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Computers In The Brain? Not So Science Fiction, Says St. Louis Neuroscientist

Washington University School of Medicine

In the not-so-distant future, it will be possible, perhaps even common place, to have computers implanted in our brains, says St. Louis neurosurgeon Eric Leuthardt.

His science fiction thriller RedDevil 4, released earlier this year, sets that future in the year 2053. The main character, like Leuthardt, is a neurosurgeon and a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis. Three of the character’s patients commit horrific crimes and the scientist must discover why. All three of the patients have computers implanted in their brains.

In addition to being a neurosurgeon, Leuthardt is a biomedical engineer and the director of the Center for Innovation in Neuroscience and Technology at Washington University School of Medicine.  His research focuses on brain-computer interfaces, “devices that decode signals from the brain and use those signals so that people can control devices with their thoughts.”

At the moment, he and other biomedical engineers are working towards such things as restoring movement to paralyzed limbs. But from there it is a natural progression towards “augmenting function,” to allow people to be smarter, faster and more efficient, said Leuthardt.

Already, scientists have created artificial perception in the brains of monkeys and mice, enabled the brains of mice to communicate directly, and implanted humans with electronic stimulators.

“Now the question isn’t is this possible to do, it’s when will this happen?” said Leuthardt, who explained he wrote the book in part to address his concerns for the future technology.

"What happens when we become hackable?" he asked. "What happens when somebody gets access to your implant, gets access to your thoughts, the ultimate most private inner sanctum of your brain and manipulates them for essentially very [malignant] purposes?”

“That’s why there are some dark elements to [the book]. There are some scary elements to it. I do get concerned about that,” Leuthardt said. “But I think we deal with those scary elements not by vilifying them, not by saying they are uniformly bad, but [by seeing] what is going to potentially happen in the future and proactively addressing it.”

Related Event

St. Louis Academy of Science Presents Eric Leuthardt Lecture and Signing
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
7:30 - 9:00 p.m.
Saint Louis Zoo Living World Auditorium
For more information, call 314-533-8586 or visit the St. Louis Academy of Science website.

St. Louis on the Air provides discussion about issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.

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