You may remember the scene from The Matrix where Kung Fu techniques are uploaded into Neo’s brain, prompting him to utter the now famous quote, “I know Kung Fu.” Once upon a time this notion was nothing more than a product of the science fiction genre, but now the concept of neural implants that can link our brain to a computer is actually becoming a reality! (Hmmm…a new marketing channel for Matrix sunglasses perhaps??)
Scientists have recently been working on technology designed to implant neurons into the brain to enhance cognitive ability and memory capacity. The goal is to someday provide the ability to easily retrain people that have lost much of their cognitive ability, such as people with Alzheimer’s disease or people who have suffered a major stroke.
After 10 years of research, a breakthrough was finally made in June 2011. The scientific team was experimenting with implanting microchips into the brains of lab rats. These microchips were essentially hard wired into each rat’s hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that processes long term memory. The microchips were designed to encode the brain patterns for simple commands – in this case, pressing the correct lever to get a drink of water.
The theory is that if brain patterns can be encoded, they’ll be able to be stored and re-uploaded into the brain at a later date. Basically, by encoding information in a way that the brain can decipher, computers can then directly “talk” to the brain in its own language, for lack of a better term, allowing for a literal brain dump.
Obviously I am no scientist, so my explanation is in layman’s terms; if you want to understand the full technicalities of the experiment I would encourage you to read the findings published in the Journal of Neural Engineering. The bottom line is that the scientists were indeed successful in their endeavors with the lab rats. The next step is to test the concept on more advanced life forms like monkeys, and then ultimately on human beings.
Of course, these findings are preliminary and must be fleshed out further. Our memory is extremely complex and is influenced by genetics as well as our own environment and experiences. So even if we could encode the brain patterns associated with knowing Kung Fu, would this code be interpreted by everyone’s brains in the same way? In my humble opinion, the answer to that particular question is the ultimate key to cracking the code on this.