Neuroscience

Neurotechnology

Neurotechnology

We live in the middle of the technological revolution, a revolution that is changing the way we communicate or work, among many other things.  Discover all the technologies that are intermingled in neuroscience.

We’re truly experiencing a technological revolution, a revolution that is changing the way we communicate or work, among many other things.

Healthcare has been particularly affected by new technologies like artificial intelligence, big data, virtual reality and new imaging techniques. Neuroscience is one of the areas that has been most impacted by technology. For example, thanks to new techniques in the field of neuroscience, brain observation is as detailed as ever; brain-computer interfaces enhance our performance, and we can even create machines with feelings thanks to artificial intelligence.

The development of computing and big data, together with the arrival of virtual reality, nanotechnology and DNA sequencing machines (among other technologies), are redefining this science.

Now, on top of understanding the way human brains work, we also need to take into account what we learn from machines and their capacity to analyze and predict information, such as neural connection patterns.

Our FTF experts talked about how computational approaches and technologies like machine learning will help improve the study and analysis tools used in neuroscience. Even though technologies are independent, all tools are related. Wearables compile information that has been analyzed through big data and artificial intelligence; this information is also part of brain-computer interfaces.

Now, we will analyze all the technologies that have had the greatest impact on neuroscience.

Artificial Intelligence

Among other things, AI can be used to help neuroscientists personalize treatments. In this video, expert Ricardo Gil da Costa explains how, by applying AI to the data we compile, we can find patterns and connections that we cannot appreciate on the surface.

Ng Wai Hoe is the medical director at Singapore’s National Neuroscience Institute. He also works in a research group that applies artificial intelligence and machine learning to results obtained from magnetic resonances. Research teams all over the world have developed algorithms that can analyze thousands of resonances and detect alterations in them, to then point doctors in the right direction.

However, the use of AI also sparks debate. The fear that machines will replace humans has been festering for many years, and those that are more skeptical do not believe that machines will function adequately.

Brain-Computer Interfaces

Some of the most promising, cutting-edge technologies in the field of neuroscience are brain-machine interfaces. They are devices that capture brain waves to later process and interpret them in a machine or computer. This technology allows the human brain to communicate with a machine, which paves the way for interacting with technology through our thinking. Many projects are already studying the development of brain-computer machines. The most well-known project is that of tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, through his company Neuralink. This project focuses on the development of an interface to connect sensors to the human brain by sewing them with microscopic threads that will enable communication between different areas and with the outside.

Operating a machine with our brains is one of the most interesting applications that Neuralink promises. However, the extended use of brain-computer interfaces could significantly improve the study of brain connections and the compilation of information on neural functioning.

Even so, this technology has a huge challenge going forward: implementation in one person for an acceptably long period of their life. Iota Biosciences, founded by experts Michel Maharbiz and José Carmena, is working on just that.

Iota Biosciences is working on “neural dust,” which consists of tiny, wireless brain implants that can monitor muscles, organs and nerves inside the body in real time. These neural dust sensors communicate through ultrasound with a patch that activates them and receives information for any specific therapy. Its promoters think the sensors could be implemented in just a simple outpatient procedure. They even compare them to the idea of putting on a wearable activity bracelet that could compile information about the functioning of internal organs and act accordingly.
Artificial Intelligence needs all this compiled information in order to develop interfaces that will help us monitor data and make appropriate decisions.

Brain-computer machines and their applications are rapidly expanding in the field of mental health and are called “mental prosthetics” in that area. Experts can analyze data and create systems to treat psychiatric neural disorders in a completely different way than they could pharmacologically.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is well-known for its applications in the entertainment industry. Little by little, we immerse in new worlds to consume cultural content (such as concerts or exclusive movie content), but above all, we play videogames–these have become virtual reality’s most popular applications. The main criticism in these cases has to do with image quality and loading time: the content needs large processing capacity to meet the expectations. However, these handicaps are minor in the healthcare field.

So far, there are several projects dedicated to the development of programs to apply this technology in hospitals and healthcare facilities.

