My brain contains approximately 100 billion neurons, each connecting to other nerve cells through synapses. These interactions process signals entering the nervous system, and then produce output responses that stimulate my bodily functions, everything from thinking to walking to kissing.
I compare this to a massive parallel information processing system, similar to a quantum computer. However, if that computer should break down, my life and all its memories could disappear forever. Therefore, many forward-thinking scientists are looking into solutions that would strengthen the brain by reinforcing its neurons with non-biological neurons made from carbon nanotubes.
These new artificial neurons would not only act as electrical bypass circuitry, giving patients a ‘fail-safe’ system should their brain become damaged, but would also enhance performance of healthy cells, providing ‘superhuman’ brain functions. Thoughts could be processed millions of times faster.
However, two hurdles must be resolved before this futuristic dream can become reality. First, researchers must unravel the mysteries of human consciousness, which experts define as tracking the quintillions of interactions between neurons that give rise to human thoughts and actions. This will require more powerful computing methods – quantum computers – predicted to arrive by mid-2020s.
Second, molecular nanotechnology must be developed to the point where neuron replacement and modification technologies become routine medical therapies. Positive futurists believe that carbon nanotube-based circuitry will one day enable brain-machine interfaces, which would lead to new neuroprosthetics that can process sight, sound, smell and motion. Such circuits could for instance, veto epileptic attacks before they occur, eliminate all forms of mental disease, perform spinal bypasses around injuries, and repair or enhance normal cognitive functions.
Though many challenges remain before this dream becomes reality, the potential is clear: healing brain diseases, supercharging the intellect of healthy brains and eventually building a human-machine interface that could download super-computer computational abilities directly into our human brains.
Most experts consider the human brain the most complex system in the Universe, however, I believe that this organ will one day be clearly understood and will play a major role in guiding us into what promises to become a truly awesome brain enhancement future. Comments welcome.
Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.
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