Thursday, November 11, 2004

Better living - and smarter rats - through nanotechnology

Better living--and smarter rats--through chemistry | Perspectives | CNET
"Some day, humans may plant a chip in their head to help them remember where they put the car keys.

A group of researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried, Germany, have devised a specially designed chip that can stimulate or monitor brain tissue when placed under it. A synapse fires, and a corresponding spike in voltage occurs in the adjacent chip. Alternatively, electricity courses through the chip, and chemical synapses fire in the brain tissue.

So far, the group has only used the technology to study the reactions of snail neurons, sections of rat brain and a few other types of nerve cells. The group is not close at all to delivering a product--but the technology creates the possibility that the movements of mind can be mapped (or guided) by computers.

'The real goal is to make content-addressable memory' in living beings, said Peter Fromherz, speaking at the International Congress of Nanotechnology this week in San Francisco. 'You can really look at brain dynamics with a CMOS chip,' he said, referring to complementary metal-oxide semiconductors."
Even though this article presents the technology in a positive light, it's interesting that the opening lines play up the "taking over your mind" aspect of nanotechnology - even in direct contrast to the quotation of Fromherz, who says the goal is to create a map of memory. That's got nothing to do with smarter rats, or guided minds. The rest of the article is about nanotechnology such as research into regenerating human nerve tissue, microchips that can detect dangerous biological agents from small samples of air, synthetic biology such as bacteria that manufacture fuels, or antimalarial drugs.

Is the goal simply to attract attention with the old technology-will-take-over-your-mind scheme, or has it become a sort of shorthand cliche for the inherent and potential dangers of technology?


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