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Putting a computer in your brain is no longer science fiction

Like many in Silicon Valley, technology entrepreneur Bryan Johnson sees a future in which intelligent machines can do things like drive cars on their own and anticipate our needs before we ask.

What’s uncommon is how Johnson wants to respond: find a way to supercharge the human brain so that we can keep up with the machines.

From an unassuming office in Venice Beach, his science-fiction-meets-science start-up, Kernel, is building a tiny chip that can be implanted in the brain to help people suffering from neurological damage caused by strokes, Alzheimer’s or concussions. Top neuroscientists who are building the chip — they call it a neuroprosthetic — hope that in the longer term, it will be able to boost intelligence, memory and other cognitive tasks.

The medical device is years in the making, Johnson acknowledges, but he can afford the time. He sold his payments company, Braintree, to PayPal for $800 million in 2013. A former Mormon raised in Utah, the 38-year-old speaks about the project with missionary-like intensity and focus.

“Human intelligence is landlocked in relationship to artificial intelligence — and the landlock is the degeneration of the body and the brain,” he said in an interview about the company, which he had not discussed publicly before. “This is a question of keeping humans front and center as we progress.”

Johnson stands out among an elite set of entrepreneurs who believe Silicon Valley can play a role in funding large-scale scientific discoveries — the kind that can dramatically improve human life in ways that go beyond building software.

Though many of their ventures draw from software principles: In the last two years, venture capital firms like Y Combinator, Andreessen Horowitz, Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures and others have poured money into start-ups that focus on “bio-hacking” — the notion that you can engineer the body the way you would a software program. They’ve funded companies that aim to sequence the bacteria in the gut, reprogram the DNA you were born with, or conduct cancer biopsies from samples of blood. They’ve backed what are known as cognitive-enhancement businesses like Thync, which builds a headset that sends mood-altering electrical pulses to the brain, and Nootrobox, a start-up that makes chewable coffee supplements that combine doses of caffeine with active ingredients in green tea, leading to a precisely engineered, zenlike high.

[Tech titans' lastest project: Creating the fountain of youth]

It’s easy to dismiss these efforts as the hubristic, techno-utopian fantasies of a self-involved elite that believes it can defy death and human decline — and in doing so, confer even more advantages on the already-privileged.

And while there’s no shortage of hubris in Silicon Valley, it’s also undoubtable some of these projects will accelerate scientific breakthroughs and fill some of the gaps left in the wake of declining public funding for scientific research, said Laurie Zoloth, professor of  bioethics and medical humanities at Northwestern University. Moreover, techies are motivated by the fact that many biological and health challenges increasingly involve data-mining and computation; they’re looking more like problems that they know how to solve. Large-scale genome sequencing, for example, has long been seen as key to unlocking targeted cancer therapies and detecting disease far earlier than current methods; it’s becoming more of a reality as the cost of sequencing, storing and analyzing the data has dropped dramatically, leading to a flood of investments in that area.

Kernel is cognitive enhancement of the not-gimmicky variety. The concept is based on the work of Theodore Berger, a pioneering biomedical engineer who directs the Center for Neural Engineering at the University of Southern California, and is the start-up’s chief science officer.

For over two decades, Berger has been working on building a neuroprostheticto help people with dementia, strokes, concussions, brain injuries and Alzheimer's disease, which afflicts 1 in 9 adults over 65.

The implanted devices try to replicate the way brain cells communicate with one another. Let’s say, for example, that you are having a conversation with your boss. A healthy brain will convert that conversation from short-term memory to long-term memory by firing off a set of electrical signals. The signals fire in a specific code that is unique to each person and is a bit like a software command.

Brain diseases throw off these signaling codes. Berger’s software tries to assist the communication between brain cells by making an instantaneous prediction as to what the healthy code should be, and then firing off in that pattern. In separate studies funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency over the last several years, Berger’s chips were shown toimprove recall functions in both rats and monkeys.

A year ago, Berger felt he had reached a ceiling in his research. He wanted to begin testing his devices with humans and was thinking about commercial opportunities when he got a cold call from Johnson in October 2015. He hadn’t heard of Johnson; the Google search said he was a tech entrepreneur who had founded a payments processing company and invested in out-there science start-ups. The two met in Berger’s office later that month. They talked for four hours, skipping lunch, and by the end of the day, Johnson said he would put up the funds for the two to start something together. “I don’t know who, but somebody was looking over us,” Berger said of the meeting.

For Johnson, the meeting was a culmination of a longtime obsession with intelligence and the brain.

[Building an artificial brain]

Shortly after he sold Braintree, he was already restless to start another company. He spent six months calling everyone he knew who was doing “something audacious” — about 200 people in all. “I wanted to understand, what mental models people maintained — how did they define what to work on and why?” he says.

He then set up a $100 million fund that invests in science and technology start-ups that could “radically improve quality of life.” The fund, which comes exclusively from his personal fortune, was called OS Fund, because he wanted to support companies that were making changes at the operating-system level, he said. Johnson’s goal was to take projects from “crazy to viable” — including start-ups attempting to mine asteroids for precious metals and water, delivery drones for developing countries, and an artificial-intelligence company building the world’s largest human genetic database.


At the same time, he kept returning to intelligence, both artificial and real. As he saw it, artificial intelligence was booming — technology advances were moving at an accelerated pace; the pace of the human brain’s evolution was sluggish by comparison. So he hired a team of neuroscientists and tasked them with combing through all the relevant research, with the goal of forming a brain company. Eventually they settled on Berger.

