The Wired Brain

Motive, Means, & Opportunity
Ramez Naam

Help the sick & injured

Brain and nervous system prosthesis

Neural prosthesis to enhance human brains


The Deaf
~20 million hearing impaired people in US ~2 million cannot be helped by hearing aids

The Blind
1.3 million people in the US

The Paralyzed
2 million people in the US

Reeve was paralyzed in 1995.

Parkinson’s Disease
1.5 million people in the US

Permanent Brain Injury
5.3 million people in the US
Problems with: attention memory learning perception mood

And Many More
stroke victims the severely depressed obsessive compulsive disorder sufferers

> 10 million potential patients in the US


The Brain is Electrochemical
1870 – Fritsch and Hitzig Moved dog limbs by electrically stimulating the brain

Human Cognition is Electrochemical
1950 – Wilder Penfield Produced spontaneous memories by electrically stimulating the brain

Neural Interfaces Can Control Behavior
1960s - Jose Delgado & Robert Heath

Delgado Animal Manipulation
Sleep Appetite Aggression Pleasure & Pain Social Dominance



Heath Human Experiments
“neuro-orgasms” professions of love attempted to “cure homosexuality”


medical uses

Restore Hearing
1970s – The Cochlear Implant
Restores Hearing to Completely Deaf

Cochlear Implant
electrically stimulates the auditory nerve

Primitive Electronics, Big Results
Cochlear Implant < 30 electrodes Auditory Nerve 30,000 neurons

couldn’t possibly work produces 90% word recognition

Restoring Vision

Restoring Vision

Primitive Electronics, Big Results
Visual Prosthesis 256 electrodes Visual Cortex billions of neurons

couldn’t possibly work “limited mobility” vision

Cortical Visual Implant Video

Controlling Motion

Primitive Electronics, Big Results
Motor Prosthesis 1 wireless electrode Motor Cortex billions of neurons

couldn’t possibly work provides useful control of cursor or robot arm

Controlling Devices

What’s Happening Here?
cracking the code of the brain that code is distributed good results with sparse connections

Controlling Parkinson’s

all Parkinson’s drugs fail over time

Controlling Parkinson’s Disease
Deep Brain Stimulator

Deep Brain Stimulator
more than 30,000 installed 8-10 hour surgery $40,000 bill Recently covered by Medicare

Deep Brain Stimulator Side Effects
Untreatable Depression

Normal Mood

Deep Brain Stimulator Side Effects
Uncontrolled Obsessive Compulsive Behavior Normal Behavioral Control

Deep Brain Stimulator Side Effects
Clinical trials for Depression & OCD Underway other conditions under consideration

a return to emotion and behavior but in a medical context

Technology Trends

Neural Interface Electronics
Implant Type Parkinson’s Motor Cochlear Visual # of Electrodes to Date
(in humans)

1 8 30 256

Enter the Electrical Engineers

UMich Neural Chip 1024 electrodes Wireless

Infineon Neuro-Chip 16,384 electrodes

Plenty of Room To Improve

55 million transistors


Restoring Damaged Memory?

Repairing the Hippocampus

Hippocampus Chip
“dumb” replica of the hippocampus will help us crack the code of memory

Enhancing Memory?
In 2006 Berger & Deadwyler will attach hippocampus chip to a healthy primate’s hippocampus

Enhancing Memory?
In 2006 it probably won’t work we’ll learn from the attempt someday soon it will work

Beyond Memory
some possibilities

Beyond Memory
Language Chip Broca & Wernicke’s areas ultimate text input method?

Beyond Memory
Emotion Chip amygdala & other areas

Emotional Chip Advantages
Drugs slow to act slow to stop acting shotgun approach ( = side effects) not very tunable no feedback Neural Stimulation immediate stops on a dime laser-like precision extremely fine-tunable instant feedback

Autonomous Behavioral Conditioning
broccoli = good exercise = good saturated fat = bad

Risks of Self Conditioning
ultimate high 1500 self-stimulations per hour ultimate addiction hardware limitations

Beyond Memory
Frontal Cortex Chip
“working memory” attention reasoning decision making

to the brain, imagination = sensation = memory

the same neurons fire when you see an image when you remember that image when you imagine an image just like it

so if we can send images, sounds, sensations into your brain you can send them out of your brain into a computer or another person’s brain

Vanderbilt Experiment

monkey #1 auditory cortex

Brain Computer Interface

monkey #2 auditory cortex

What Else Could We Communicate?
Sound, Sight, Touch, Taste, Smell Almost Certainly Emotions? Probably Memories? Knowledge? Skills? Maybe someday but not soon

Major Changes To
human self-determination human-to-human communication

The Hurdles

Hurdles – Brain Surgery
Risky Expensive New surgery for each upgrade? Conclusion: it will never happen

What About Eye Surgery?
Risky Expensive May get stuck with less than 20/20 vision Glasses are a fine alternative Conclusion: it will never happen

Laser Surgery Changed the Rules

had risk, cost, and non-surgical alternatives sufficiently safe sufficiently cheap sufficient benefit (convenience) revolutionized eye surgery

Eye Surgeries Per Year
1,800,000 1,600,000 1,400,000 1,200,000 1,000,000 800,000 600,000 400,000 200,000 0 1990 1995 2000 20,000 200,000 1,550,000

Refractive Eye Surgery Cost
$4,500 $4,000 $3,500 $3,000 $2,500 $2,000 $1,500 $1,000 $500 $0 1990 1995 2000

Possible Brain Surgery Revolutions
Stereotactic Surgery (magnets, images, and robots) Neurovascular Surgery (enter through arteries instead of the skull)

Neurovascular Stereotactic Surgery

Neurovascular Stereotactic Surgery

Magnetic Fields Guide Catheter

12 hour surgeries now take 90 minutes with less risk, better outcomes $40,000 aneurysm operations now cost $4,000

brain surgery is destined to become fast, safe, and easy

Hurdle - Upgrades
only the interface electronics go inside the brain the rest sit on the outside

Alternative to Brain Surgery
Wearable computing: PDAs for memory Contact-lens displays Throat microphones

Alternative to Brain Surgery
Poor substitutes for: instant, precise emotional control audio, visual, tactile, emotional telepathy improved memory, attention, and cognition and more


(for now)

help the sick


neural – computer interfaces

in their infancy

rapidly improving


enhance memory & cognition

increase human self-determination

expand modes of human communication

The Risk Takers

Those who’ve suffered will be the first enhanced

Backup Slides

Computer Mediated Communication

Freedo m


Freedo m


Economic s Neuroscience

Economic s Neuroscience



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