Many of us have read about computer processors being inserted in people. From there, it’s a slippery slope, where the governments monitor them, and the world descends into dystopian chaos. We then read about a lionhearted character and their witty sidekick gallantly save the world!
But, what if I told you that the concept of these artificial processors is not as distant as books make them out to be? Luckily, the government is not involved in it at all; a research team led by the University of Bath, together with researchers from the University of Bristol, University of Zurich, and University of Auckland, have designed artificial neurons that interpret and respond to signals emitted by the nervous system.
These artificial neurons have the potential to cure conditions such as heart failure and Alzheimers, and may even be able to combat spinal cord injuries. The biggest challenge scientists have encountered is how to imitate the unpredictable responses of biological neurons. Through eminently difficult formulae, equations, and computations, these researchers have figured out how to program the chips to provide “nonlinear” responses. These nonlinear responses are what make neurons so unpredictable. A signal that is interpreted as doubly strong may not need a response that reciprocates that exact intensity; it may need a response three times as big or half as big.
Another interesting aspect to these artificial neurons is that they only require 140 nanoWatts of power, a billionth of the power required by a standard microprocessor, making them suitable for bioelectronic implants and hence combating chronic diseases.
According to the University of Bath, this paradigm-altering invention is revolutionary for three main reasons. First, the team could successfully estimate the neuron’s actions. Second,
the models of neuron-functionality were corroborated. Third, because of the versatility of the artificial neuron, it could be applied to other organisms. The invention of artificial neurons is a tremendous step for the scientific community and can be the stepping stone for many future inventions and discoveries.