Electro-human interface

Flaming Lotus Girls Neuron by SanFranAnnie (cc) (from Flickr)
Flaming Lotus Girls Neuron by SanFranAnnie (cc) (from Flickr)

There has been a lot of talk recently about neuromorphic computing (see IBM introduces SyNAPSE) and using Phase Change Memory for artificial neurons but there hasn’t been much discussion of ways to interface human’s or for that matter any life whatsoever to electronics.

That is until today.

Recently a report came out highlighted in IEEE Spectrum on a Transistor Made to Run on Protons.  It seems that transistor technology used everywhere today runs on electrons or negative charges but bio-neurological systems all run on positive IONs and/or protons.  This makes a proton transistor especially appealing for a biocompatible electronic interface.

Proton transistors are born

Apparently the chip is made out of “nanofibers of chitosan” originally derived from a squid.  Also the device works in the presence of only high humidity and when “loaded with proton-donating acid groups”.

All sounds a bit biological to me but that’s probably the point.

It seems in the past when they tried to provide a bio-electronic interface like this they used micro-fluidics with a flow of positive IONs through a pipe. But this new approach does not use flowing liquid at all but rather just a flow of protons across an acid.  The proton flow is controlled by an electrostatic potential applied to the transistors gate electrode.

Today the proton transistor has a channel width of 3.5 μm.  At that size, it’s ~1000X bigger than current transistor technology (maybe even more).  Which means it will be some time before they embed a proton based, 12-core Xeon processor in a brain.

Apparently the protons have a flow rate of ~5×10−3 cm2 V−1 s−1 through the transistor or by my calculations, roughly about ~1/2 bit per 100 seconds.  Seems like we are going to need a lot more channels, but its only a start.  For more information on the new transistor read the original article in Nature, A polysaccharide bioprotonic field-effect transistor.

But what can it do for me?

A proton transistor has the potential to interface directly with human neurons and as such, can form a biocompatible electronic interface.  Such a bionanoprotonic device can conceivably create an in the brain-to-electronics interface that can bring digital information directly into a person’s consciousness.  Such a capability would be a godsend to the blind, deaf and handicapped.

Of course if information can go in, it can also come out

One can imagine that such an interface can provide a portal to the web, an interface to a desktop or mobile computing device without the burden of displays, keyboards, or speakers. Such a device, when universally available, may make today’s computing paradigm look like using a manual typewriter.

This all sounds like science fiction but it feels like it just got a step closer to to reality.

Can The Singularity be that far behind?






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