/ Experts


Our Weak Body Must be Replaced


Where do you graft an artificial hand? What happens in the brain of someone with schizophrenia? How will we fight with cyborgs in the future? To find out the answers to these and many other questions, we spoke with the head of company Neurobotics, Mr. Vladimir Anatolievich Konyshev.


2045: Artificial versions of almost all the organs of the human body exist today. There’s just one thing missing—an artificial body that unites them and that could live for several hundred years. How quickly could we achieve production of human organs that would be superior to natural ones? Limbs, for instance?

Mr. Vladimir Konyshev: The use of artificial limbs is already a reality. In the West, legs amputated below the knee have been being replaced by high-tech prostheses for many years now. Such a prosthesis, together with the operation, costs €20,000. Looking at pictures or video, it’s difficult to distinguish a prosthesis from a normal leg. People with such prostheses are already achieving good results in walking and running. The fastest progress, of course, will be seen in military applications. That is typically where the best minds are at work. It used to be that way in the Soviet Union as well, but not anymore. It has remained that way in the United States.

I think that we can expect in the near term a kind of combination to appear: new sense organs in combination with artificial limbs, in which, for example, there will be ammunition cartridges. A soldier won’t have to do anything—he will send an impulse, and his arm will shoot. That is a lot faster than pressing a trigger, activating the muscles of the hand, fingers, etc. At first there will be limbs, then a very large amount of research on the replacement of individual organs, and in the end, a complete abandonment of the human body.

What can and must we achieve in Russia? It shouldn’t be a soldier. There is an electronics engineer who is also an officer and who controls cyborgs that are based on the border, cyborgs in which there is nothing human. They will defend our border more effectively.


2045: Given very high-quality neurointerfaces, they can actually be controlled by a group of people at a very remote distance. Cyborgs against cyborgs.

V.K.: I don’t know about a neurocomputer interface—the problem lies in the fact that a non-invasive neurointerface is slow. The maximum speed currently achievable in a neurointerface is around 2 bits per second. That is a very low number.

The reason for such low speed is the following: Our skull is an environment with a very high level of resistance, while the brain is an environment with higher conductivity. As a result, the brain’s biopotentials end up being spread out when registering them from the surface of the head. This means that we cannot see what is happening on the level of small groups of neurons. Imagine that you’re standing in front of a building with broken windows. Inside there are voices. You hear the voices, but they don’t allow you to identify where exactly the people are located. It’s the same thing with a non-invasive neurocomputer interface. And an invasive one . . . no one in his right mind would volunteer himself for that!


2045: Which problems with artificial organs are we already able to solve?

V.K.: For example: Without limbs, nerves will grow out into a stump. Axons (projections of nerve cells) that should go to the fingers run into each other and create phantom pains. A group of Austrians has found a way to fix that. They take these axons out and attach them to a pectoral muscle. These axons form new neuromuscular units. You put electrodes on this area of the person’s body. And when, as though he has a hand, he mentally says, “I am squeezing my thumb,” a current runs from the brain via axon, then is recognized and transmitted via an electro-mechanical transmission system to an artificial hand. The person imagines, as he usually would, that he is squeezing his hand—and he actually does. And that’s not the future—that’s already a reality today.


2045: Do you think that the brain can be reproduced or transferred to an artificial body, where it would live not 70 years but longer?

V.K.: I don’t think it’s possible yet to reproduce it. Perhaps it’s possible to transplant it—that is an alluring possibility. Incidentally, our brain, intact (undamaged, not involved in any kind of activity, untouched—Ed.), does not die—it has nothing to die of.

I think that transferring the brain into an artificial body—one that is sturdier, more complete—is the only possible way for the human race to remain on Earth. If robots appear in the future, they will wipe us out. Our weak body has to be traded in. And robots will definitely appear soon.


2045: Why is it difficult to reproduce the brain? In transposing consciousness to an artificial body?

V.K.: The structure of the brain forms as a result of the influx of events and information, and in that way a unique personality takes shape. Every neurophysiologist has his own theory about what consciousness is—I’ll give you mine. I imagine an enormous field (the brain), with a lot of grass on it (neurons), and riding around the field is a cart (personality). The cart goes along its routine path day after day, forming a furrow—these are paths that impulses travel by. That is our consciousness, as well as the method by which we evaluate (interpret) new events. People from different professions perceive all in a similar way, since their “carts” travel similar paths. When new events occur, a firefighter perceives everything as a firefighter. And (certain) policemen see a potential criminal in every person, the same thing with doctors and sick people, and so on.

