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Groundbreaking new material 'could allow artificial intelligence to merge with the human brain'

The Independent logo The Independent 17/08/2020 Anthony Cuthbertson
© Provided by The Independent

Scientists have discovered a ground-breaking bio-synthetic material that they claim can be used to merge artificial intelligence with the human brain.

The breakthrough, presented today at the American Chemical Society Fall 2020 virtual expo, is a major step towards integrating electronics with the body to create part human, part robotic "cyborg" beings.

Connecting electronics to human tissue has been a major challenge due to traditional materials like gold, silicon and steel causing scarring when implanted.

Scars not only cause damage but also interrupt electrical signals flowing between computers and muscle or brain tissue. The researchers from the University of Delaware were able to overcome this after various types of polymers.

"We got the idea for this project because we were trying to interface rigid organic microelectrodes with the brain, but brains are made out of organic, salty, live materials," said Dr David Martin, who led the study.

"It wasn't working well, so we thought there must be a better way. We started looking at organic electronic materials like conjugated polymers that were being used in non-biological devices. We found a chemically stable example that was sold commercially as an antistatic coating for electronic displays."

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The polymer, known as a Pedot, has exactly the properties needed to interface electronic hardware with human tissue without causing scarring while also dramatically improving the performance of medical implants.

The versatile Pedot polymer was also recently discovered to be capable of transforming standard house bricks into energy storage units, due to its ability to penetrate porous materials and conduct electricity.

The latest research used a Pedot film with an antibody that stimulates blood vessel growth after injury and could be used to detect early stages of tumour growth in the body.

Pedot polymers could also be used to help sense or treat brain or nervous system disorders, while versions could theoretically attach peptides, antibodies and DNA.

"Name your favourite biomolecule, and you can in principle make a Pedot film that has whatever biofunctional group you might be interested in," Dr Martin said.

The researchers made a polymer with dopamine, which plays a role in addictive behaviours.

Several companies and research institutions are already working on technology to connect brains to computers, with Elon Musk's Neuralink perhaps the closest to achieving a commercial product.

The startup plans to reveal more details about its brain chips later this month, which could one day provide "full-bandwidth data streaming" to the brain through a USB-C cable.

Mr Musk has made several claims about Neuralink's technology, stating earlier this year that it "could extend range of hearing beyond normal frequencies" and even allow people to stream music directly to their brains.

Such technology is essential for humans to compete with advanced artificial intelligence, according to Mr Musk. Last month he warned that humans risk being overtaken by AI within the next five years.

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