Edward Boyden: Coupling AI with the Human Brain

Edward Boyden bigthink
Edward Boyden, a Hertz Foundation Fellow, is the recipient of a Hertz Foundation Grant to pursue graduate studies in the application of physical and biological sciences. Edward Boyden, a professor at MIT in Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences, explains that humanity is still in its infancy when it comes to merging with machines. His research is leading him to develop a \”brain processor\”, a device which interacts with the brain in order to download and upload information. This will enhance human abilities such as memory storage, cognition, and decision-making. But the first step is to understand the brain at a deeper level. Ed Boyden received a PhD from Stanford University in neurosciences with the help of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation.

Hertz Foundation’s mission is to support the most outstanding PhD students in hard sciences with financial and fellowship assistance. Hertz Fellowships rank among the most prestigious fellowships in the world. The foundation has invested more than $200 million (current value) in Hertz Fellows and supported over 1100 brilliant and innovative young scientists who went on to become Nobel Laureates, astronauts and high-ranking military officers, as well as Silicon Valley leaders and tenured professors. Visit hertzfoundation.org for more information.


Edward Boyden: For thousands of years, humans and machines have been blending. Right now, I wear shoes, I carry a microphone in my jacket and we’ve all used our phones today. We communicate using amplification technologies and translation technologies. You can even speak into the machine and it will translate your words almost instantly.

What I see as the most likely change in coming years is not one of type, but of degree. What I call a brain coprocessor is a concept I believe is emerging. It is essentially a device which interacts directly with the brain. It can download and upload information. Imagine a technology which could be used to replace forgotten memories, enhance decision-making or improve cognition or attention. We need to know how the brain functions at a deep level in order to do this.

Over a third million patients have received brain implants, or neural implants that activate the nervous system. However, they operate in an open loop. They drive brain activity, but they are not fully responsive. We want bi-directional communication with the brain. Can you continuously read and write data, and provide–perhaps by coupling these interfaces with silicon computers—-exactly the information that the brain requires?