Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Decade Of The Mind & Your New Cyborg Brain 3e

Dr. Theodore W. Berger, a neuroscientist, is one step closer to producing working implantable brain chips to replace certain parts of the brain which are damaged or malfunctioning.

You might ask what does Berger's research have to do with DARPA's military aims?  A lot it would seem.  This mouse memory research is partially funded by DARPA like 335 other programs worldwide. A quick google search confirms this.  Dr. Berger has been very involved in this work for the military as we list just some of his patents.

  • US7203132: Real Time Acoustic Event Location And Classification System With Camera Display  http://bit.ly/jfhOVp
  • EP0988585: Dynamic Synapse For Signal Processing In Neural Networks  http://bit.ly/iWsEJz
  • US20090115635: Detection And Classification Of Running Vehicles Based On Acoustic Signatures  http://bit.ly/mwXain
  • US20090309725: Systems And Methods For Security Breach Detection  http://bit.ly/j4c9Lw
  • WO2009134784: Real Time System For Readiness Monitoring Of Dismounted Soldiers  http://bit.ly/iFqRXq

Mice Implant To Restore Memory
Dr. Berger's latest work involves the wiring of a mouse brain to an implant.  The first step is the recording of the mice's hippocampus (the brain's long term memory center) as the mouse is taught which lever to pull to get fresh water or a food reward.  The implant recorded the electrical signals that were sent between two subregions of the hippocampus called CA1 and CA2.  It is in the interaction of the two subregions that a short term memory is converted into a long term one.  After this, the mouse is given a drug that prevents CA1 from communicating with CA2.  Then, the connected implant plays back the recorded information to CA2 the mouse again remembered the procedure.  There have been other experiments conducted using neural prosthetics which have been successful. What makes this one different is that the prosthetic was placed on at one of the ends of the brain (like has been done before) or between the brain and a machine (like has also been done before), but inside the brain between two parts of the brain.  For a good explanation of what was done you may also go here.  The ultimate goal is well explained by a discover magazine article recently published,
The ultimate goal is to develop memory-boosting implants for human patients—but that’s a far more complicated task than simply scaling up the electrode array used in rats. Our memories are far more detailed than the simple lever-pressing task, meaning recording and replaying them—or even figuring out how to—wouldn’t be as easy. Plus, this technique relies on playing back neural signals that have already been recorded; in patients who already have severe memory deficits, that memory trace might be too weak to record.
Dr. Berger plans on using this on primates next, one step closer to humans.  Dr. Berger's research has been going on for years.  An excellent discussion of this research is explained by The Neurophile.  There are the inherent problems with trying to model the brain.  This is not close to happening yet, due to the complexity of what happens in the brain and our still crude instruments at measuring that activity.  In a lecture that The Neurophile attended by Dr. Berger in 2006, Dr. Berger stated,
...this project should not be considered a replacement for pharmaceutical therapies for memory problems, but rather they should be considered complementary. Even if expandable to other regions of the brain, at the most this system will only be able to subsititute for relatively distinct areas that are nonfunctional. But any damage great enough to render areas nonfunctional will probably also cause some damage to surrounding areas, leaving them partially functioning; pharm approaches will probably still be ideal for those areas.
Nevertheless, we are approaching in small steps, the time when certain substantial and critical parts of the brain may be modelled and thus its behavior predicted, which will change us in ways we cannot even imagine yet.  Dr. Berger published a paper explaining his work in the Journal of Neural Engineering Vol 8 (2011), titled, A Cortical Neural Prosthesis For Restoring And Enhancing Memory.
"Our enemies are always learning and adapting. They will not approach conflicts with conceptions or understanding similar to ours. And they will surprise us."
The Joint Operating Environment

Accelerated Learning
For thousands of years, people have been learning in a non-precise manner.  Teachers try through trial and error methods, which the best of them master to painfully and slowly train their students in the skills they are to master.  But what if this process could be done in hours as opposed to years?  How would that change society?  How would that accelerate research?  The classic version of this is found in The Matrix, where Neo learns Kung-Fu.  If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link: http://youtu.be/6vMO3XmNXe4.

What is the official goal of Accelerated Learning according to DARPA?  Let us read their own goals.
Warfighters must master a diverse set of physical and mental skills, often in a very compressed period. Measures of learning in this military environment often rely on qualitative and subjective assessment, with little opportunity to correct or redirect learning in midcourse. Recent discoveries in neuroscience, modeling, and analysis techniques laid the foundation for neuroscience-based noninvasive strategies with potential to dramatically accelerate transition from novice to expert in key military tasks. The Accelerated Learning program will develop quantitative and integrative neuroscience-based approaches for measuring, tracking, and accelerating skill acquisition while producing a twofold increase in an individual's progress through the stages of task learning. Accelerated Learning will identify the neural basis of expert performance by integrating behavioral data with neurophysiological measures to track the progression of novices on the training path to expertise.
How will this be done?  Again they explain,
Accelerated Learning will develop reliable, quantitative methods to track task progression based on noninvasive measures of brain activity, including neurophysiologically driven training regimens, neurally optimized stimuli, and stimulatory or modulatory interventions. Complementary components to help attain this goal include development of neurally based techniques to maintain acquired skills, prediction of skill acquisition based on real-time neural activity, preferential brain network activation, and strategies for understanding relationships between cognition and emotion in skills learning.
DARPA proposed this project back in 2006.  At the time, DARAP expected Phase 1 of this endeavor to last 18 months.  After that, depending on the results of Phase 1, DARPA would be willing to consider a Phase 2 "...to mature successful demonstrators into prototype systems for transition to operational use."  There is reason to believe that DARPA is now working on Phase 2 if The U.S. Army Learning Concept for 2015 is any measure.  We are not certain if the acronym has remained the same, but there is a DARPA program initiated in 2007 called BALT (Biologically Accelerated Learning Technology) based in the University of Pittsburgh, under the leadership of Walter Schineider.  It a Phase II program due to end in August of 2011.  DARPA has allocated $2,172,530 towards the phase.  The Learning Research and Development Center in the university has a Cognitive Neuroscience component.  In the 2011 Department of Defense Budget, there is an allocation for the Math and Computer Sciences.  It states,
The Math and Computer Sciences project supports long term national security requirements through scientific research and experimentation in new computational models and mechanisms for reasoning and communication in complex, interconnected systems. The project is exploring novel means to exploit computer capabilities; enhance human-to-computer and computer-to-computer interaction technologies; advance innovative computer architectures; and discover new learning mechanisms and innovations in software composition. It is also fostering the computer science academic community to address the DoD’s need for innovative computer and information science technologies.
Here is an outline of their goals for accelerated learning specified for the years 2010 and 2011.

