Much has been made of brain-computer interfaces and the singularity, with claims that our minds could be linked to cyberspace reaching an almost religious fervor at times. Samsung has added fuel to that fire by announcing a method to “copy and paste” the brain’s neuronal connection map onto a computer chip.
By doing this, they believe they could “create a memory chip that approximates the unique computing traits of the brain — low power, facile learning, adaptation to environment, and even autonomy and cognition — that have been beyond the reach of current technology,” Samsung explains in a press statement.
The method, detailed in a paper published in the journal Nature, uses a nanoelectrode array that effectively enters a large number of neurons and records their electrical signals. These recordings are then used to compile the neuronal wiring map by detailing the strength of different neural connections. This ‘copy’ of the brain’s neural connections can then essentially be ‘pasted’ into a memory chip such as a solid-state drive (SSD) or into resistive random access memories (RRAM). Each memory would be programmed so that “its conductance represents the strength of each neuronal connection in the copied map,” the tech firm says in its release.
Reverse engineering the brain
According to Samsung, this approach would be a return to attempts to reverse engineer the brain, which started with the advent of neuromorphic engineering in the 1980s. Of course, the human brain’s complexity is incredibly hard to mimic. While the Samsung team has laid down the foundations for their approach, we are still very far from seeing a neuromorphic chip that would need the approximately 100 trillion memory units in order to truly provide a like-for-like representation of all of the brain’s neurons and synaptic links.
The new paper could eventually lead to more human-like artificial intelligence and it could also have applications for the linked field of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) that allow users to control computers with their mind. In 2019, Elon Musk gave a presentation for his company Neuralink in which he explained that its BCI technology could one day help to treat brain diseases and that it could mitigate the existential threat of artificial intelligence — “if you can’t beat em, join them,” Musk wrote on Twitter last year regarding Neuralink’s mission statement.