What is the Cyberpunk Revolution and How Does it Change the Possibilities of Neurorehabilitation?

Yesterday, in the premises of the Science Technology Park in Novi Sad, under the auspices of the Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a lecture by Dr. Max Talanov was held on the topic of the application of neural networks in neurorehabilitation.
What Dr. Talanov thinks of the cyberpunk revolution we're witnessing right now, find out below.

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Photo: Marija Stojadinović

What is cyberpunk?   

In order to talk about the importance of the cyberpunk revolution and its possible applications in the real world, it is first important to understand what the term “cyberpunk” means in this context. 

Originally, it is a genre of science fiction that places special emphasis on technology and technological capabilities that can make society more advanced. 

However, in this context, it has a slightly different meaning (for reference: Ghost in the shell (1995), Blade Runner (1982)). 

According to Dr. Talanov, there are one billion people in the world who have some form of neurological condition. 

Since modern artificial intelligence heavily relies on neural networks and deep learning, can similar approach help people with neurological disorders? 

Although this sounds intriguing and, to some extent, logical, this is not the case, explains Dr. Talanov: 

“Can we use neurons from neural networks to  help those people? No. Because they are too simplified  and not biocompatible. However, we can change neural networks to be closer to biological networks,” he clarified at the beginning of the lecture. 

The scientist who became the first cyborg 

To illustrate this example, Dr. Talanov cited the example of scientist Kevin Warwick, who in 2002 managed to become the world’s first cyborg

He succumbed to surgery during which a device (neural-interface) was implanted on his forearm that effectively allowed him to be a half-human half-robot. 

In an interview with The Guardian in the immediate aftermath of surgery in 2002, Warwick stated that for him this kind of experiment is fun from the scientific side, but that it is much more important that such an operation can give to someone who is blind or has arthritis. 

It was this experiment that started a controversial debate about how the use of neural networks can revolutionize neurorehabilitation as we know it today. 

It is an experiment that took place more than 20 years ago, and which is no less fascinating today. 

But that’s not all. 

Shortly afterwards, the same scientist took the experiment a step further – merging his own nervous system with the nervous system of his wife Irene. 

In other words, if Irene folded and opened her fist, Kevin would feel these pulses with 98% accuracy, so it’s almost as if they were shaking hands directly. 

Fascinating experiments   

In the following years, similar experiments – but on a smaller scale – took place around the world, and were presented to a wider audience in a somewhat popular way: How do you control someone else with your own mind? 

Another fascinating example involves a nine-year-old monkey who ran a game of MindPong without any other device than his brain

Another viral video in this area shows neuroscientist Greg Gage demonstrating on a random person from the audience the ability to move someone else’s hand when both of them are connected. 

However, as Dr. Talanov emphasized during his lecture, the goal is not to use people to control other people, but models of spiking neural networks that would help those who have a certain form of problem or injury to live undisturbed. 

What conditions can be treated this way?     

For this reason, he sees the special importance of the application of neural networks in neurorehabilitation and neuroprosthetics. 

The conditions that could be treated and possibly “cured” in this way are: 

  • Stroke; 
  • Palsy; 
  • Migraine; 
  • Spinal cord injury; 
  • Epilepsy. 

Moreover, he and his team is working on, as he calls it, a primitive system that simulates the movement that the leg makes while walking. 

“We use artificial neural networks, but can we call them intelligent? From a biological perspective, no, but from a functional way, yes,” he concluded. 

Although the aforementioned experiments and advances may seem like the distant future for people unfamiliar with this area, the truth is that the benefits of this technology may relatively soon change and improve the lives of those who thought it was impossible and thought they would have to live with a certain condition from that point onward. 

A journalist by day and a podcaster by night. She's not writing to impress but to be understood.