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article imageInjectable brain electronics aid health and potential immortality

By Stephen Morgan     Jun 9, 2015 in Science
Major advances in the treatment of brain disorders and the future possibility of computerized immortality have now got one step closer, after scientists successfully used a syringe to inject "flexible" electronics into the brains of mice.
Since mice brains work similarly to our own, most experiments are first tested on these rodents before humans. In this instance, scientists succeeded in injecting flexible electronics into the brains of mice, which then meshed with their neural cells.
This advance opens the way for all sorts of possibilities in biotech inventions and treatments, which can be used to monitor and heal brain disorders.
However, the implications of the breakthrough for humans could mean we are one step closer to becoming cyborgs, when coupled with progress in other biotechnical applications for different parts of our bodies.
It is an important advance over implanting electronic units, which requires making surgical openings. The new procedure can be carried out with a syringe, after which a flexible and stretchable mesh of electronics surrounds the brain and fuses directly with its cells.
Live Science explains that the scientists are able to place the electronics into the needle of syringe about the width of a human hair.
"The new devices start off as tiny flat sheets about the size of a postage stamp made of metal electrodes and silicone wires that are each only nanometers, or billionths, of a meter thick. These sheets are meshes like chicken wire, consisting of about 90 percent empty space," says Live Science.
It quotes Charles Lieber, a nanoscientist and nanotechnologist at Harvard University, and co-author of the study who told the publication;
"Our new mesh flexible electronics are 1 million times more flexible than the state-of-the-art flexible electronics."
A flexible electronic mesh which can be injected into brain tissue through a needle to merge with bi...
A flexible electronic mesh which can be injected into brain tissue through a needle to merge with biological brain cells
Lieber research group Harvard Unisersity
Mail Online reports that the team from Harvard University and the National Centre for Nanoscience and Technology in Beijing found they could monitor the animal's brain activity.
In the future, it could lead to a bionic human brains, "with cells into host systems for unique engineering and biomedical applications," the study said.
Neural tissue meshed with injected electronics
Neural tissue meshed with injected electronics
Lieber Research Group, Harvard Univesity
Of course, there are both positive and negative sides of our march towards transhumanism, which can give rise to major medical advances and, at the same time, cause fears about potential ethical issues and sociopolitical implications.
On the positive side, it could help in repairing brain damage and cure conditions like Parkinson's disease or Alzheimer's, as well as treating such things as blindness, deafness. It could also be combined with stem cell therapies for other health problems.
The electronic, cellular webs could also be used to download computer information and processes into our brains to vastly increase our knowledge and skills.
However, while the scientists involved with this breakthrough didn't touch on issues outside of medicine and are clearly driven by a desire to improve people's health and well-being, science, of course can always be misused.
National Geographic quotes Lieber as warning:
“There’s always going to be someone interested in doing something bad, so it’s important to monitor the technology as it becomes more sophisticated."
Further advances could raise ethical issues. It might conversely lead to the ability to upload our brains, together with our intellect and personalities, into a computer, where we would have immortal life, surviving in a semi-"Matrix-like" digital world.
With advances in biotechnology — such as the recent creation of thought-driven artificial limbs and human-like robots with synthetic skin, electronic eyes and hearing — there might also be the possibility to reinstall our brains into robotic, biotechnical cyborgs.
“You’re blurring the living and the nonliving,” says Lieber.
This new technology could potentially give us the chance of defeating death by becoming semi-human robots. Our computer-stored brains could be re-transplanted into a cyborg bodies. Then, immortality would only be a matter of constantly repairing and upgrading our personal robo-model, in order to endlessly prolong our bio-digital existence.
By that time, cosmetic and aesthetic medicine could be perfected to the level where our cyborg selves would be indistinguishable from normal humans.
They would also be much healthier than our own imperfect, natural bodies, and perhaps offer a preferable form of life style.
That could in turn create a demand for assisted suicide, whereby people would chose to be reborn as more intelligent and more beautiful semi-humans.
Below is an example of a recently invented Chinese humanoid robot, called Yangyang, which moves, hears and speaks, gives hugs and is able to mimic human emotions.
Chinese humanoid robot
Chinese humanoid robot
Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
However, there could also be major social and political issues involved. There are no guarantees that a future biotechnical society will be either egalitarian or democratic.
As pointed out in another recent article in Digital Journal, only a small minority of wealthy people might have access to the most advanced techniques, creating a society ruled by a rich, super race of elite cyborgs.
Furthermore, there are already major concerns over the vast scale of surveillance of people's electronic and digital communications by the government, gathering information on millions of people's opinions and behavior in the name of protecting the nation.
Perhaps future brain technology could be used by governments for a more pervasive surveillance of people's thoughts and actions. If we were all linked up a great supercomputer, the possibility could arise for governments to direct people's thinking or hack people's minds.
Another article in Digital Journal reported on the successful telepathic transfer of thoughts and commands via the Internet.
As National Geographic says:
"Implanting electronics in the brain, more so than in the hands or even the eye, goes directly to one of the biggest fear about cyborgs: a threat to free will. Could someone hijack an implant to control its user’s thoughts or actions? Or to read their minds?"
What's next, we might ask? Given the success of this injectable electronic brain mesh, could children in the future be subject to vaccinations against anti-social thoughts and behaviors? The stuff of apocalyptic science fiction.
Still, this is for the future and it shouldn't overshadow the positive contribution presently made by the researchers in this area of medicine. Their study has recently been published in the journal, Nature Nanotechnology.
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