Ten months later, the team is starting to sketch out prototypes of the device and is conducting tests with epilepsy patients in hospitals. They hope to start a clinical trial, but first they have to figure out how to make the device portable. (Right now, patients who use it are hooked up to a computer.)

Zoloth says one of the big risks of technologists funding science is that they fund their own priorities, which can be disconnected from the greater public good. Many people don’t have enough resources to fulfill the brain potential they currently have, let alone enhance it. “Saying that if tech billionaires fund what they want may inadvertently fund science for the larger public, as a sort of leftover effect, is a problematic argument,” she said. “If brilliantly creative high school teachers in the inner city, for example, could fund science, too, then perhaps the needs of the poor might be found more interesting.”

Johnson says he is acutely aware of those concerns. He recognizes that the notion of people walking around with chips implanted in their heads to make them smarter seems far-fetched, to put it mildly. He says the goal is to build a product that is widely affordable, but acknowledges there are challenges. He points out that many scientific discoveries and inventions — even the printing press — started out for a privileged group but ended up providing massive benefits to humanity. The primary benefits of Kernel, he says, will be for the sick, for the millions of people who have lost their memories because of brain disorders. Even a small improvement in memory — a person with dementia might be able to remember the location of the bathroom in their home, for example — can help people maintain their dignity and enjoy a greater quality of life.

And in an age of AI, he insists that boosting the capacity of our brains is itself an urgent public concern. “Whatever endeavor we imagine — flying cars, go to Mars — it all fits downstream from our intelligence,” he says. “It is the most powerful resource in existence. It is the master tool.”

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/08/15/putting-a-computer-in-your-brain-is-no-longer-science-fiction/

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Founded by Russian entrepreneur Dmitry Itskov in February 2011 with the participation of leading Russian specialists in the field of neural interfaces, robotics, artificial organs and systems.

The main goals of the 2045 Initiative: the creation and realization of a new strategy for the development of humanity which meets global civilization challenges; the creation of optimale conditions promoting the spiritual enlightenment of humanity; and the realization of a new futuristic reality based on 5 principles: high spirituality, high culture, high ethics, high science and high technologies. 

The main science mega-project of the 2045 Initiative aims to create technologies enabling the transfer of a individual’s personality to a more advanced non-biological carrier, and extending life, including to the point of immortality. We devote particular attention to enabling the fullest possible dialogue between the world’s major spiritual traditions, science and society.

A large-scale transformation of humanity, comparable to some of the major spiritual and sci-tech revolutions in history, will require a new strategy. We believe this to be necessary to overcome existing crises, which threaten our planetary habitat and the continued existence of humanity as a species. With the 2045 Initiative, we hope to realize a new strategy for humanity's development, and in so doing, create a more productive, fulfilling, and satisfying future.

The "2045" team is working towards creating an international research center where leading scientists will be engaged in research and development in the fields of anthropomorphic robotics, living systems modeling and brain and consciousness modeling with the goal of transferring one’s individual consciousness to an artificial carrier and achieving cybernetic immortality.

An annual congress "The Global Future 2045" is organized by the Initiative to give platform for discussing mankind's evolutionary strategy based on technologies of cybernetic immortality as well as the possible impact of such technologies on global society, politics and economies of the future.


Future prospects of "2045" Initiative for society


The emergence and widespread use of affordable android "avatars" controlled by a "brain-computer" interface. Coupled with related technologies “avatars’ will give people a number of new features: ability to work in dangerous environments, perform rescue operations, travel in extreme situations etc.
Avatar components will be used in medicine for the rehabilitation of fully or partially disabled patients giving them prosthetic limbs or recover lost senses.


Creation of an autonomous life-support system for the human brain linked to a robot, ‘avatar’, will save people whose body is completely worn out or irreversibly damaged. Any patient with an intact brain will be able to return to a fully functioning  bodily life. Such technologies will  greatly enlarge  the possibility of hybrid bio-electronic devices, thus creating a new IT revolution and will make  all  kinds of superimpositions of electronic and biological systems possible.


Creation of a computer model of the brain and human consciousness  with the subsequent development of means to transfer individual consciousness  onto an artificial carrier. This development will profoundly change the world, it will not only give everyone the possibility of  cybernetic immortality but will also create a friendly artificial intelligence,  expand human capabilities  and provide opportunities for ordinary people to restore or modify their own brain multiple times.  The final result  at this stage can be a real revolution in the understanding of human nature that will completely change the human and technical prospects for humanity.


This is the time when substance-independent minds will receive new bodies with capacities far exceeding those of ordinary humans. A new era for humanity will arrive!  Changes will occur in all spheres of human activity – energy generation, transportation, politics, medicine, psychology, sciences, and so on.

Today it is hard to imagine a future when bodies consisting of nanorobots  will become affordable  and capable of taking any form. It is also hard to imagine body holograms featuring controlled matter. One thing is clear however:  humanity, for the first time in its history, will make a fully managed evolutionary transition and eventually become a new species. Moreover,  prerequisites for a large-scale  expansion into outer space will be created as well.


Key elements of the project in the future

• International social movement
• social network immortal.me
• charitable foundation "Global Future 2045" (Foundation 2045)
• scientific research centre "Immortality"
• business incubator
• University of "Immortality"
• annual award for contribution to the realization of  the project of "Immortality”.

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