Boosting your brain’s bandwidth

Artificial synapses pave the way for superhuman intelligence

At first, when scientists wanted to boost the brain, they created implants that could increase memory. The thinking was, there are only so many items one can hold in working memory simultaneously – about seven – that installing a chip that doubled this number would make you smarter. And it did.

Working first with mice, and later with cognitively impaired volunteers, neuroscientists eventually succeeded in linking their brains to electronic devices that increased memory function, and it helped, but not as much as they had hoped. “It’s like installing more RAM in your laptop,” said one researcher, “It improves performance, but only incrementally, not exponentially.”

The problem is your brain has limited bandwidth – everyone’s does. The synapses that connect your neurons can only communicate at a certain speed, and that’s the limiting factor. The brain is an amazing organ, and capable of incredible feats of memory and computation. But nature has its limits.

Now scientists have figured out a way to overcome that. A decade ago, researchers proved that optoelectronic circuits could work as artificial synapses at 10 million hertz, 30,000 times faster than a human neuron’s rate of about 340 hertz. The challenge was to find a way of powering these devices inside your head.

Now biotech advances have provided the solution. Using blood chemistry and heart beats as a source of power, researchers have tested these microscopic super-neurons in laboratory rats, and the animals demonstrated massively increased brain power. “It’s incredible how quickly they learned the new maze,” remarked the lead scientist.

Safety and ethics in humans are the next obstacles. We all want to be smarter, but is it fair if only the rich can be ultra-smart? And with all those gazillion synapses firing at once, you could end up with a serious brainstorm!

Perhaps we should leave artificial intelligence where it belongs – in the machines.

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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