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大脑控制电脑 我们能用意识控制机器吗?

Will we ever control the world with our minds?
大脑控制电脑 我们能用意识控制机器吗?

Science-fiction can sometimes be a good guide to the future. In the film Upgrade (2018) Grey Trace, the main character, is shot in the neck. His wife is shot dead. Trace wakes up to discover that not only has he lost his wife, but he now faces a future as a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic.

科幻作品有时候能很好地预言我们的未来。在2018年电影《升级》(Upgrade)中,主角格雷(Grey Trace)和妻子遭到袭击,他的脖子被击中,妻子被枪杀。当格雷醒来后发现,他不仅失去了妻子,还发现自己四肢瘫痪,将在轮椅上度过余生。

He is implanted with a computer chip called Stem designed by famous tech innovator Eron Keen – any similarity with Elon Musk must be coincidental – which will let him walk again. Stem turns out to be an artificial intelligence (AI) and can “talk” to him in a way no one else can hear. It can even take over control of his body. You can guess the rest of the story.

后来,格雷被植入了由著名科技创新者伊隆·基恩(Eron Keen)设计的一款名为“Stem”的电脑芯片(如果伊隆·基恩的名字与伊隆·马斯克(Elon Musk)有任何相似之处纯属巧合),这让格雷重新恢复了行走。Stem是一种人工智能(AI),它可以用别人听不到的方式与他“交谈”,甚至可以控制他的身体。接下来的故事你可能已经猜到。
The reality of being a cyborg in 2019 is much less dramatic – but still incredible. In 2012, as part of a research programme led by Jennifer Collinger, a biomedical engineer at the University of Pittsburgh, and funded by the US government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), Jan Scheuermann became one of a tiny handful of people to be implanted with a brain-computer interface. The 53-year-old woman, a quadriplegic due to the effects of a degenerative disorder, has two cables attached to box-like sockets in her head, which connect to what looks like a video game console.

现在,2019年中,混合有机体和电子机器的“赛博格”半机器人(生化人)技术的发展并没有那么激动人心,但仍然令人难以忘怀。2012年,谢尔曼(Jan Scheuermann)成为极少数植入脑-机接口的人。这个项目是匹兹堡大学(University of Pittsburgh)生物医学工程师科林格(Jennifer Collinger)领导的研究项目的一部分,该项目由美国国防高级研究计划局(Darpa)资助。53岁的谢尔曼因退行性疾病导致四肢瘫痪,她的头部有两个盒子状的插座,连接着一个看起来像游戏机样的东西。

Scheuermann can use this brain-computer interface to control a robotic arm with her thoughts, well enough to feed herself chocolate. Three years later she successfully flew a fighter aircraft in a computer simulator.

谢尔曼可以通过这个脑-机接口用她的意识控制机械手臂,让机械手臂喂自己吃巧克力。三年后,她在电脑模拟器上成功地驾驶一架战斗机飞行。

Darpa has been funding research into these interfaces since the 1970s, and now wants to go one step closer to the kind of world glimpsed in Upgrade. The goal of the Next-Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology (N3) programme launched earlier this year is to remove the need for electrodes, cables and brain surgery.

美国国防高级研究计划局自20世纪70年代以来一直在资助关于脑-机接口的研究,现在想要进一步接近电影《升级》中所看到的场景。今年早些时候,启动的下一代非手术神经技术(Next-Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology,简称N3)项目,目标是在未来消除对电极、连接线和脑部手术的需求。

Al Emondi, who manages the programme, has given scientists from six of the USA’s leading research institutes the task of developing a piece of hardware capable of reading your thoughts from the outside of your head and small enough to be embedded into a baseball cap or headrest. In an approach that has been compared to telepathy – or the creation of “a true brain-computer interface”, according to Emondi – the device has to be bi-directional, able to transmit information back to the brain in a form that the brain will understand.

