The Mundanity of Physical Enhancement

Although physical enhancement is what most people associate with transhumanism, it’s not particularly interesting. A man with tentacles and wings who can fly and breathe underwater is still just some dude. Humans are primitive beings, with conspicuously primitive minds — we just recently evolved from un-intelligent apes that used the same stone tools for millions of years.

Everything truly exciting about the transhumanist project lies in the mental realm. Only through opening up and intervening in the brain can we really change ourselves and the way the world works. Anything else is just the surface.

What approaches can we take to cognitive enhancement?

First, take brain surgery. It is extremely unlikely that cognitive enhancement will be conducted through conventional brain surgery as is practiced today. These procedures are inherently risky and only conducted under necessary circumstances, when the challenges of surgery outweigh the huge cost, substantial risk, and long recovery time of the procedures.

More subtle than brain surgery is optogenetics, regarded by some as the scientific breakthrough of the last decade. Optogenetics allows researchers …

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$18.5 Million for Brain-Computer Interfacing

Another university is opening up a BCI lab, University of Washington. It makes sense because it’s near the Allen Institute for Brain Science, among other reasons. Did I mention that Christof Koch, the new Chief Science Officer of the Allen Institute, will be speaking at Singularity Summit?

Here’s an excerpt of the news release:

The National Science Foundation today announced an $18.5 million grant to establish an Engineering Research Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering based at the University of Washington.

“The center will work on robotic devices that interact with, assist and understand the nervous system,” said director Yoky Matsuoka, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering. “It will combine advances in robotics, neuroscience, electromechanical devices and computer science to restore or augment the body’s ability for sensation and movement.”

The text is pretty generic boilerplate, it’s just the action that is important. We will likely have to wait a year or more before any interesting breakthroughs from this lab hit the news.

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Superior Retinal Prosthesis Developed for Mice

From Science Daily: A new retinal prosthetic creates an image (middle) that more accurately reconstructs a baby’s face (left) than the standard approach (right).

Researchers have developed an artificial retina that has the capacity to reproduce normal vision in mice. While other prosthetic strategies mainly increase the number of electrodes in an eye to capture more information, this study concentrated on incorporating the eye’s neural “code” that converts pictures into signals the brain can understand.

Degenerative diseases of the retina — nerve cells in the eye that send visual information to the brain — have caused more than 25 million people worldwide to become partially or totally blind. Although medicine may slow degeneration, there is no known cure. Existing retinal prosthetic devices restore partial vision; however, the sight is limited. Efforts to improve the devices have so far largely focused on increasing the number of cells that are re- activated in the damaged retina.

This is a major BCI advance. Prior visual reconstruction implants had a much lower resolution. Within a couple decades it could become possible …

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Link Assortment 10/29/10

Raising giant insects of unravel ancient oxygen The electronics for smart implants SENS Foundation post on how resveratrol does not extend lifespan Brian Wang reports on Zyvex progress in nanotechnology How 3-D printing is transforming the toy industry “Skin printer” could help heal battlefield wounds Self-assembly revolutionizes metamaterial manufacture Transgenic worms make tough fibers Magnetic test reveals hyperactive brain network responsible for involuntary flashbacks Controlling individual cortical nerve cells by human thought Learning the truth not effective in battling rumors about NYC mosque, study finds Fingers detect typos even when conscious brain doesn’t ‘Wireless’ humans could form backbone of new mobile networks Optical technique reveals unnexpected complexity in mammalian olfactory coding Carbon nanotube thermopower achieving high specific power over seven times higher than lithium batteries George Dvorsky: Why life extensionists need to be concerned about neurological diseases

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ASIM Experts Series: Brain-Machine Interfacing: Current Work and Future Directions, by Max Hodak, October 17, 2010

“ASIM” stands for Advancing Substrate Independent Minds, the field previously known as mind uploading, though ASIM can be construed as broader. ASIM is the focus of Carboncopies, a new non-profit founded by Suzanne Gildert (now at D-Wave) and Randal Koene (Halcyon Molecular). Randal and I work at the same company so I get to see him in the lunch room now.

The presentation, to be held in Teleplace this upcoming Sunday (email Giulio Prisco for directions on how to log in) has the following abstract:

Brain-machine interfacing: current work and future directions Max Hodak – http://younoodle.com/people/max_hodak

Abstract: Fluid, two-way brain-machine interfacing represents one of the greatest challenges of modern bioengineering. It offers the potential to restore movement and speech to the locked-in, and ultimately allow us as humans to expand far beyond the biological limits we’re encased in now. But, there’s a long road ahead. Today, noninvasive BMIs are largely useless as practical devices and invasive BMIs are critically limited, though progress is being made everyday. Microwire array …

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MIT’s Ed Boyden at Singularity Summit 2009 — Synthetic Neurobiology: Optically Engineering the Brain to Augment Its Function

Ed Boyden at Singularity Summit 2009 — Synthetic Neurobiology: Optically Engineering the Brain to Augment Its Function from Michael Anissimov on Vimeo.

Here’s another interesting talk, this one by rising MIT star Ed Boyden on directly interfacing with the brain via optical signals.

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Creating a Mental Transcript of Everything You Think

The vast majority of all thought is wasted because we forget what we were thinking. There is no record unless we write it all down.

Some form of electronic telepathy already exists, but it is crude. Ambient Corp’s neckband lets you speak without opening your mouth. The system only knows 150 words.

In the longer term, it may be possible to use a similar technology to make a constant transcript of thoughts in realtime. This article from PopSci mentions:

Neuroscientists are already able to read some basic thoughts, like whether an individual test subject is looking at a picture of a cat or an image with a specific left or right orientation. They can even read pictures that you’re simply imagining in your mind’s eye. Even leaders in the field are shocked by how far we’ve come in our ability to peer into people’s minds.

Did you know that we can already read basic thoughts? The PopSci article is optimistic about timeframes — it sort of has to be, because it is a magazine made for …

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Comparison of Consumer Brain-Computer Interface Devices

Check out this interesting comparison of consumer brain-computer interfaces on Wikipedia.

Emotiv is apparently coming out with their EPOC in Q4 2009. The page says:

Due to the complex detection algorithms involved, there is a slight lag in detecting thoughts, making them more suitable for use in games like Harry Potter than FPS games.

Obviously faster computers would help here. People ask about the economic motivations for why the average person would want faster computers. This could become one of them.

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