Beyond Boundaries, by Miguel Nicolelis

Once in a while a science book shakes the foundation of what is possible and brings into view a plethora of possibilities for the future. Usually unexpected, unpredictable, unconventional, the discoveries of these scientists bring into play the realities of an idea thought science fiction and prove them science-fact, and coming soon to a store next door. Knowledge of this type cannot be undone and thus the world will never be the same. Of course such discoveries sometimes take time to manifest, but there’s no going around them and it’s only a matter of time. Possibly less than a decade.

To call Miguel Nicolelis a mad scientist may not be the most fitting, only because he is definitely not mad, but his discovery has such profound near-term possibilities, one might assume the world will soon become a mad place. Nicolelis is a Brazilian scientist and physician who works with brains. While others hypothesise, this guy prods and gets results.

The title of his book, Beyond Boundaries, in my opinion has been toned down, so as not to frighten potential readers. While it is easily decipherable, using easily understood sentences, paragraphs and so on, it may take a little bit of imagination to tip you over the rabbit hole. Knowing enough about the subject of neuroscience, and some science fiction imagination I found myself tumbling down this hole.

The idea is simple, get a brain to communicate directly with a machine. When I say directly, I mean direct brain electrical impulses to a computer sorting out algorithms, electricity being the mode of communication. No fingers needed, no voice needed, no intermediary ingredients. How the brain communicates with your muscles to move your hand is the closest analogy, since this is exactly what he does.

Side discoveries include brain plasticity, learning capacity, and non modular functionality, some of which flies against previously respected theories of neuro functional specialisation. But this is not a theory, it is a reality, proven by experiment, so scientists now have to accept the brain in most cases can function and learn to do most of the things the body does, and more!!

Not exactly the best read, but what this lacks in great story telling, it certainly makes up for, in what is said and what this guy has managed to do. The achievement and results sell themselves without the necessity of great story telling. I’m sure good science fiction books will be written about this to cover any shortfalls.

Micro electrodes attached to a monkey’s brain enables the monkey to move robotic hands and legs. These electrodes are not attached anywhere specific on the brain, but with practice and a visual feedback loop, the monkey’s brain learns how to send the correct signals to fine tune the process. Just like someone with a brain stroke can learn how to walk and speak after loosing those abilities, so does the monkey learn how to move the robot, his robot, him as far as he’s concerned.

So what are the implications beyond the obvious application of functional prosthetics. Well, the monkeys were able to differentiate between their real body parts, hands and legs, which they were still able to move and function as normal, while at the same time understood the additions and where able to incorporate them as new functional body parts. Finally we may be able to know what it’s like to be an Dr. Octopus.

Dr. Nicolelis is now experimenting with brain to brain interaction. The Holy Grail of human language may be something of the past if we are able to communicate directly through brain electrical impulses. Communicating Qualia and experience, dreams and memories, at speeds a hundred, may be a thousand or more times faster than we can talk, with fingerprint accuracy. Add to this the Internet and wireless communication, and how will this change the world.

If your brain can communicate everything it experiences to another person as fast as it does to another part of your brain, will humanity converge into a single consciousness, I ask myself. These are serious philosophical questions, not fantasy.

May be this is what is needed to bring about peace, correcting ambiguous communication through natural language and misunderstandings that has caused so much suffering. If you can feel someone’s hurt, possibly as your own, would you want to play a shoot-em game with real drones and kill innocent people across the world with no more than a flash on the screen letting you know what happened.

I have to give some credit to this book which in part has inspired my blog/website If you understand this stuff and have the imagination of what this really means, I would highly recommend Beyond Boundaries, The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines.

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