Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley are working on a new technology that they say will one day make it possible to perform virtual brain implants – all from a device that they claim will be small enough to fit into an ordinary backpack.
Known as "holographic brain modulation," the technology involves the use of light to alter brain function, all by projecting holographic images into brain cells. Using advanced technological trickery, these holograms basically fool the brain into thinking that it felt, saw, or sensed something that wasn't actually there.
The flashes of light that the device creates act as tiny control units for operating brain neurons, effectively simulating experiences and life events that never occurred in reality. But the holographic implants make it seem as though they did, and patients would theoretically have no clue one way or another.
Researchers say that such technology could be beneficial in helping patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for instance, overcome negative and damaging experiences by artificially replacing them with pleasant ones. Another potential benefit involves helping blind people to "see," and paralyzed people to "feel touch."
Holographic brain implants have the potential to "imprint" pretty much any type of brain programming that a person wants, whether it be happy memories, positive achievements, and even the erasure of negative memories and experiences.
Tests on mice found that the application of optogenetics, as it's called, or the use of light to control cells in living tissue, was able to effectively synthesize a variety of brain activity patterns in the animals. The mice were basically tricked into believing that they had felt, seen, or sensed various stimuli that weren't actually there – which was precisely the goal.
As these tests were being performed, researchers at UC Berkeley monitored the mice's neural activity in real time, observing what was taking place as various implants were being administered. From this, they learned which neurons to turn on, and which ones to turn off, in order to achieve a desired outcome.
"This has great potential for neural prostheses, since it has the precision needed for the brain to interpret the pattern of activation," stated lead author Alan Mardinly, a postdoctoral fellow in the UC Berkeley lab of Hillel Adesnik, about the findings.
"If you can read and write the language of the brain, you can speak to it in its own language and it can interpret the message much better."
Those who've seen the 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will recall that artificial brain reprogramming was this movie's entire premise. A doctor with the ability to erase people's bad memories and reprogram their brains using similar-type technology discovers that it isn't exactly foolproof, and can actually ruin people's lives.
This story line was obviously fictitious, as was the technology at the time. But now it seems that it's on the verge of becoming a reality – as well as presenting some of the exact same problems. It all sounds good in theory, but what happens when the programming fails, or when new imprinted memories are incongruent with older ones that are real?
It's like trying to play God, and some researchers are dead set on doing so in the name of "science." They think it'll work without creating problems – but as is usually the case with human pride and arrogance, it'll more than likely unleash a Pandora's box of horrors that has the potential to forever change the course of human existence.
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