Rewiring the brain for fun and profit

Wired has just published an excellent two part article on neuroengineering, the practice of altering the brain with electronics or optics.

It looks at a number of interesting projects, from light controlled neurons to magnetic brain stimulation, and focuses on the work of talented neuroengineer Ed Boyden who I had the pleasure of doing a joint talk with at a SciFoo conference.

In fact, TMS gets electricity into the brain peacefully, without either cutting it open or shocking it with millions of volts.

The target area of the brain is treated like the coil in a generator, subjected to rapidly changing magnetic fields until electricity begins to dance across its neurons. Unlike the optical switch developed by Boyden and Stanford’s Dr. Karl Deisseroth, TMS doesn’t reach the deeper regions of the brain, but there are a lot of important and interesting areas in the cortex where TMS delivers its current. It’s also far less precise than the optical switch, although TMS seems positively surgical when compared to the imprecisions of the pharmaceuticals we pump into our bodies.

The second part is probably the highlight, discussing the possibilities of having these technologies more widely available so your average garage hacker can tinker with them (and themselves), and what ethical dilemmas this might cause.

Link to ‘Inside the New Science of Neuroengineering’.
Link to ‘How Neuroengineering May Change Your Brain.


  1. Posted March 3, 2009 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    I am doing this kind of TMS research at the moment (inducing savant-like skills) and can attest to the steep learning curve of this technique. …it’ll be a while till we can induce Rain Man – Behavior.
    Nevertheless, newer stimulators, coming from Israel are seemingly capable of stimulating deep brain areas.

  2. Enterhase
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    I’m not so worried about the ethical dilemmas as I am about the political consequences, particularly if these technologies are first put to use by the military.

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