FY 2010 Plans:
-  Identify neural processes for encoding short- and long-term memory in primates during a complex
motor task.
-  Build hardware and software to implement pattern extraction and inter-individual verification of
homogeneity of patterns between primates.
-  Create an interface that enables performance of a complex motor/sensory task through an assistive
device without using either motor or sensory function.
-  Determine task performance changes resulting from learning and plasticity through observation of
the development of functional networks in the primate and rodent brain over time.
-  Construct algorithms and methods capable of more accurately describing and estimating neural
signals from limited data.

FY 2011 Base Plans:
-  Assess ability of primate to retain short-term memory encoding following simulated injury through
use of neural codes.
-  Determine potential for long-term memory encoding assisted through use of neural codes in
primates with long-term memory deficit.
-  Identify homogeneity of neural codes involving long-term memory between primates conducting
similar long-term memory tasks.
-  Map dynamic functional motor and sensory networks and develop methods for characterizing brainwide sensory/motor tasks.
-  Determine the role of specific neural pathways in a complex motor/sensory task through perturbation
of existing and defined functional networks in primate and rodent experiments.
-  Investigate stimulation of sensory networks to determine how sensory information is encoded and
utilized by the brain.

If the average American was to read and understand the statements contained in this defense budget in regards to BCIs they would think it was some sort of unrealistic Sci-Fi proposal.  Under the Mathematics Of The Brain, they state,
The Mathematics of the Brain program will develop a powerful new mathematical paradigm for understanding how to model reasoning processes for application to a variety of emerging DoD challenges. This will require constructing a novel mathematical architecture for a biologically consistent model of thought that moves beyond the state of the art to allow the ability to learn and reason. The program will also develop powerful new symbolic computational capabilities for the DoD in a mathematical system that provides the ability to understand complex and evolving tasks without exponentially increasing software and hardware requirements. This includes a comprehensive mathematical theory to exploit information in signals at multiple acquisition levels, which would fundamentally generalize compressive sensing for multi-dimensional sources beyond domains typically used. This program will establish a functional mathematical basis on which to build future advances in cognitive neuroscience, computing capability, and signal processing across the DoD.
No doubt, most of this work is classified.  We have no access to this material.  So until the government declassifies the research few videos or newspaper articles will appear.  But the goals are impressive.

It was stated by Dr. Berger that in 2006 DARPA was beginning a program to understand how the brain and vision system work together to process and recognize images.
To see a demonstration which may clarify your understanding of TMS we have found some videos.  If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link: http://bit.ly/kqvpqO.

DARPA is interested in eliminating or reducing fear, keep them alert and relieve stress.  Their proposed method is decidedly different from the pharmaceutical approach of Dr. McGaugh.  They propose using transcranial pulsed ultrasound to do the job.  This research seems to be headed by Dr. William J. Tyler, Assistant Professor in the School of Sciences at Arizona State University.  In Dr. Tyler's website he states,
...we are developing novel methods for the control of neuronal activity in intact brain circuits. To this end, we have been engineering methods, devices, and applications for the use of pulsed ultrasound in the noninvasive remote control of brain activity. We expect our work to provide a backbone for the design and implementation of brain stimulation therapies useful in managing a host of neurological diseases. Due to its noninvasive nature and other physical characteristics, pulsed ultrasound also provides an ideal source of energy for achieving brain stimulation in future brain-machine interfaces.
This technology originally was designed for the treatment of PTSD and to help doctors diagnose various dysfunctions that originate in the brain.  Dr. Tyler was assisted by Yusuf Tufail, a doctoral student at Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences.  Along with Tufail were Alexei Matyushov, a physics undergraduate student at Arizona State University's Barrett Honors College, Nathan Baldwin, a doctoral student in bioengineering and Stephen Helms Tillery, an assistant professor at Arizona State University's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

There is no doubt that the Department of Defense through DARPA is one of the major players in futuristic research of many kinds.  As Eisenhower warned us, the universities, seem to have been transformed into extension of the military applications of dramatic new innovations.  The only silver lining in all of this is that hopefully the civilian peaceful and beneficial applications of this military technology will be made available to the world in the future.  One can only wish it.

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