Feeds

Chip boffins hone silicon-brain interface

First slugs. Then humans

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Silicon-Slug Talk

In 1991, Fromhertz and company managed to get a simple electronic/ionic dialog going on between a silicon capacitor and a slug neuron - and when we say simple, we mean very, very simple: An electron-carrying signal was sent from a silicon-based capacitor, through an electrolyte, and across a 5nm cell membrane where it induced an ionic channel in the membrane that caused a replication of the pulse of the trigger signal from the chip.

If that last sentence confused you, don't fret - it's both a complex concept to explain and a gross oversimplification of the methods used. The basic take-away: The chip could talk to the cell, and vice-versa. Not that they could say much. But, hey, you have to crawl before you can walk, right?

Importantly, Fromherz's chip/cell communication could be conducted with no corrosive nor electrochemical damage to either the chip or the cell. However, that slug-neuron success was the only giant step in the development of a chip/cell interface for 17 years. It was only earlier this year that the team managed to pull off essentially the same feat with much smaller and far more delicate mammalian neurons, in this case taken and cultured from those great sacrificers for humanity: lab rats.

Back in 1991, the idea of electronics being able to cause brain-cell activity was unsettling to some observers. Fromherz, in fact, read to the assemble engineers a worried comment from one observer from that time: Now that "a functioning neuro-net can be physically attached to a silicon chip," the observer said, we should explore the "philosophical and spiritual consequences." Fromherz brushed aside such concerns, and the audience chuckled in agreement.

Don't be surprised, though, that when this type of brain/electronic interface becomes more controllable, interconnectable, and manageable - and it most surely will - such concerns will be debated. There will, of course, be those who argue strictly from a religious perspective that there are places that science shouldn't go - the Catholic Pope, for example, recently restated his objection to both stem-cell research and in-vitro fertilization. And there will also be those who fear that electronic control over neurological processes will lead us down a slippery slope towards The Borg.

But there are great benefits to be obtained from chip/cell interactions as well. At tomorrow's IEDM, for example, two papers will be presented that will detail recent neuroprosthetic research.

The first, "Systems Design of a High-Resolution Retinal Prosthesis" by J. Weitland and his crew from the University of Southern California, will explain how they have managed to fit 1000 light-sensing electrodes to be installed in a tiny in-eye device, coupled with an advanced image-processing technology, and powered remotely. Their goal: greatly improved artificial sight for the vision-impaired.

The second, "Microelectronics Meets the Brain: Towards Implantable Neural Communications Interfaces" by Y.-K. Song and his cohorts at Brown University, will discuss "thought-to-action telemetry." At the core of their work is an active sensor that's surgically implantable with one element below the skull and that interfaces with the brain, and another above the skull but below the skin that's able to communicate with telemetric devices. The entire system, according to the paper's authors, will be safe and highly reliable.

Artificial limbs haven't made us The Borg. Neither will artificial sight nor thought-to-action telementry.

And those who oppose such advances will be assimilated. ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
TRIANGULAR orbits will help Rosetta to get up close with Comet 67P
Probe will be just 10km from Space Duck in October
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.