When I wrote The Desire to Be Wired for Wired 1.04 (in 1993!), a group of biomed engineers at Stanford had recently managed to grow rat brain nerve bundles into a silicon array. It was an amazing feat, but it was a passive interface. The next step was figuring out how to get the hardware and the wetware to talk to each other, to exchange usable signals. Thanks to researchers at the University of Padua in Italy, we’re a step closer to this kind of man-machine interface, a technology that holds promise for things like the treatment of neurological disorders.
The Italian science team was able to grow rat brain cells onto a silicon chip with 16,000 transistors and hundreds of capacitors on it. And most amazingly, they were able to pass electrical signals from the neurons to the silicon array’s transistors and to use the power in the capacitors to stimulate the neurons. That’s communication, baby! Now that’s a long way off from hardware and wetware really understanding each other (we’re sort of at the level of caveman grunting), but there are some nearterm applications, such as using neuro-chips to test the effect that new drugs have on brain function.