该项目负责人埃蒙迪(Al Emondi)向来自美国六家领先研究机构的科学家们提出了一项任务,即开发一种硬件,让它能够从头的外部读取人的想法,而且体积要足够小,可以嵌入棒球帽或头枕中。根据埃蒙迪的说法,这种装置必须是双向的,能够将信息以大脑能够理解的形式传回大脑。这种方法被比作心灵感应,或者创造“一个真正的脑-机接口”。

Emondi has given the scientists only four years to take the new technology from the laboratory to the point it can be tested on humans. Even Elon Musk’s plan for an Upgrade-style brain–computer interface, Neuralink, still requires risky surgery to embed the chip in the brain, even if it does replace cables with a form of wireless communication.

埃蒙迪要求科学家们用四年的时间,将这项新技术在实验室完成,然而进入人体测试阶段。马斯克(Elon Musk)提出的升级版脑-机接口(Neuralink)计划,虽然用无线通信形式取代了连接线,但仍需要进行高风险的手术才能将芯片植入大脑。

“The ability to really change the world doesn't happen often in a career,” says Emondi. “If we can build a neural interface that’s not invasive, we will have opened up the door to a whole new ecosystem that doesn’t exist right now.”

埃蒙迪说:“在职业生涯中,真正拥有改变世界的能力并不经常发生。如果能建立一个非侵入性的神经界面,我们就为一个全新的生态系统打开了大门,但这个生态系统目前还不存在。”

“The most common applications are to help people who have lost the ability to move their arms and quadriplegics, paraplegics,” says Jacob Robinson, an electrical and computer engineer at Rice University, Houston, Texas, and the principal researcher of one of the teams. “Imagine then, if we can have the same kind of ability to communicate with our machines but without surgery, then we open up this technology to a broad user base, people who are otherwise able-bodied who just want faster ways to communicate with their devices.”

德克萨斯州休斯顿莱斯大学(Rice University)的电气和计算机工程师,也是研究小组的首席研究员的罗宾逊(Jacob Robinson)说:“这个系统最常见的应用是帮助那些双臂麻痹、四肢瘫痪和截肢的人,想象一下,如果能在不做手术的情况下,拥有与机器沟通的能力,那么我们就可以向广大用户群开放这项技术,那些身体健全的人也可以用更快的方式与他们的设备沟通。”

大脑会发出各种各样的信号,新技术必须能够过滤才能正常工作
Some other researchers think our fascination with brain-computer interfaces is about something more profound. “The only way that humans have evolved to interact with the world is through our bodies, our muscles and our senses, and we’re pretty good at it,” says Michael Wolmetz,  a human and machine intelligence research lead at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “But it’s also a fundamental limitation on our ability to interact with the world. And the only way to get outside of that evolutionary constraint is to directly interface with the brain.”

研究人员认为,我们对脑-机接口的着迷也许有着更深层次的原因。马里兰州劳雷尔市约翰·霍普金斯(Johns Hopkins)应用物理实验室的人类和机器智能研究负责人沃尔梅茨(Michael Wolmetz)说:“人类进化到目前,我们与世界互动的唯一方式是通过身体、肌肉和感官,我们非常擅长这样做。但这也是我们与世界互动能力的基本限制。摆脱进化束缚,唯一方法就是直接与大脑互动。”

Despite its slightly unnerving strapline of “creating breakthrough technologies and capabilities for national security”, Darpa has a history of pioneering technologies that shape the world that we civilians live in. The development of the internet, GPS, virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri and now AI has all been sped up thanks to the dollars ploughed into these areas by the agency. Its funding of research into brain-computer interfaces suggests it could be a similarly game-changing technology. But it is not alone.

尽管美国国防高级研究计划局对“为国家安全创造突破性技术和能力”的限制令人不安,但他在历史上推动了许多开创性的技术,影响了人们的日常生活。互联网、全球定位系统(GPS)、苹果Siri等虚拟助手,以及现在的人工智能的快速发展,都得益于该机构在这些领域的资金投入。对脑-机接口的研究表明,这可能是一项足以改变游戏规则的技术。但这并非孤军奋战。

Musk’s Neuralink is just one of a number of projects attracted by the potential of brain-computer interfaces. Major technology firms including Intel are also working in this area.

马斯克的神经链接项目只是众多被脑-机接口潜力所吸引的项目之一。包括英特尔在内的主要科技公司也在这一领域开展工作。

And there are great rewards for those who manage to crack it – the market in neurological technology is expected to be worth $13.3bn (£10.95bn) in 2022.

