Scientists have successfully engineered electronics that can be injected into brain tissue, allowing them to mesh with biological brain cells.
Researchers have speculated that in the future humans will become increasingly more “non-biological” to the point where the non-biological part dominates the biological part.
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This mesh of electrodes can unfold once in position and has so far been used to monitor brain activity in mice – suggesting it may be capable of similar feats in humans one day.
Previous research has shown that electronics can be surgically implanted but this is the first time that electronics have been implanted in tissues non-invasively.
‘We have introduced a new strategy for delivering electronics to the internal regions of 3D man-made and biological structures that involves the syringe injection of submicrometre-thickness, large-area macroporous mesh electronics,’ the researchers wrote.
The mesh-shaped electronics were injected via a needle with a diameter of just 0.1 millimetres, according to the study published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
They unfolded to their original shape in less than an hour with widths more than 30 times that of the needle once they were injected into two distinct brain regions in live mice.
The electronics retained approximately 80 per cent of their original configuration with no loss of function.
The team from Harvard University and the National Centre for Nanoscience and Technology in Beijing, found the mesh produced no immune response over a period of five weeks and were able to network with healthy neurons.
But more excitingly still, when the electronics were injected into the the hippocampus of the mice, the scientists found that they could monitor the animals’ brain activity with limited damage to the surrounding brain tissues.
The experts behind this innovation said flexible and stretchable electronics could be used to continually monitor tissues, such as the workings of the brain or heart.
In the near future, the research could be extended to implant multifunctional or wireless devices into mice.
In the longer term, the innovation could even be used to make a human bionic brain, by co-injecting mesh electronics ‘with cells into host systems for unique engineering and biomedical applications,’ the study said.
It has previously been claimed that in just 30 years, humans will be able to upload their minds to computers to become digitally immortal – an event called singularity.
Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google said in 2013 that it will also be possible to replace body parts with mechanical devices and that this could happen by the end of the century.
He said: ‘Based on conservative estimates of the amount of computation you need to functionally simulate a human brain, we’ll be able to expand the scope of our intelligence a billion-fold.’
He referred to Moore’s Law that states the power of computing doubles, on average, every two years quoting the developments from genetic sequencing and 3D printing.
In Mr Kurweil’s book, The Singularity Is Near, he plots this development and journey towards singularity in a graph.
This singularity is also referred to as digital immortality because brains and a person’s intelligence will be digitally stored forever, even after they die.
It has previously been claimed that in 30 years humans will be able to upload their minds and replace body parts with mechanical parts, illustrated
He added that this will be possible through neural engineering and referenced the recent strides made towards modeling the brain and technologies which can replace biological functions.
Examples of such technology include the cochlear implant – an implant attached to the brain’s cochlear nerve and electronically stimulates it to restore hearing to someone who is deaf.
Other examples include technology that can restore motor skills after the nervous system is damaged.
Expanding on this idea Martine Rothblatt, chief executive of biotech company United Therapeutics introduced the idea of ‘mindclones’.
These are digital versions of humans that can live forever and can create ‘mindfiles’ that are a place to store aspects of our personalities.
She said it would run on a kind of software for consciousness and told The Huffington Post: ‘The first company that develops mindware will have [as much success as] a thousand Googles.’
Rothblatt added that the presence of mindware could lead to replacing other parts of the body with ‘non-biological’ parts.
This is a concept that Mr Kurweil also discussed and was the basis of his book Fantastic Voyage.
In this book he discussed immortality and how he believes the human body will develop.
He said: ‘We’re going to become increasingly non-biological to the point where the non-biological part dominates and the biological part is not important any more.
‘In fact the non-biological part – the machine part – will be so powerful it can completely model and understand the biological part. So even if that biological part went away it wouldn’t make any difference.
‘We’ll also have non-biological bodies – we can create bodies with nano technology, we can create virtual bodies and virtual reality in which the virtual reality will be as realistic as the actual reality.
‘The virtual bodies will be as detailed and convincing as real bodies.
‘We do need a body, our intelligence is directed towards a body but it doesn’t have to be this frail, biological body that is subject to all kinds of failure modes.
‘But I think we’ll have a choice of bodies, we’ll certainly be routinely changing our parent body through virtual reality and today you can have a different body in something like Second Life, but it’s just a picture on the screen.
‘Research has shown that people actually begin to subjectively identify with their avatar.
‘But in the future it’s not going to be a little picture in a virtual environment you’re looking at. It will feel like this is your body and you’re in that environment and your body is the virtual body and it can be as realistic as real reality.’
As well as this, he said we will have a ‘radical life expansion.
Kurweil explained: ‘We’re going to have million of virtual environments to explore that we’re going to literally expand our brains – right now we only have 300 million patterns organised in a grand hierarchy that we create ourselves.
‘But we could make that 300 billion or 300 trillion. The last time we expanded it with the frontal cortex we created language and art and science. Just think of the qualitative leaps we can’t even imagine today when we expand our near cortex again.’