Neural Interfaces

The technology to implant computers into the human brain is almost upon us. Soon, we’ll be able to connect data jacks to our skulls like in Shadow Run or simply interface via wireless connection like the augmented reality demonstrated in countless TV shows and movies.

From Biological Neurons to Artificial 

This technology is said to have originated from the study of the human brain in the late 1800s; however, it could have been conceptualized as early as the 1600s when Enlightenment philosophers attempted to describe human intelligence and reason as a system of interconnected processes.

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Neural technology really began to take off in 1949 when Donald Hebb published his book The Organization of Behavior. In it, Hebb posited a novel new set of theories and anatomical facts about the functions of synaptic nerve connections and how they learn.

Artificial neural networking came only a couple years afterward, beginning with the Mark I Perceptron, a robot capable of recognizing characters of text, such as letters and numbers. This was perhaps the first known form of optical character recognition (OCR).

From Artificial Neurons to Biological

But how does such a heavy emphasis on artificial intelligence impact neural interfaces in biological organisms? The answer is simple: when you’re on the bleeding edge of technology, technology bleeds over.

The technology used in the neural nets of AI units has been reappropriated for research into cybernetic enhancements for biological organisms in the form of the neural lace, an ultra-thin mesh computer system implanted over the surface of the human brain.

Inspired by the concept of a neural lace, Elon Musk and his company, SpaceX, have begun work on what they are calling the Neuralink. This is intended to be the first attempt at creating a practical form of neural lace technology capable of safely being implanted into living beings.

From Fiction to Reality

Long before AI was ever invented, science fiction writers had been toying with the mechanics of what an AI creature might look like.

Two of the major examples of neural interfaces are to be found in Star Trek and Star Wars, however these versions primarily concern themselves with AI beings as a separate form of life rather than something capable of symbiosis.

In fact, when Captain Picard is assimilated by the Borg, he becomes a psychopathic murdering machine and attempts to destroy the Federation. In Star Wars, there are limited cybernetic enhancements.

Neither comes close to the accuracy of neural interfaces as depicted in the popular video game series Mass Effect, in which certain character classes are outfitted with neural interfaces to facilitate their daily routines.

Conclusion

While there are virtually an unlimited number of possible paths for neural interface technology to take, futurists like Elon Musk seem to believe it will take the path of the Mass Effect world, being used to improve quality of life and standard of living for everybody.

Further Reading

For a more detailed analysis of the technology that makes artificial neural networking possible, click here.