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Neuroprosthetics, Brain Emulation and Mind Uploading: The ultimate VR concepts

Neuroprosthetics, brain emulation and mind uploading are together perhaps the most extreme end of the trend towards virtual reality. All three are BMI, or Brain-Machine Interface. BMI is an old field, stretching back over six decades, concerned with direct-connecting the human brain to machines, in order to improve the function of both.

BMI is currently growing with exponential speed, with real successes in linking human brains to computers, and the control of virtual, and physical prosthetic limbs via pure thought control.

Neuroprosthetics

Neuroprosthetics are the least advanced of the three terms, and are something with us right now. A neuroprosthetic is a replacement for any component of the central nervous system, or a device which augments the function of any component of the central nervous system. The brain is paid particular attention with most neuroprosthetics, but it is far from the only component so augmented.

Good examples of modern neuroprosthetics are the Braingate, cochlear implants, retinal implants, seizure-preventing implanted electrode arrays, even artificial brain regions such as an artificial hippocampus.

Sometimes neuroprosthetics are purely software based, such as IBM's blue brain project, or as a software upgrade to an existing piece of implanted hardware, such as the cochlear implant mark II.

As a VR interface, neuroprosthetics are in principle, without equal: They allow a person to interface directly with the VR world with their mind, freeing them from any and all physical limitations. If their physical brain is not fast enough or smart enough, in theory, other neuroprosthetics grafted on would change all that.

Brain prosthesis truly do create an ultimate VR interface.

Brain Emulation

Brain emulation will be accomplished one of two ways.

One, software projects such as IBM's blue brain project or the Allen Brain Atlas will ultimately succeed in replicating an entire human brain.

IBM's blue brain project

The blue brain project's mission is to recreate a human brain in simulation, neuron for neuron, connection for connection. Then, turn it on, and give it stimuli, so see what happens.

They are starting with the central part of the brain, the neocortex - the part of the brain responsible for learning, memory, language and complex thought. The working model of this part, should be complete within just two years. After that, adjoining brain sections will be added until the entirety is mapped.

Allen Brain Atlas

Paul Allen, created the $100 million dollar Allen Brain Institute in Seattle, Washington, two years ago. The first explicit goal of the institute was to create an open-access, visual, searchable online map of genes expressed in the brain, as well as of brain circuitry and cell location. Roughly one petabyte of data-equal to the memory necessary to hold the information held in about 50 Libraries of Congress-will be produced as a result.

By the end of 2006, the Allen team plans to have as many as 24,000 genes online. While the ultimate goal is to map the human brain, the atlas ushers in a new era of neurogenetics-an attempt to make connections between anatomical, genetic, and behavioural observations.

Two, if neuroprosthetics continue to grow in power and the number of functions they can augment or replace, as seems likely, they will eventually reach a point where an organic brain is not necessary, and a large collection of neuroprosthetics functions just as well.

At that point, the human brain has been emulated, and runs completely on non-original components. By that point, we should have learnt, or be learning practically all there is to know about the function of the brain.

Mind Uploading

The last stage, mind uploading, leads as logically on from brain emulation as brain emulation does from neuroprosthetics. Once it is possible to emulate a brain, it should be possible to transfer the mind within that brain from one set of hardware to another. That is, from a collection of neuroprosthetics, to a computer-based existence, taking the mind, and uploading it into the machine.

References

BrainGate

Resource List: The BrainGate: Neuralprosthetic Development since 2004,
http://www.virtualworldlets.net/Resources/ResourceList.php?ID=1, Sunday, 22 October 2006

CyberKinetics' manufacturers of the Braingate, home page
http://www.cyberkineticsinc.com/content/medicalproducts/braingate.jsp, Sunday, 22 October 2006

Cochlear Implants

Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) Cochlear implants factsheet, 2006
http://www.rnid.org.uk/information_resources/factsheets/medical/
factsheets_leaflets/cochlear_implants.htm
, Sunday, 22 October 2006

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) Cochlear Implants
http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/coch.asp, Sunday, 22 October 2006

Retinal Prosthesis

Retinal Prosthesis: An Encouraging First Decade with Major Challenges Ahead. Ophthalmology, vol. 108(1), 2001.
http://www.bostonretinalimplant.org/progress/publications/
20010100-retinal-prosthesis.xml
, Sunday, 22 October 2006

Epileptic Prosthesis

First device for severe epilepsy - Food and Drug Administration approves NeuroCybernetic Prosthesis System, Nov-Dec, 1997
http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1370/is_n7_v31/ai_20097782, Sunday, 22 October 2006

Neurocybernetic prosthesis - Patent 4867164
http://www.freepatentsonline.com/4867164.html, Sunday, 22 October 2006

Artificial Hippocampus

World's first brain prosthesis revealed, NewScientist.com, 12 March 2003
http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn3488, Sunday, 22 October 2006

Blue Brain Project

Blue Brain Project - creating a simulated brain, 16/06/2005
http://www.virtualworldlets.net/Archive/IndividualNews.php?News=1115, Sunday, 22 October 2006

BBP Blue Brain Project Homepage
http://bluebrainproject.epfl.ch/, Sunday, 22 October 2006

Allen Brain Atlas

A Golden Age of Brain Exploration, 2005 Virginia Gewin
http://www.virtualworldlets.net/Resources/Hosted/Resource.php
?Name=GoldenExploration
, Sunday, 22 October 2006

Home : Allen Brain Atlas
http://www.brainatlas.org/, Sunday, 22 October 2006

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