10mm across, This robot can precisely implant an array of electrodes… That move with the brain.
And communicate through this small chip… You could not tell who did and did not have this augmentation. A human being is augmented electronically. Is a cyborg. Just like the 6-million-dollar man from the ’70s.
He would, of course, have been the 60-billion-dollar man If the contract had been given to Boeing. We are all connected to the world now. Through our smartphones and AirPods. How long will it be? before we have ocular and auditory implants, to help us communicate with our computers?
When will a supercomputer, be small enough to implant under the skull Where it could communicate directly with our brains? The answer is a lot sooner than most people think. These machines can help us navigate the world, And communicate with each other.
They could free us to reach a new potential, Not imagined by our ancestors. But they could also bring a new dark age. No dictator, Has ever had direct access, To the human mind. Thought police, Have always depended on spies and confessions. But what if even your deepest thoughts. Are not free from scrutiny?
To prevent the cyborg dystopia from coming about. We need to think about these things now. And develop systems to ensure human rights and freedom. It is not enough to pass laws and claim human rights exist, If these laws are not enforced, and rights are not protected, They are meaningless…
But let’s assume that rights are protected. What is the limit of this technology? Within less than a decade. A quadriplegic person. Formerly completely dependent on others. Will be able to autonomously control a robotic servant. So, they can care for themselves.
Even further they could be fitted with mind-controlled exoskeletons… So, they can go where they want. It would even be possible. Once they are skilled at the mental remote control. For them to control humanoid robots for rescue missions here on Earth, Or even on the Moon.
They could instantly see feel and control through an artificial body. Going where no human could survive. Building the infrastructure for colonies on the Moon, Mars, and elsewhere. Completely immune to heat, cold, and radiation.
Someone with these skills would no longer be considered handicapped. They would indeed be the pioneers of a new paradigm. Where humanity is not limited by the fragility of our bodies. And what would have seemed superhuman just a few years ago, Becomes commonplace. Where no frontier, Will be closed to us forever.
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