Synchron is a company we hadn’t heard about, it seems the reality distortion field of Elon Musk pulled the wool over our eyes. We thought his Palo Alto based Neuralink company was leading the charge, and we wouldn’t blame you if you also thought that.
BCI, or “Brain Computer Interface” is one of those simple enough ideas that you wonder why it hasn’t been done already. We’ve been analyzing brain waves using electrodes for almost 50 years now. Researchers had monkeys controlling robot arms using implanted electrodes 20 years ago. The problems have always been:
- Safety for the patient, as horrible as killing owl or rhesus monkeys is — killing a human is still seen as worse by other humans. Nobody asked the monkeys.
- Stability, of both the signal coming out of the brain and the “wetware”. Our brains will try to heal and in doing so damage the implants. This has always been the main blocker for visual cortex implants.
- Usefulness. This is a strange thing but back in the 90s/00s we didn’t have iPhones or messaging apps. It was harder for people to see how something like this could be useful enough to be worth the risks.
In our view all that has changed with this announcement from Synchron. Just visit their site and watch the video if you aren’t sold yet. They’ve got living human patients already using their tech, and now they’ve been granted the right to run trials here in the United States.
As it says in their release above their tech is different as it does not require invasive surgery, there are no needles implanted into brain tissue, so there is no inflammation. They’ve completely solved points 1 and 2 above, again in our naive, unscientific opinion. Their patients are able to have conversations with loved ones through chat applications like What’s App, solving point 3.
This is exciting for us for a few reasons. The most obvious is we’ve seen the pain that ALS can cause first hand so we are also aware of the joy that bringing even the most basic communication back to these patients and their families could bring. We applaud and support any efforts to improve the lives of these patients.
Further this technology will directly challenge the notions of a static self that we all hold in our hearts. When you think “I want to lift my finger” and your finger lifts, this is all consistent with the idea of self. The thought was your thought, the movement is in your finger.
How does that change when the movement is in a robot arm cooking dinner while you read a book on the couch? Is that robot arm a part of you? What if you put it on autopilot and have it stir for a few minutes without you directing it, similar to how cruise control works in a car — is it still your arm? The questions of self and consciousness this will open to the world is incredibly exciting.
We won’t explore all these ideas right now, today we just wanted to congratulate Synchron on this amazing achievement and hopefully share it with more of the world.