Kernel

A deeper look into Kernel’s plan to create a brain prosthetic

From Inside the Race to Build a Brain-Machine Interface—and Outpace Evolution | WIRED

The scientists from Kernel are there for a different reason: They work for Bryan Johnson, a 40-year-old tech entrepreneur who sold his business for $800 million and decided to pursue an insanely ambitious dream—he wants to take control of evolution and create a better human. He intends to do this by building a “neuroprosthesis,” a device that will allow us to learn faster, remember more, “coevolve” with artificial intelligence, unlock the secrets of telepathy, and maybe even connect into group minds. He’d also like to find a way to download skills such as martial arts, Matrix-style. And he wants to sell this invention at mass-market prices so it’s not an elite product for the rich.

Right now all he has is an algorithm on a hard drive. When he describes the neuroprosthesis to reporters and conference audiences, he often uses the media-friendly expression “a chip in the brain,” but he knows he’ll never sell a mass-market product that depends on drilling holes in people’s skulls. Instead, the algorithm will eventually connect to the brain through some variation of noninvasive interfaces being developed by scientists around the world, from tiny sensors that could be injected into the brain to genetically engineered neurons that can exchange data wirelessly with a hatlike receiver. All of these proposed interfaces are either pipe dreams or years in the future, so in the meantime he’s using the wires attached to Dickerson’s hippo­campus to focus on an even bigger challenge: what you say to the brain once you’re connected to it.

That’s what the algorithm does. The wires embedded in Dickerson’s head will record the electrical signals that Dickerson’s neurons send to one another during a series of simple memory tests. The signals will then be uploaded onto a hard drive, where the algorithm will translate them into a digital code that can be analyzed and enhanced—or rewritten—with the goal of improving her memory. The algorithm will then translate the code back into electrical signals to be sent up into the brain. If it helps her spark a few images from the memories she was having when the data was gathered, the researchers will know the algorithm is working. Then they’ll try to do the same thing with memories that take place over a period of time, something nobody’s ever done before. If those two tests work, they’ll be on their way to deciphering the patterns and processes that create memories.

Although other scientists are using similar techniques on simpler problems, Johnson is the only person trying to make a commercial neurological product that would enhance memory. In a few minutes, he’s going to conduct his first human test. For a commercial memory prosthesis, it will be the first human test.

Long and detailed report on what Kernel is doing. Really worth your time.

The cost of a cognitive prosthetic will pale in comparison to taking care of a person with dementia for 20 years

From We Will End Disability by Becoming Cyborgs – IEEE Spectrum

It’s quite possible that Alzheimer’s patients of the future will be equipped with memory prosthetics derived from the devices being invented in Berger’s lab today. His work began with delicate electrodes inserted into a rat’s hippocampus, the brain structure responsible for encoding memory. Berger first deciphered the relationship between the input signals from neurons that process a brief learning experience—for example, which lever a rat should press to gain a sip of sugar water—and the output signals from neurons that send the information on to be stored as a memory.

Once he had mapped the correlations between the two electrical patterns, Berger could record an input signal and predict the output signal—in other words, the memory. He didn’t need to know which part of the input pattern coded for the dimensions of the lever or for the taste of the sweet reward. He simply mathematically generated the output signal and sent it to the memory-storage neurons. “It’s like translating Russian to Chinese when you don’t know either language,” Berger says. “We don’t want to know either language; we just want to know how this pattern becomes that pattern.”

Berger proved that he could implant the memory of the lever-and-reward test in a rat with a damaged hippocampus that was unable to form memories on its own. Even more remarkable, he implanted the memory in a rat that had never before undergone the test or seen the levers. The rat entered the test chamber for the first time, pressed the correct lever, and sucked down the sweet nectar.