In a potential breakthrough for future treatment of humans suffering brain damage, scientists at Tel Aviv University have implanted a computer chip into a living brain restoring motor function signals.
The research team was led by Matti Mintz who told New Scientist: “It’s proof of concept that we can record information from the brain, analyze it in a way similar to the biological network, and return it to the brain."
Research builds on work first begun in 1920s
One of the pioneers of brain stimulation interfacing, W. R. Hess, managed to segregate almost 4,000 regions of the brain's hypothalamus. That area of the brain is responsible for most of the physical and emotional responses.
Through electrical stimulation, Hess could initiate aggressiveness, quiescence, hunger, anger, happiness, sadness, and more.
Decades later, Dr. Robert G. Heath, Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Tulane University, implanted over 100 electrodes in a human brain. He was able to manipulate pleasure and fear, create sexual arousal, and cause vivid hallucinations in the test subject.
His most controversial experiment—conducted during the 1970s—involved stimulation of the pleasure centers of a gay man codenamed B-19.
After seeking permission from the state's district attorney, Heath brought a prostitute into the lab and attempted to "convert" the homosexual man to an heterosexual through electrode stimulation. Reportedly the experiment was successful and B-19 supposedly activated his "reward circuits" about 1,500 times during a 3-hour session.
No record survives detailing the physical condition of the subject after that grueling day. [Robert Heath experiments.]
The emergence of ESB
A brilliant neurophysiologist with Yale University, Dr. Jose Delgado, carried the research further. Employing a technique he called "Electronic Stimulation of the Brain" (ESB) with a stimoceiver—a technology he invented—Delgado used radio waves to control animals with tiny electrodes embedded in their brains.
The doctor noted a wide spectrum of emotions could be turned on and off at will. He described all his experiments in detail in the book, "Physical Control of the Mind."
A book that critiqued Delgado's work, "The Mind Stealers," penned by Samuel Chavkin, described the medical scientist: “Dr. Delgado is optimistic that with the increasing sophistication and miniaturization of electronics, it may be possible to compress the necessary circuitry for a small computer into a chip that is implantable subcutaneously.
"In this way, the new self-contained instrument could be devised; capable of receiving, analyzing and sending back information to the brain, establishing artificial links between unrelated cerebral areas, functional feedbacks, and programs of stimulations contingent on the appearance of predetermined wave patterns."
In the U.S., much of the work done during the 1950s and 1960s was accomplished by German researchers brought into the country during the Project Paper Clip program initiated by President Harry Truman. The science of neural interfaces was advances in semi-secret labs under the watchful eyes of the military and intelligence agencies.
As the new Millennium dawned, famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking warned of the potential dangers of machine-human interfacing. He urged bio-technologists to "develop as quickly as possible technologies that make possible a direct connection between brain and computer, so that artificial brains contribute to human intelligence rather than opposing it." ["Stephen Hawking Warns of ‘Terminator’-Style Menace."]
Building an artificial brain
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh created an artificial brain made of nearly 60 nerve cells harvested from a rat's hippocampus. It was reported that "This micro-sized artificial brain can record a memory within 12 seconds." ["Researchers create artificial brain"]
Mintz in Tel Aviv stressed the cyborg brain allowed the rat to function despite severe brain damage. "Without the artificial cerebellum, the rat could not learn the motor reflex." [Raw Story]