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IEET > Life > Innovation > Vision > Nanotechnology > Futurism > Contributors > Dick Pelletier

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Non-biological brains could become reality by the 2050s

Dick Pelletier
By Dick Pelletier
Ethical Technology

Posted: Dec 16, 2013

As wild as this idea seems, within 40 years, neurons made from nanomaterials could enable humans to survive even the most horrendous accident, and as a bonus, acquire some remarkable new abilities.

    Researchers at USC's Viterbi School of Engineering have created a functioning synapse using neurons made from carbon nanotubes. In tests, their synapse circuits perform similar to normal biological neurons.

    Of course, duplicating synapse firings in nanotube circuits does not mean that scientists are ready to replace the human brain, but a new interdisciplinary research center at MIT aims at nothing less than unraveling the mystery of intelligence; which promises to fast-forward this technology.

    The MIT researchers hope to gain a better understanding of how the brain gives rise to intelligence, and how we can build machines that are as broadly intelligent as we are. Article.

    Reverse-engineering the brain. This massive Blue Brain effort with completion expected by mid-to-late-2020s will enable scientists to simulate the brain in a machine. This is the first step in creating computers more powerful than human brains, says futurist Ray Kurzweil, in The Singularity is Near.

    "The key lies in decoding and simulating the cerebral cortex, the seat of cognition," Kurzweil continues; "The human cortex has about 22 billion neurons and 220 trillion synapses." Today, computers capable of crunching this amount of data do not exist, but IBM experts believe that supercomputers with increased computational and memory capacity that can process this data will be available within three years.

    Nano engineer John Burch, commenting on this molecular nanotechnology video, predicts in his blog that expected advances in molecular nanotechnology will one day enable us to replace brain cells with damage-resistant nanomaterials that process thoughts faster than today's biological brains.

    "The new brain would include an exact copy of the structure and personality that existed before the conversion," Burch says, but it would run much faster and would increase our memory a thousand-fold. We could even control thought speeds, shifting from 100 milliseconds, the response time of todays brains, to 50 nanoseconds, millions of times faster.

    Creating thoughts at high speeds would slow everything down; at least that's how it would seem in our mind. Our perception would quicken, but activities would appear to happen slower. Events that seem like minutes in our mind would actually be happening in seconds. We would no longer panic in emergencies.

    Burch describes how we would switch to this new brain. A daily pill would supply nanomaterials and instructions for nanobots to form new neurons and position them next to existing brain cells to be replaced. These changes would be unnoticeable to us, but in six months, we would sport the new brain.

    Our artificial brain will allow wireless interface with computers and other digital technologies. We could access the Internet, control electronics, and make phone calls, with just our thoughts. In addition, we would understand complicated subjects; even speak a new language, without need for study.

‚Äč    The most important benefit of our new brain could be its ability to survive disaster. Should we suffer a fatal accident, our body may be a total loss, but the moment the accident happened, nanobots would quickly repair our brain, if damaged. Information is then transmitted to a processing center where a new body is cloned, identical to our old body, except with all the latest features; ready for transfer of our brain.

    The accident victim would 'wake up,' not even realizing they had died. Biological brains die within minutes after the heart stops, but our new brain will simply turn itself off and wait for a new power supply.

    Experts predict these technologies could be in place by mid-century, but some wonder, will this make us less human; are we becoming cyborgs. Proponents explain that we already enjoy glasses, false teeth, titanium hip replacements, cochlear implants, and prosthetic limbs. Artificial brains and body clones are just the next stage in making our 21st century high-tech life more secure and enjoyable.

    Hey readers; does this radical technology make sense to you? Personally, once I get over the "yuck" factor of replacing my brain I see this as an incredible life-saving medical procedure.

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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*sigh* as usual the “benefits” of being uploaded in this way—basically Moravec Transfer—are greatly exaggerated while the risks are ignored, additionally any counter-proposal to obtain some of the same reported benefits using alternate approaches are dismissed. For example the possibility of a neural interface that would interface with the existing brain and still offer wireless communication is ignored.

Furthermore I have yet to see (and I doubt the existence of) a satisfactory argument that reconciles the pattern identity theory that underlies this [] with the claim that being uploaded will somehow give you more memory or otherwise enhanced cognitive functions (as opposed to speed).

I equate it to the transporter technology in Star Trek, where it is a legitimate question if Bones is correct and being transported results in your death.  I would think that a gradual migration into a non-biological brain would be a better solution, since our current brain cells obey the Hayflick limit, and can be paired with better engineered artificial brain cells.  This could be considered analogous to a stroke or traumatic brain injury, where part of the brain dies, but the functioning is taken up by another part.  Frankly, I’m not sure I would want to go to sleep and wake up with an artificial brain, since that would be suddenly not me (in a biological sense).

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