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Fusion of human brain and nanobots, what can be its hardness level?

  1. Feb 7, 2014 #1
    I'm aware my following thoughts are highly speculative at best, i just wish to be explained, are they total magic, do they have anything common with reality, what can be their Mohs scale level?

    I thought about a story, where people fused their brain with nanobots, while they still think like human, but faster, because of superior mathematics, access to outside electronic databanks, and faster transmit between neurons, maybe even sharing thoughts directly ; does this makes any sense?
    If not, is there any plausible, not totally crackpot plan to improve human brains?

    If the first thing could happen in a fictional universe of FTL at least, what can be the social changes, merits and dangers of this?
    (IMHO it isnt neccessary the same as the privacy less world, which already has a topic, i thought that in this fiction, tapping into other one's brain without allowance would like to brake into someone's house, or hack his PC. )
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 7, 2014 #2
    The human brain has a lot of features in common with all other human brains, but not nearly enough for a one-size-fits-all "enhancement" nanobot.

    If there were a way to network human brains directly with computers, then it might be possible to take advantage of the computer for storage, and for math coprocessing, but currently the brain is more efficient than any computer. If brains worked like computers and you asked a 60 year old man his name, it might take him up to 120 years to answer - computers are much faster, but also dramatically simpler.

    Assume that technology is developed to give a human the ability to access a computer mentally - storage, the internet, etc. The human still has to concentrate on accessing the computer, which will take time. The computer has to process the request and respond to it, but with computer speed, that time isn't much. Then the computer has to send the info back to the human mind, which has to process it and use it. This isn't going to result in a faster thought process, though it'll massively increase speed of some things (math problems, pattern recognition, retrieval of stored data, etc). The brain itself isn't going to be easy to accelerate - we still have no clue what controls our processing speed, so we can't point to some obvious bottleneck to eliminate. If we just randomly alter chemistry in the brina in the hopes of producing good results, (without actually understanding the majority of what we're doing) then we'll have the same results you'd expect if you bring your laptop to an illiterate witch doctor... ie, unless luck is on your side, what you'll get is a long succession of horrific failures that border on medical experimentation without medical ethics.

    I think that DNI (Direct Neural Interface, the idea of allowing the brain to control computers) may be a viable idea in a generation or so, but we don't have the deep knowledge of neurology needed to develop it yet. Still, science fiction can deal with new tech, and does. But if you're trying for hard sci fi - so far, most modifications to the brain that aren't surgical repairs, result in a vegetable or a corpse.

    If you really, really want to use that idea, you might consider having it developed by an evil agency with a large supply of helpless prisoners and no hesitation to use them up for this experiment. Their eventual success, if any, could come after tens of thousands, or more, victims. If WWII had lasted for 60-80 years and the Dr. Mengele types could convince the dictator to declare more and more races as non-human, it could happen... but we're talking the kind of medical atrocities that would be remembered for centuries.
  4. Feb 10, 2014 #3
    We can control robotic arms with implants in our brains right now. Some of the recent developments in prosthetics are incredible! But feedback to the brain from the implant isn't a thing yet, so far as I'm aware. The closest example of that is this article about a prosthetic limb. But that device isn't wired into the brain, it's wired to the nerves in his arm.

    So you're basically correct, but I felt your answer was incomplete.
  5. Feb 10, 2014 #4
    The amount of control we currently have is pretty poor - note that she has a less than 50% success rate, and that arm only has a few DOF. It's progress, and will lead to further progress, and I'm all for it - but it's nowhere near the "people fused their brain with nanobots, while they still think like human, but faster, because of superior mathematics, access to outside electronic databanks, and faster transmit between neurons, maybe even sharing thoughts directly" phrase from the OP. We just aren't there yet, nor are we a few short years from it.

    I suspect (based on some casual study of neurology, cybernetics, prosthetics, etc) that we're going to find that mental control of machinery will be difficult, due to the fact that brains are not identical. There are plenty of similarities, but that doesn't mean we can simply stick a few electrodes into the right part of a brain and treat it like USB.

    In order for a computer to interface with a brain, it needs to be able to read and understand input from the brain. The brain also needs to be able to read and understand the computer's output. And, this has to happen in a way that is so natural that a person can do this without (for example) extensive hypnosis, meditation, medications, and training, or the interface will be less useful than a keyboard and a screen. And - all of this has to be standardized enough that the machines can be mass produced, installed by "ordinary" neurosurgeons, maintained and adjusted by "ordinary" doctors. Also, it needs to be safe enough for use in the long term - something that works for a year then starts leaking chemicals directly into the brain of the user is not going to sell well!

    This is a technology we WILL eventually develop - the potential is huge! But we have a lot of technical barriers to break first.
  6. Feb 12, 2014 #5


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    Sounds like magic to me, at least in the way it's presented. If we propose a setting where the brain can be replaced bit by bit until it is synthetic, it still has to emulate the mind in the same manner. If you try to speed it up without changing anything else you're going to run into problems with the relationship between the brain and the rest of the body. For example: endocrine signalling to and from the brain will be disrupted if the brain is running faster, from the brain's perspective the level of signalling from the body will be lower than it actually is messing with homeostasis. This is bound to be severely debilitating, if not fatal.

    Furthermore if the synthetic brain is just emulating a normal mind you aren't going to get super-intelligence. To do that you'd have to start understanding what various parts of the brain (from gross anatomy down to specific networks of neurons) do, how they do it, how it could be improved and a way of editing in those improvements safely. I'd wager that even with a map of the human connectome this would be incredibly difficult. Akin to how the human genome project didn't give rise immediately to advanced, accurate genetic engineering.