Therefore, it’s not enough just to reproduce the structure of the brain—you also have to reproduce the nerve connections, i.e. the strength of the connection in every synapse. If we return to our field and cart: We have a furrow trodden into the grass, and there’s only one of them, the cart moves along it, and we look at life in a particular way. Someone with schizophrenia, on the other hand, also has a second furrow. Sometimes his cart travels on the main furrow, and other times it breaks off to the second, incorrect one. But the main furrow is deeper. How do you treat schizophrenia? You burn both (electroshock therapy) or you let the grass grow out (pharmacological treatment). Since the second furrow is less deep, it more quickly becomes overgrown with grass, and the first, “correct” furrow remains.

There are 100 billion neurons in the human brain, and every neuron has thousands of connections (synapses). I don’t know how you can reproduce that. But to preserve it, transfer it—that would be excellent.


2045: Are there ways out of this dead end? Special centers, laboratories that could study just this topic?

V.K.: There are people who have ideas, and there are people who have money. Going forward, there are various possibilities.

Incidentally, we have run up against the fact that oligarchs are also people. They get sick. And then they provide financing to support medical techniques that helped them. In the States, many actors donate money to the fight with Alzheimer’s disease, for example.

The story of the decoding of the human genome is very telling. A large number of scientific institutes worked on this in the States, and many scientists “sat” on grants. They were asked: “How much time do you need?” And they answered: “30 to 40 years”. Then pharmaceutical companies came along and figured out what this was and the potential of commercializing this research—and they decoded the genome in five years.

2045: Do I understand correctly that, in addition to everything else, this topic needs to be discussed widely, needs to seem important?

V.K.: Yes, the more people who are thinking about this, the faster a feasible idea will come to someone. There is also one other aspect to this: If a solvable problem seizes our interest, typically we solve it.


2045: We would like to create a center that would bring together scientists working on the problems surrounding the creation of an artificial body. Do you think there is demand for establishing such a place? And do you think it is a realistic goal?

V.K.: I think it is. This center can begin by setting its sights on such achievable, realistic goals as creating a system of artificial vision. We have many blind people in our country, and they have to be helped. A lot of research has been done in this area: A video camera is connected to the brain through a microelectrode array, and the person begins to see. Unfortunately, after some period of time that array is rejected (it is, after all, a foreign body!), and the person stops seeing. Creating a camera that cannot be rejected will also be the first step toward “removing” the brain from the body. Certain scientists currently believe that a nanoconnection to the brain will not be perceived as a foreign body.


2045: A person will be able to receive data into his consciousness from cameras or from some kind of microphone. Will he be able to receive data from several sources and in that way control several different bodies? For example, I have three cyborgs: one in Japan, one in America, and a third is stuck in a traffic jam on the Moscow Ring Road. Data from all of these bodies come to me straight into my consciousness, and I control them.

V.K.: Pilots experience something similar. A pilot has, in essence, two bodies—his own and the airplane. The stream of incoming information is enormous, and the cost of a mistake extremely high. I can’t even imagine how they cope with such a large amount of data, though everything works out okay in the end.


2045: Moreover, “I” and “my body” are relative concepts. An infant believes that “I” is both himself and his mother and the whole outside world. Then he begins to differentiate between “I” and his mother. After that, everything keeps on separating, and the world fills up with objects, until that child by way of speech discovers that “I” is positioned within his body. If you get that child involved from a very young age in the activity of remote objects, remote bodies, then he will become used to it and perceive it as a given.

V.K.: You’re probably right. It’s possible that if you’re given special training, especially in childhood, you can develop serious multitasking capability.


2045: In your opinion, what changes in the education system are necessary to make science popular and the scientific profession interesting to young people?

V.K.: Some people have come to think that the main scientific problems were solved by past generations. But that’s not the case at all! I hope that this very generation is destined to solve the most interesting scientific problems and that we are on the brink of revolutionary scientific discoveries. Before us lies uncultivated ground and we will have to solve some monumental tasks. New technologies will allow us to alter the body and consciousness and improve how we take in information. It’s incredibly interesting! These issues need to be talked about at school in order to attract young people to it.

Vladimir A.
President of Neyrobotiks

‘The transfer of the brain into an artificial body, more enduring, more perfect, is the only way the human race to stay on Earth...’

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