As I prepare this last forum entry for the year, I am aware not only that I am running a bit late, but that the reason for such tardiness is a truly SciFi-worthy cause. Tomorrow morning I head to Washington DC for a conference with a major research agency that wants to produce what is essentially... a Synapse Stimulating Implant. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has put out a call to researchers to propose a means of developing an implant that would restore procedural
memory to persons with head injury or disease. One of the most debilitating aspects of Traumatic Brain Injury - a critical result of combat-, automobile- or impact-related injuries - is the the resulting brain swelling can reduce blood flow to several different brain areas. A prolonged period of reduced blood flow (called "ischemia") results in cell death due to lack of oxygen and nutrients and too much carbon dioxide and metabolic waste. When the hippocampus (Figures 1 & 2, below) is one of the affected brain areas, it can impair the ability to make new memories and perform tasks that require short-duration memory. One of the goals of DARPA's Restoring Active Memory program will be to build a device that can act directly within the brain to replace neural function and restore lost memory functions. [Note: the device will not substitute
memories, but rather restore the ability of the brain to access and store its own memory!]
Figure 1: The major areas of the brain. Note that hippocampus is *deep* in the temporal lobe, not on the surface. [Illustration copyright 2013 by udaix, used under license from Shutterstock.]
Figure 2: The hippocampus as a 3-D "depth" image showing its position deep in the brain. [Illustration copyright 2013 by Sebastian Kaulitzki. Used under license from Shutterstock.]
So, in a way, this project will build exactly the type of device envisions by the SSIs in Escaping Titan!
So let's look back at what we have covered this year: The brain is divided into lobes, and those lobes are associated with different functions - Occipital Lobe and vision, Temporal Lobe and hearing, parietal lobe is primarily an "input" structure with the sense of touch and integrating the other senses, and the Frontal Lobe is an "output" and decision-making structure. In additional, deep brain structures such as thalamus regulate the input and output flow of information between body and brain, while the hypothalamus is the control center for much of the body's functions. The four SSIs are proposed to be targeted at the brain areas most likely to be associated with their functions (Figure 3):
Figure 3: Functions of the brain and SSIs. [Image copyright 2013 by R. Hampson]
Self-Buff SSI - the ability to control strength, dexterity, reflexes, reaction times - targeted to the Dorsal Premotor area. This region of the Frontal Lobe is where decisions regarding muscle movements are planned. Stimulating this area will provide much more precise control of the the body.
Self-Healing SSI - the ability to control healing after an injury, but also to resist pain, raise or lower metabolism to prolong survival in a hostile environment, or provide bursts of extra energy - targeted to the Hypothalamus. One of the deepest of the deep structures of the brain, the hypothalamus controls the body through hormones and neurochemicals sent to the appropriate brain area or organ, but also via release directly into the blood stream.
Mind Control SSI - the ability to communicate with other intelligent beings, to read and implant thoughts and control actions - targeted to the Inferior Temporal Gyrus. Like the two of the other SSIs, this location is in the Frontal Lobe - primarily because of that lobe's role as an "output" structure, meaning that it is involved in planning, producing and communicating the instructions of the brain to the body. This SSI also takes advantage of the link between Wernicke's Area (language) to Broca's Area (speech) to provide a new way to communicate between minds.
Atom Control SSI - the ability to manipulate matter at a very fine level - targeted to the Precentral Gyrus. Also known as Motor Cortex or the "motor strip" this brain area produces the signals which control the muscles of the body. Paired with the "Somatosensory Cortex" (sense of touch) in the Postcentral Gyrus, placement of the SSI right over the hand sensory-motor area would provide a means of projecting the same fine control as our hands - the ultimate Swiss watchmaker.
I hope that the last year has been educational and entertaining. I'm looking forward to playing the game and seeing how these SSIs function in game-play. It has been fun revealing how the far-out
predictions of Science Fiction can have a very real basis in modern science. In fact, it is amazing to think that before too long, some of these abilities and SSIs might even become real, as shown by some of the fantastic research going on in the field of Neuroscience.
Over the next year I'll come back periodically with some neat findings and news in the field of science, and I hope you will all return as well to continue this fantastic journey!