对于那些成功取得技术突破的研究者和机构来说,他们将获得丰厚的回报——预计到2022年,神经技术市场的价值预计将达到133亿美元(合109.5亿英镑)。

Brain-computer interfaces are possible today only because in the 1800s scientists tried to understand the electrical activity that had been discovered in the brains of animals. During the 1920s, Hans Berger developed the electroencephalograph (EEEG) to detected electrical activity from the surface of the human skull and recorded it. Fifty years later computer scientist Jacques Vidal’s research at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) led him to coin the term “brain–computer interface”.

在今天脑-计算机接口之所以成为可能,是因为在19世纪,科学家们试图了解在动物大脑中发现的电活动。在20世纪20年代,伯杰(Hans Berger)发明了脑电图仪(EEEG)来检测人类头骨表面的电活动并记录下来。50年后,加州大学洛杉矶分校的计算机科学家维达尔(Jacques Vidal)进行了更深入的研究,并创造了“脑-机接口”(brain-computer interface, BCI)一词。

Scientists then had to wait for computing power, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology for their visions to be realised. In 2004, a quadriplegic patient was implanted with the first advanced computer interface after a stabbing left him paralysed from the neck down. This allowed him to play ping pong on a computer just by thinking about it.

然后,科学家们不得不等待计算能力的提高、人工智能和纳米技术的出现,才能实现他们的愿景。2004年,一位四肢瘫痪的患者,植入了第一个先进的电脑接口。这让被刺伤后从颈部以下瘫痪他,只要想一下就能在电脑上打乒乓球。

Despite such successes, problems remain. “The quality of the information that you can transmit is limited by the number of channels,” says Robinson. “The interfaces require cutting a hole in the skull to put the electrode directly in contact with the brain. Your device might only operate for a limited amount of time before your body rejects it; or if the devices fail, it’s hard to get them out.”

尽管取得了这些成功,但问题依然存在。罗宾逊说:“我们所能传输信息的质量受到频道数量的限制。而且这种接口需要在颅骨上开一个洞,使电极直接与大脑接触。在身体排斥它之前,设备只能运行有限的时间;如果设备出现故障,很难把它们取出来。”

To achieve the goal of an interface that works without the need for brain surgery, Emondi’s teams are exploring using combinations of techniques such as ultrasound, magnetic fields, electric fields and light to read our thoughts and/or write back. Problems include how you tell useful neural activity from the cacophony of other noise the brain emits. It has also got to be able to pick up the signals through the skull and the scalp.

为了实现一个不需要脑部手术就能工作的接口的目标,埃蒙迪的团队正在探索使用超声波、磁场、电场和光等技术的组合来读取想法并回传到大脑。问题是如何从大脑发出的杂音中分辨出有用的神经活动。它还必须能够通过头骨和头皮接收信号。

“When you consider the problem of imaging through a scattering medium, millimetres in the skull is the equivalent of tens of metres in the ocean and kilometres in the atmosphere in terms of the clutter you have to face,” says David Blodgett, principal investigator for the team from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory team.

约翰·霍普金斯大学应用物理实验室团队的首席研究员布洛吉特(David Blodgett)说:“当你考虑通过散射介质成像时,你必须面对几毫米的头骨相当于几十米的海洋和大气中几公里的问题。”

“But we still believe that we can get very useful information,” says Emondi.

埃蒙迪说:“但是我们仍然相信我们可以得到非常有用的信息。”

Some teams are looking at what Emondi calls “minutely invasive surgery”. “You can still put something in the body, but you can’t do it through any surgical means,” he says. This means you have to eat something, inject it or squirt it up your nose. One team is looking at nanoparticles that act as “nanotransducers” when they reach their destination in the brain. These are very small particles the width of a human air that can transform external magnetic energy into an electric signal to the brain and vice versa.  Another is looking at using viruses to inject DNA into to cells to alter them to do a similar job.

