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Science: 

Science is one step closer to the bionic brain

Brains have always been hard to replicate, but we may be one small step forward now...

Brains have always been hard to replicate, but we may be one small step forward now…

Brains have always been something of a squishy pink mystery. And not just to us laymen – neuroscience and psychology have a lot of ‘proof’ shaped gaps where theory has to fill a double shift. As such, while scientists have been pretty good at creating artificial limbs and organs, a substitute bionic brain has always been beyond our reach.

It still is. But it may be a significant step closer, thanks to sterling work from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and the University of California.

It’s all due to the development of a new electronic nano memory cell, 10,000 times thinner than a human hair. While current electronic memory cells can only contain a single digit – a one or a zero – this new technology is able to store much longer numbers, which means its a fair bit closer to replicating real human brain cells.

Speaking to Mashable, Hussein Nili, lead author of the study, explained what a big deal this is: “If you compare a normal memory cell that we have today to a light switch that you can only turn on and off. This is more like a dimmer.”

We think there’s some traditional science modesty creeping in here, especially when you consider the repercussions of such an advancement.  This could allow us (and by ‘us’, we very much mean ‘them’) to create bionic brains. Nili sees two areas which could really benefit from this: medicine and robotics.

In the case of medicine, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research could potentially benefit from the technological enhancements. “In terms of those diseases, there are two problems: it is very hard to read what is going on inside a live brain, and the ethical aspect — you cannot experiment on live subjects without repercussions. If you can have a bionic brain and you can replicate those kinds of brains … it will make research much easier and accessible.”

For robotics, the benefits are more straightforward. A more human-like brain could make artificial intelligence a lot more human, and a lot less artificial.

“This is the closest we have come to creating a brain-like system with memory that learns and stores analog information and is quick at retrieving this stored information,” Dr Sharath Sriram, co-leader of the RMIT Functional Materials and Microsystems Research Group told Gizmag.

One small step for electronics then, and potentially a giant leap for robotics and neuroscience.

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