07 November 2017

Brain Implants in the News

In his October 27 article in the Wall Street Journal titled “To Keep Up With AI, We’ll Need High-Tech Brains” Christof Koch, President and Chief Scientific Officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, argues for the development of high-resolution brain implants for everyone. His stated reason is that this will create a place for humans in a future where all basic tasks are performed by computers and robots, but he also hints at something grander, saying of the brain that “It is within our reach to enhance it, to reach for something immensely powerful we can barely discern”. Koch muses about implants that “could translate a vague thought into a precise and error-free piece of digital code, turning anyone into a programmer.” and about how “People could set their brains to keep their focus on a task for hours on end” (now that reminds me of something…).

Enter John Horgan, foe of brain implants and writer at the Scientific American, where on November 1 he published "Do We Need Brain Implants To Keep Up With Robots?". Horgan thinks the technology Koch describes is far in the future; because before we can develop effective brain implants, Horgan thinks we need to solve what he calls the “neural code”, i.e. understand how communication among millions of individual neurons gives rise to brain function. I think this is an error of thought. Complete understanding is a valuable thing but improvisation and learning by trial and error are workable courses of action too, especially in an age of AI. Many powerful brain enhancing implants could be in widespread use today if the process for placing electrodes inside the skull could be made safe, but Horgan doesn’t mention this essential (and in my mind only) obstacle to rapid growth in the use of brain implants. Good thing Elon Musk is on the case.

PS. The neurorobot project is developing just fine, stay tuned :)

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