“There are hundred billion neurons in the adult human brain, and each neuron makes something like 1,000 to 10,000 contacts with other neurons in the brain. Based on this, people have calculated that the number of permutations and combinations of brain activity exceeds the number of elementary particles in the universe.” ~ V. S. Ramachandran

Our brain, is indeed, an organ so complex and elegant in its structure and functioning that it is near to impossible for us to create something similar. That is what concerns the field of neural networks, but what we will be talking about is neural linking. Neural linking is closely related to Brain Computer Interface. BCI (Brain Computer Interface) is just the connection of brain with a machine (computer). For the human brain to be connected to an external machine such as a computer that can interpret its signals, it needs to be wired, or enhanced. Enhancement of anything makes it more functional, in this case, it allows the brain to pass on its signals not only within itself but also to the machine connected to it. You might think why this is important. From research point of view, this is like hitting the jackpot for neuroscientists. They can now easily look over all the activities that happen in brain, since all of them are electrical impulses that can now be tapped. This discovery might be the key to creating a completely artificial brain. But from technology point of view, BCI has offered us just the tool we were looking for that would make us real life Jean Grey. Currently, things just sound shiny as the field has very little evidence to offer as to future prospects.

Elon Musk is making the headlines recently, with his launch of Neuralink. The device aims to connect the brain to the computer. A simple concept with limitless applications. Neural linking is basically connecting a brain that has been enhanced in such a way that it can communicate with a device that can receive its electrical impulses. This is known as the communication between the brain and the external device that is often a computer that interprets electrical impulses generated by the brain. This computer can then map the functioning of the brain it is connected to. The mapping is used for research purposes, or getting to know the cognitive or sensory-motor functions that are to be repaired or enhanced or assisting the brain in certain functions by sending electrical impulses back.

We all know about prosthetics. They are generally seen as artificial limbs for people who have unfortunately lost theirs in accidents or to a disease. But the field of prosthesis deals with much more than our common knowledge of artificial limbs. Prosthesis deals with replacing any body part lost to a disease or trauma. The intention behind using prosthetics was to help those disabled due to unfavourable conditions. There are two ways that prosthetics can be made: synthetic and biological (natural). Prosthetics that are made out of biological materials are known as bioprosthetics. Bioprosthetics are popularly used in heart implants. Porcine tissue, derived by tissue fibres from pigs, is generally used for replacing heart valves that are no more functional. This is known as heart-valve prosthesis.

The field of bioprosthesis also includes implants made to better the functioning of our brain bringing us back to neural linking.

Neuroprosthetics, are developed by neuroscientists, as devices to replace neurons or parts of our brain that might be affecting certain functions such as sensory perception, nervous system and brain related diseases. The most popular use of a neuroprosthetic would be the cochlear implant. Cochlear implants are used as a remedy for people with hearing impairment. Unlike other treatment devices, this implant does not amplify the magnitude of the sound waves as the treatment to impaired hearing, instead it acts as another link between the inner ear and the brain. The damaged hair cells of the inner ear or cochlea need not be used, instead the implant transfers electrical impulses corresponding to the sound waves received to the brain thus accounting for a perfectly functional ear.

Both neural linking and bioprosthetics are upcoming fields of technology that have huge scope in future. Surgeons are currently using bioprosthetics for curing hernias, wherein an organ tears through a weak region of tissues into the outer body, breast reconstruction and abdominal wall repairs, one of the major reasons of hernia. Neural linking on the other hand, apart from playing an important role in developing prosthetics more compatible with the human brain such as the cochlear implant, is also important for developing further technology in the field of human enhancement. Elon Musk’s vision of seeing the future world operating entirely on brain-computer interfaces might actually be true after a few decades or even sooner. Like every other technological innovation, people are sceptical about the ethics of implementing mind machine interfaces. Elon Musk meanwhile intends to fund research that aims at connecting our brains to the internet also known as ‘Neural Lace’, a term that originated in comics in the past century.