A future prediction: brain implants will be used to supercharge the brain and edit neural activity to cure neurological disorders and conditions.

We have almost no control over the sensations we feel throughout the day.

We can’t apply any selectivity on our good or bad memories. Even if we wanted to, we can’t decide which to keep and which to jettison from our mind.

We can lose some of our senses and even our memory. This deeply affects the lives of millions of people around the globe and how they interact with the world around us.

What if we had the means to regain our lost senses, edit our memories, and alter our feelings at a click of a button?

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Control Your Thoughts With Optogenetics

Our brain’s thinking process is all about neurons switching on and off and communicating with each other. If we can monitor neural behavior, we’ll be able to take full control over our mind.

The brain is a large pack of billions of neurons connected through a network of trillions of synapses.

Basically, all that neurons do is to activate and deactivate according to the signals transmitted through synaptic pathways.

Extensive research into neuroscience has led to the emergence of a technique known as “optogenetics”.

Optogenetics (the Greek prefix optikós means visible) is set to revolutionize neuroscience by literally shining light on the brain cells.

In a little over a decade, optogenetic resources and methods have developed considerably since neuroscientists have figured out how to stimulate neurons with light.

After rendering neurons sensitive to light by specific chemical molecules, optogeneticists then use a laser to stimulate the neurons of the brain and the nervous system.

Optogenetic Editing: The Holographic Brain Modulator

In the past, neuroscientists used deep brain stimulation techniques to deliver electrical impulses and activate specific regions in the brain.

Thanks to optogenetic toolsets, they can intervene in a less invasive way and target narrower areas to light-stimulate neurons.

In the near future, optogenetic interventions are expected to be completely non-invasive.

Now, researchers at the University of California – Berkeley, are taking optogenetics to another level.

UC Berkeley neuroscientists built a device which is able to activate sets of up to 50 neurons at once in a 3D piece of the brain containing between 2,000 and 3,000 neurons.

Called the “holographic brain modulator”, the device can repeat the process 300 times per second.

With this level of precision and speed, researchers can monitor neural activity continuously and tell which neuron sets they have to stimulate.

“The major advance is the ability to control neurons precisely in space and time,” said researchers. “In other words, to shoot the very specific sets of neurons you want to activate and do it at the characteristic scale and the speed at which they normally work.”

The team tested their holographic brain modulator on mice with promising results.

Researchers targeted neuron sets in specific areas in the brain of mice (vision, touch, and motor regions) by holographic images, and were able to create illusive brain activity and fool mice into seeing or feeling something unreal.

The fields of applications are geared toward neural implants that augment or replace brain functions and the senses:

“This has great potential for neural prostheses, since it has the precision needed for the brain to interpret the pattern of activation. If you can read and write the language of the brain, you can speak to it in its own language and it can interpret the message much better,” said Berkeley’s Alan Mardinly. “This is one of the first steps in a long road to develop a technology that could be a virtual brain implant with additional senses or enhanced senses.”

Does optogenetics in general, and this method in particular, open the way to any misuse scenarios?

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