    In terms of controlling external machinery that is more doable as it would be easier to detect certain patterns within the brain and designate them as outputs but this would still be difficult and probably would involve a lot of training akin to brain-computer interfaces now.

    Bottom line this is very soft science unless it's either presented in a very advanced society or shown to have severe limitations and ongoing developments.
  7. Feb 12, 2014 #6
    You might be interested in transhumanism, Anders Sandberg, Kurzweil's singularity, and the Orion's Arm project, which you may join.
  8. Jun 1, 2014 #7
    I read about IBM's Watson, that could defeat humans in Jeopardy. Its original size was about ten refrigirator, although recently i read, they shrinked it to three pizza box. I dont know, whether the small version needs to access outside database, it is only the search engine or not?

    Well, i wouldnt go that far as the Orion project, although it sounds interesting, on the other hand yes, what i thought is definitally not a near future story. (We had a debate on an other site about brain upgrade possibilities, i decided to ask the experts about theese speculations.)

    I thought about a transhumanist society, where treatment with nanobot upgrades starts at babyhood, they can adapt to it, like you learn to speak or use your limbs.
    (If you saw Ghost in the Shell series, that was one inspirator.)

    Good counterargument. Well, that is sure a serious problem, although on theoretical level, computing units with different clockrates can work together with proper syncronisation methods.
    You dont have to bring conscious decisions about vegetative functions or reflective movements.
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2014
  9. Jun 4, 2014 #8


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    perhaps rather then a fusion of the brain and machine you could instead have a society where the machine is implanted but still a self contained unit. like a surgically implanted Google Glass. The characters would still think and operate as the human brain would dictate but they would have access to database searches and fast processing by way of a HUD. In this way the machine and human are still very separate units but the ease of access to the machine gives the characters a clear advantage.

    Even still, we are probably talking generations, if not centuries of advance in Computer science and neuroscience.
  10. Jun 6, 2014 #9
    I had a similar idea for a planet in one of my universes, not that far developed yet but I had some thoughts (without getting into story specifics).

    I don't know if it is possible or not but if it is it has serious ramifications especially for people born into this world.
    The first generation of a world like this people would likely want ways to safeguard their privacy so ways to ensure this would be installed. Future generations may relax these safeguards, because they would be born into this technology, it would be all they know, and that would lead to a world where privacy is less and less possible and maybe even less and less important.
    People would be more and more reliant on the outside and inside computers in their bodies and less reliant on their own brains. Eventually they would not see the distinctions.
    If privacy became a thing of the past crime would be incredibly difficult and you might even see views of people begin to become less diverse (religion, politics, even taste in clothing and entertainment).
  11. Jun 6, 2014 #10
    I'm aware about that. What you talked about is more similar to Ghost in the Shell's cyberbrain. Although while that is "easier" to achieve on a technical level, but that level of invasive surgery also decrease plausibility level to make it widespread technology, that is a problem IMHO with cyberpunk settings.

    Back to very far future.
    Hmm, personally i also wondered about some hive mind possibilities.
    I dont know whether it could do any good to a science team for example, to cooperate on a higher level, maybe use a large network of humans for further developing ideas, theories (well a real world analogy, i read they posted images about molecules with a difficult structure, space photos, so lots of humans could process them, recognize patterns, try to decipher the 3D structure. So something like cloud-computing. Of course that it is even farther from present day knowledge, maybe it should be rather given to some very advanced alien race.)

    But even if it could work in reality, humans will never like ants IMHO, privacy and personal differences wont disappear entirely.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2014
  12. Jun 6, 2014 #11

    If people could share thoughts they could also share knowledge. If you were in a situation where someone was injured and there was no doctor around you could likely download experience from other doctors which could also make schools obsolete. Why spend years in med school when you can download the knowledge and experience of seasoned professionals?
    Hive mind is a distinct possibility and if the computers on the outside and maybe even inside people are AIs you have a melding of Human and AI and what would result it hard to say. It would certainly be a lot more complex than ants, but culture would be homogenized and possibly a whole lot more.
    People would not likely give up all identity but why would you need leaders at all if everyone can put their input into a situation?
    It also depends on how often thought sharing takes place and how easy it is to turn off. If you have a group of people who refuse to share thoughts you might also have a dissident movement.
  13. Jun 22, 2014 #12
    Or probably the opposite, since humans would want to show desperately that they arent ants or swappable parts.

    Otherwise IMHO, researchers and leaders would be still needed, you need a certain mindset to do such things, not just downloadable routines.
  14. Dec 3, 2014 #13
  15. Apr 6, 2016 #14
    Ok, so i know my speculations are soft, but i wonder, whether they have anything to do with reality?
    Based on another conversation, I think the nanobots (alien technology) should replace part of the astrocytes in order to attach to the neurons. I read that astrocytes can reproduce.

    Theoretically could the brain survive if a significant portion of astrocytes lost?
  16. Apr 6, 2016 #15
    This is technology that I think will likely become common in the future, but how far in the future and it's technical details are beyond me. It's like trying to replace the parts of one of those old mechanical calculators with digital chips parts bit by bit.
  17. Apr 17, 2016 #16
    What if you were store the nanoids along the spinal column and not in the brain directly? How workable or unworkable a solution would that be? Could nanoids still interface with the brain directly from positions in the spinal column?
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