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Developing Cyborg Technology

  1. Mar 11, 2017 #1


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    I just read a little blurb about new steps in cyborg generation (combining living tissue with engineered elements).

    It was in reference to this article, which I did not have access to:
    Raman R, Cvetkovic C, Bashir R. 2017. A modular approach to the design, fabrication, and characterization of muscle-powered biological machines. Nature Protocols. doi: 10.1038/nprot.2016.185.
    Here is the abstract.

    Novel aspects I had not seen before in this context:
    Optogenetic controls of muscle
    Muscles in soft hydrogels
    Muscle getting stronger from being exercised
    Linking the biological contractile elements with 3D printed skeletal elements.

    Optogenetic control is something new from Neuroscience. A light sensitive channel protein gene (previously engineered) is introduced genetically into one or more cells. Shining light on it opens the membrane channel letting ions enter, changing the membrane potential (charge across the cell membrane), and eventually in this case resulting in muscle contraction. This worked better than electrical stimulation (more confined stimulation?). Optogenetic control is often driven by laser light. In research, the light is often shined backwards through a microscope to illuminate (and control) activity in single cells.

    Muscle cell is a soft gel. Presumably, it is basically tissue culture media permeating a gel but if they are putting it into living organisms, it could be using the organism's own body fluids. This tissue culture media (or the host's body fluids) would provide the oxygen, nutrition, and waste product removal to support the tissue metabolic needs. This would be aided by the small size of what they made ("millimeter scale").
    Since no vascularization (blood vessels) were mentioned, it seems likely that these cellular needs are only being met by diffusion through the gel (unless the host can grow blood vessels into the gel). This would put a limit on the metabolic capacity of their actuator. No Terminator yet!

    In order to make something like a younger Governator (that is the Terminator) would require the equivalent of a heart/vascular system to fulfill the higher rates of oxygen, nutrient, and waste product exchange that would be required. The vascular system would then need the equivalent of lungs, kidneys, and a nutrient source (digestive system/liver/fat storage...) to maintain proper functioning.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 11, 2017 #2


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    The research described is very far away from creating Terminator-like cyborgs. The authors bascially grow muscle cells onto a device and use the contraction of the muscle cells to power deformation and movement of the device. Not sure what the applications might be; if the cells are implanted into an individual, it's unclear how one could convert the electrical signaling from the individual's nervous system into laser signals read by the optogenetic muscle cells.

    Also, Nature Protocols generally publishes methods-focused papers that describe the methods from a primary research article in more detail. Here's the research article that appears to the associated with the Nature Protocols paper, and it is free to access through PubMed Central:
  4. Apr 26, 2017 #3
    Instead of modifying an existing human to become a cyborg, how about creating a new being whose brain has been grown in a laboratory.


    I wonder how long before AI projects will not only use computers, or brain networks simulated in silicon, but also biological brains grown in a lab. Speaking of machine learning, how about creating a being with a newly grown brain, and turning it loose in a restricted but stimulating environment? There are so many possibilities here. Could a brain be grown which could be placed inside a conventional robot? What about a biological brain as the core of a new type of computer? As usual, this sort of idea has been anticipated by science fiction. See the Star Trek episode Spock's Brain.
  5. Apr 27, 2017 #4


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    Interesting post!

    The article you linked to is describing making mini-brains (AKA organoids). As the article describes, they are make from stem cells in culture. They are considered useful for studies of drugs on processes that involve complexes of cells that are more complex than those that can be usually obtained in cell or tissue culture. Mini-brains are much smaller than a human brains and not structured in the same way because they are not made by going through the normal many, many steps of neural development which a normally constructed brain would go through.
    They have some of the same types of cells and those cell are making functional connections, similar to those in a normal brain, but they are much smaller and the overall brain organization is not there. This vast difference in organization means the mini-brains won't be doing the things a whole functioning brain would be able to do, like thinking human thoughts.

    On the other hand, this kind of stuff has advanced rapidly in recent years so who knows what the future might bring. Growing a whole brain in culture would be quite daunting however. Growing such a large structure in culture would require providing everything a developing body would normally provide to a developing brain. this would include a vascular system to supply oxygen and nutrients while removing CO2 and other waste products. In addition, additional developmental signals would have to be provided in the proper amounts to trigger the correct development of various brain parts at the right times. These are very complex issues. As of now, I would guess that transferring and maintaining a brain would be simpler (it would still require a vascular system and it functions, but most of the brain developmental processes would be largely done).

    Making the connection between the brain and electrical components would not be trivial either. I know a guy who did this with a few electrical contacts and a few individual cells in a dish about 20 years ago. It wasn't easy, but might be easier now. The making of hundreds of thousands to millions of such connections (considering sensory inputs and motor neuron outputs) to the 3D structure of the brain would be an immense undertaking.

    Science Fiction:
    The brain transfer idea has been further developed (compared to Spock's Brain) in some of the many Dune books (human brains with human consciousness but into big powerful robot bodies, going around making trouble).

    However, if these issues were surmounted, then it might be possible to tweak the brains developmental processes to expand or reduce different brains regions at will, or perhaps give them different properties. This might be a reason to do this instead of moving a brain and would be useful for science fiction purposes. It is however way beyond today's science and technology. It would also avoid the ethical problems of taking someone's brain out (with or without their permission), but would not obviously lend itself to transfer someone's consciousness (since the brain would be different).
  6. Apr 27, 2017 #5


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    Seems more in line with the flying robotic vessels in Galactica, which were a combination of organic/mechanical.

    I don't really see any reason to put an slow organic brain in a mechanical system, when silicon seems to be doing such a great job with self driving cars and self-flying drones amongst other applications of AI.
  7. Apr 27, 2017 #6
    As soon as we have an integrated circuit that can mimic a dendritic cluster.
    It's only a matter of time before half your favorite sci-fi books will be just friction.
    Airwolf used to be future-tech now it's just an imaginary mid grade military helicopter
  8. Apr 27, 2017 #7
  9. Apr 27, 2017 #8
    One scenario, which I'm sure others have also thought of, is freezing the brain of someone when the brain is OK but their body is unfortunately near its demise. Would it be possible to collect DNA, clone the body, then somehow accelerate the aging process to a suitable age? Then when the new body is ready, the brain could be unfrozen and placed back in what is essentially its own body. Among other things this would give a resurrected person the very pleasant experience of waking up in their own body, but presumably cured of disease, and perhaps at the specific age they prefer.

    Speaking of serious attempts going on to download and upload consciousness using a brain-machine interface, perhaps an even better solution is to just go Cylon and build an easily replaceable body designed by human engineers.
  10. Apr 28, 2017 #9
    Well for starters a brain is made of DNA so..
    And I don't know about you but I would be happy to start at ten rather than through away an extra decade
  11. Apr 28, 2017 #10
    You mean take bits of tissue from the brain for your DNA? Seems a bit ghoulish to me. ;)

    Please, let's keep this discussion on a firm scientific foundation (!) It seems a child's skull is not a suitable place for an adult brain. The skull of a ten year old is still not fully developed. We must at least wait for the adolescent growth spurt to finish. Perhaps the minimum age should be eighteen or even twenty-five.
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2017
  12. Apr 28, 2017 #11


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