Contributors: Nuno R. B. Martins, Amara Angelica, Yuriy Svidinenko, Frank J. Boehm, Ioan Opris, Mikhail A. Lebedev, Melanie Swan, Steven A. Garan, Jeffrey V. Rosenfeld, Tad Hogg, Robert A. Freitas Jr. et al
Excerpt from “Human Brain/Cloud Interface”:
“We’ll have nanobots that… connect our neocortex to a synthetic neocortex in the cloud… Our thinking will be a…. biological and non-biological hybrid.”
— Ray Kurzweil, TED 2014
There is an incessant drive in medicine toward the development of smaller, more capable, efficacious, and cost-effective devices and systems. The primary driver of this quest relates to the cellular and sub-cellular genesis of human disease, at which scale, nanodevices can directly interact and potentially positively influence disease outcomes or prevent them altogether, particularly in regard to brain disorders (Kandel et al., 2000, Kandel, 2001; Zigmond et al., 2014; Chaudhury et al., 2015; Fornito et al., 2015; Falk et al., 2016). The pursuit of ever smaller tools to treat patients is approaching a pivotal juncture in medical history as advanced nanomedicine — specifically, medical nanorobotics — is expected to serve as a dynamic tool toward addressing most human brain disorders. The goal is to finally empower medical professionals to treat diseases at individual cellular and sub-cellular resolution (Freitas, 1998, 1999b, 2003, 2005a,c, 2007, 2016; Morris, 2001; Astier et al., 2005; Patel et al., 2006; Park et al., 2007; Popov et al., 2007; Mallouk and Sen, 2009; Martel et al., 2009; Kostarelos, 2010; Mavroides and Ferreira, 2011; Boehm, 2013).
The application of nanorobots to the human brain is denoted here as “neuralnanorobotics.” This technology may allow for the monitoring, recording, and even manipulation of many types of brain-related information at cellular and organellar levels (Martins et al., 2012, 2015, 2016). Medical neuralnanorobots are expected to have the capacity for real-time, non-destructive monitoring of single-neuron and single-synapse neuroelectric activity, local neuropeptide traffic, and other relevant functional data, while also allowing the acquisition of fundamental structural information from neuron surfaces, to enhance the connectome map of a living human brain (Sporns et al., 2005; Lu et al., 2009; Anderson et al., 2011; Kleinfeld et al., 2011; Seung, 2011; Martins et al., 2012, 2015, 2016). Non-destructive neuralnanorobotically mediated whole-brain monitoring coupled with single-cell repair capabilities (Freitas, 2007) is anticipated to provide a powerful medical capability to effectively treat most, or all of the ∼400 known brain disorders, including, most notably: Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s (Freitas, 2016), addiction, dementia, epilepsy, and spinal cord disorders (NINDS, 2017).
Neuralnanorobots are also expected to empower many non-medical paradigm-shifting applications, including significant human cognitive enhancement, by providing a platform for direct access to supercomputing storage and processing capabilities and interfacing with artificial intelligence systems. Since information-based technologies are consistently improving their price-performance ratios and functional design at an exponential rate, it is likely that once they enter clinical practice or non-medical applications, neuralnanorobotic technologies may work in parallel with powerful artificial intelligence systems, supercomputing, and advanced molecular manufacturing.
Furthermore, autonomous nanomedical devices are expected to be biocompatible, primarily due to their structural materials, which would enable extended residency within the human body (Freitas, 1999a, 2002, 2003). Medical neuralnanorobots might also be fabricated in sufficient therapeutic quantities to treat individual patients, using diamondoid materials, as these materials may provide the greatest strength, resilience, and reliability in vivo (Freitas, 2010). An ongoing international “Nanofactory Collaboration” headed by Robert Freitas and Ralph Merkle has the primary objective of constructing the world’s first nanofactory, which will permit the mass manufacture of advanced autonomous diamondoid neuralnanorobots for both medical and non-medical applications (Freitas and Merkle, 2004, 2006; Freitas, 2009, 2010).
It is conceivable that within the next 20–30 years, neuralnanorobotics may be developed to enable a safe, secure, instantaneous, real-time interface between the human brain and biological and non-biological computing systems, empowering brain-to-brain interfaces (BTBI), brain-computer interfaces (BCI), and, in particular, sophisticated brain/cloud interfaces (B/CI). Such human B/CI systems may dramatically alter human/machine communications, carrying the promise of significant human cognitive enhancement (Kurzweil, 2014; Swan, 2016).