  • Hospital Universitario La Paz launched the VTR project [link in Spanish] to improve psychological assistance for minors undergoing transplants and their family members throughout the entire treatment. The initiative focuses on three goals: prevention, distraction and awareness.
  • Hospital La Princesa, in Madrid, has also started a clinical trial that applies immersive virtual reality to multiple sclerosis patients undergoing rehabilitation. Around 50 people use special glasses with programmed exercises to optimize their time at home.

One of the world’s leading experts on this technology is our own Walter Greenleaf. In this video, he explains this technology’s implications in the field of neuroscience.

 Virtual reality is a powerful tool for research and intervention. Initially, virtual reality was perceived as something exclusive to gaming environments. However, now it has moved into the corporate area, where big tech players have invested billions of dollars in development.

Machines with Feelings

The most innovative proposals in artificial intelligence have something in common: they all try to go beyond the use of machine learning to analyze enormous amounts of information. They also venture into researching the most human aspects of artificial intelligence. A clear example is designing machines that are able to feel emotions or be aware of their own existence. Antonio Damasiohas recently published a paperwhere he explains this project. The idea is to develop machines that can feel, have feelings and, therefore, consciousness.

In this video, Antonio Damasio explains that machines with feelings could be useful in two different aspects: as experimental testing platforms (a way to study human feelings and consciousness outside the human body) and to create an even more intelligent machine that would be able to feel and have a conscience.

Damasio believes in the development of soft robots, made of hyperflexible materials, that interact with the environment in a safer way, and that can interact with humans. In addition, Damasio’s proposal includes intellectual capacity as well; instead of setting up a very complex device, cognitively speaking, our expert suggests weakening its design and introducing vulnerability and risk. The idea is that this robot with great intellectual capacity could evolve and develop the capacity to defend itself and be more intelligent due to its need for adaptability.

To sum up, Damasio and his team propose a type of machine that could develop feelings and consciousness but, above all, the awareness of danger to themselves. In order to perceive danger and develop the need to stay alive, machines need something more than just a vulnerable (or soft) body: they need to be able to feel. Feelings guide our lives. They affect everything we do.

After all, consciousness is the ability to have a mental experience, determined by two critical components:

  • Self-reference: when you are aware of something and you know it refers to you; more specifically, to your body.
  • Mental experiences need to be associated with feelings. It’s not that there might be a feeling or not: feelings are inherent to the experience process. A feeling is a sort of classification of the state of life at a specific given moment.

Damasio suggests creating vulnerable machines that are able to have feelings and, therefore, be aware of themselves and the risks they are subject to.

In this video, Antonio Damasio explains that machines with feelings could be useful in two different aspects: as experimental testing platforms (a way to study human feelings and consciousness outside the human body) and to create an even more intelligent machine that would be able to feel and have a conscience.

Damasio believes in the development of soft robots, made of hyperflexible materials, that interact with the environment in a safer way, and that can interact with humans. In addition, Damasio’s proposal includes intellectual capacity as well; instead of setting up a very complex device, cognitively speaking, our expert suggests weakening its design and introducing vulnerability and risk. The idea is that this robot with great intellectual capacity could evolve and develop the capacity to defend itself and be more intelligent due to its need for adaptability.

To sum up, Damasio and his team propose a type of machine that could develop feelings and consciousness but, above all, the awareness of danger to themselves. In order to perceive danger and develop the need to stay alive, machines need something more than just a vulnerable (or soft) body: they need to be able to feel. Feelings guide our lives. They affect everything we do.

After all, consciousness is the ability to have a mental experience, determined by two critical components:

  • Self-reference: when you are aware of something and you know it refers to you; more specifically, to your body.
  • Mental experiences need to be associated with feelings. It’s not that there might be a feeling or not: feelings are inherent to the experience process. A feeling is a sort of classification of the state of life at a specific given moment.

Damasio suggests creating vulnerable machines that are able to have feelings and, therefore, be aware of themselves and the risks they are subject to.

https://www.fundacionbankinter.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Publicacion-PDF-IN-FTF_Neurociencia.pdf

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