First-Ever Artificial Neuron Could Let Us Repair Brain Injuries with Silicon

The merging of man and machine is a staple of sci-fi and at the heart of the philosophy of transhumanism. But interfacing our brains with computers has proven incredibly hard, despite the fact that both essentially run on electrical impulses.

Imagine, for example, if a brain injury could be repaired with a computer chip. That may not be too far off; this week, researchers reported on a “solid-state neuron” that accurately models the behavior of biological nerve cells. In a paper in Nature Communications, the team says the devices could be plugged into biological neural circuits to repair damage or disease.

“Until now neurons have been like black boxes, but we have managed to open the black box and peer inside,” project leader Alain Nogaret, from the University of Bath in the UK, said in a press release. “Our work is paradigm-changing because it provides a robust method to reproduce the electrical properties of real neurons in minute detail.”

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A major reason it’s been so hard to accurately replicate the behavior of neurons in silicon is because the way they respond to stimuli is non-linear. In other words, a signal twice as strong won’t necessarily elicit a response that’s twice as strong.

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