Historically, a fundamental breakthrough toward the possibility of a B/CI was the initial measurement and recording of the electrical activity of the brain via EEG in 1924 (Stone and Hughes, 2013). At the time, EEG marked a historical advance in neurologic and psychiatric diagnostic tools, as this technology allowed for the measurement of a variety of cerebral diseases, the quantification of deviations induced by different mental states, and detection of oscillatory alpha waves (8–13 Hz), the so-called “Berger’s wave.” The first EEG measurements required the insertion of silver wires into the scalps of patients, which later evolved to silver foils that were adhered to the head. These rudimentary sensors were initially linked to a Lippmann capillary electrometer. However, significantly improved results were achieved through the use of a Siemens double-coil recording galvanometer, which had an electronic resolution of 0.1 mv (Jung and Berger, 1979).
The first reported scientific instance of the term “brain–computer interface” dates to 1973, ∼50 years following the first EEG recording, when it was envisioned that EEG-reported brain electrical signals might be employed as data carriers in human–computer communications. This suggestion assumed that mental decisions and reactions might be probed by electroencephalographic potential fluctuations measured on the human scalp, and that meaningful EEG phenomena should be viewed as a complex structure of elementary wavelets that reflected individual cortical events (Vidal, 1973).
Currently, invasive1 and non-invasive brain–computer interfaces and non-invasive brain-to-brain communication systems have already been experimentally demonstrated and are the subject of serious research worldwide. Once these existing technologies have matured, they might provide treatments for completely paralyzed patients, eventually permitting the restoration of movement in paralyzed limbs through the transmission of brain signals to muscles or external prosthetic devices (Birbaumer, 2006). The first reported direct transmission of information between two human brains without intervention of motor or peripheral sensory systems occurred in 2014, using a brain-to-brain communication technique referred to as “hyperinteraction” (Grau et al., 2014).
The most promising long-term future technology for non-destructive, real-time human–brain–computer interfaces and brain-to-brain communications may be neuralnanorobotics (Martins et al., 2016). Neuralnanorobotics, which is the application of medical nanorobots to the human brain, was first envisaged by Freitas, who proposed the use of nanorobots for direct real-time monitoring of neural traffic from in vivo neurons, as well as the translation of messages to neurons (Freitas, 1999b, 2003). Other authors have also envisioned B/CI and predicted that in the future, humans will have access to a synthetic non-biological neocortex, which might permit a direct B/CI. Within the next few decades, neuralnanorobotics may enable a non-destructive, real-time, ultrahigh-resolution interface between the human brain and external computing platforms such as the “cloud.”
The term “cloud” refers to cloud computing, an information technology (IT) paradigm and a model for enabling ubiquitous access to shared pools of configurable resources (such as computer networks, servers, storage, applications, and services), that can be rapidly provisioned with minimal management effort, often over the Internet. For both personal or business applications, the cloud facilitates rapid data access, provides redundancy, and optimizes the global usage of processing and storage resources while enabling access from virtually any location on the planet. However, the primary challenge for worldwide global cloud-based information processing technologies is the speed of access to the system, or latency. For example, the current round-trip latency rate for transatlantic loops between New York and London is ∼90 ms (Verizon, 2014). Since there are now more than 4 billion Internet users worldwide, its economic impact on the global economy is increasingly significant. The economic impact of IoT (Internet of Things) applications alone has been estimated by the McKinsey Global Institute to range from $3.9 to $11.1 trillion per year by 2025. The global economic impact of cloud-based information processing over the next few decades may be at least an order of magnitude higher once cloud services are combined in previously unimagined ways, disrupting entire industries (Miraz et al., 2015). A neuralnanorobotics-mediated human B/CI, potentially available within 20–30 years, will require broadband Internet access with extremely high upload and download speeds, compared to today’s rates.
Humankind has at its core a potent and ceaseless drive to explore and to challenge itself, to improve its collective condition by relentlessly probing and pushing boundaries while constantly attempting to breach those barriers that tenuously separate the possible from the impossible. The notions of human augmentation and cognitive enhancement are borne of these tenets.
This drive includes an incessant quest for exploration and a constant desire for social interaction and communication — both of which are catalysts for rapidly increasing globalization. Consequently, the development of a non-destructive, real-time human B/CI technology may serve as an intimate, personalized conduit through which individuals would have instantaneous access to virtually any facet of cumulative human knowledge and also the optional specialized capacity to engage in myriad real-time fully immersive experiential and sensory worlds.
Images Credit: © Alias Group Creative/ Amanda Scott – No usage without written permission
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