一些团队正在研究埃蒙迪所说的“微小的侵入性手术”。他说:“可以在体内植入一些东西,但不能通过外科手术来做。”这意味着你必须吃东西,但要采用注射或者把它喷到鼻子里的方法。也有团队正在研究纳米粒子,当它们到达大脑的目的地时,就会充当“纳米传感器”。这是一种非常小的粒子,其大小相当于空气中75微米大小的颗粒,可以将外部磁场能量转化为向大脑发出的电信号,反之亦然。另一项研究是利用病毒将DNA注入细胞,使其发生改变,从而完成类似的工作。

If these techniques work, then the performance of a minutely invasive interface should be able to match that of a chip surgically implanted into the body.

如果这些技术有效,微创侵入性接口的性能应该与外科植入人体的芯片的性能相当。

Then there is the challenge of getting the information from the device to the computer and delivering a response in a split second.

接下来的挑战是将信息从设备传输到计算机,并在瞬间给出响应。

“If you were using a mouse with a computer, and you click it, and then you have wait to a second for it to do something, then that technology would never get off the ground,” says Emondi. “So, we’ve got to do something that’s going to be superfast.”

埃蒙迪说:“如果你把鼠标和电脑连在一起,点击鼠标,然后需要等上一秒钟,才能开始工作,那么这项技术就永远不会起步。所以,我们要做的是超高速的事情。”

The interfaces need to have “high resolution” and enough “bandwidth”, or channels of communication, to fly a real drone rather than move a robotic arm.

这些接口需要有“高分辨率”和足够“带宽”,或通信通道,以驾驶真正的无人机,而不是移动机械臂。

But even if we can do it, how exactly do we communicate? Will we be communicating in words or in pictures? Will we be able to talk with a friend or pay bills online? How much will this be unique to each individual? No one really knows the answers to such questions because the rules haven’t been written yet.

但即使能做到这些,我们又该如何沟通呢?我们是用文字还是图片来交流?我们是和朋友聊天还在线支付账单?每个人都有很大的独特性?没有人能知道这些问题的答案,因为规则还没有写出来。

“All new interfaces take some practice to get used to,” says Patrick Ganzer, co-investigator on the project at Battelle. “It’s hard to say how easy this new brain-computer interface will be to use. We don’t want users to have to learn hundreds of rules. One attractive option is to have outputs from the user’s brain-computer interface to communicate with a semi-autonomous device. The user will not need to control every single action but simply set a ‘process in motion’ in the computer system.”

巴特尔(Battelle)项目的联合研究员甘泽(Patrick Ganzer)说:“所有的新界面都需要一些练习来适应。很难说这种新的脑-机接口使用起来会有多简单。我们不希望用户必须学习数百条规则。一个有吸引力的选择是,将用户的脑-机接口的输出与半自动设备进行通信。用户不需要控制每一个动作,而只需在计算机系统中设置一个‘动态过程’。”

Emondi goes further than this: “As the AI becomes better, the systems we are interoperating with are going to become more autonomous. Depending on the task, we may just have to say, ‘I want that ball’ and the robot goes and gets it itself.”

埃蒙迪更进一步说:“随着人工智能越来越先进,我们与之交互的系统将变得更加自主。根据不同的需要,我们可能会说,‘我想要那个球’,机器人就会自己去拿。”

The film Upgrade may have hinted at a problem, however; who exactly is in control?

然而,电影《升级》可能暗示了一个问题:到底是谁在控制局面?

But there are some clues. “To date, most brain-computer interfaces have extracted detailed movement or muscle-related information from the brain activity even if the user is thinking more broadly about their goal,” says Jennifer Collinger. “We can detect in the brain activity which direction they want to move an object and when they want to close their hand and the resulting movement is a direct path to the object that enables them to pick it up. The user does not have to think ‘right’, ‘forward’, ‘down’.”

但也有一些线索。科林格说。“到目前为止,大多数脑-机接口已经从大脑活动中提取了详细的运动或肌肉相关信息,即使用户正在更广泛地思考目标,我们可以在大脑活动中检测出他们想要移动一个物体的方向,以及何时想要握紧手,由此产生的运动是直接指向物体的,使他们能够把它拿起来。用户不需要思考向左、向前、向下这些动作。”

“The amount of mental effort required to operate a BCI varies between participants but has typically been greater for non-invasive interfaces. It remains to be seen whether any technologies that come out of N3 will allow the user to multi-task.”

“操作BCI所需要的脑力在不同的参与者中会有所不同,但对非侵入性接口来说通常需要更大的努力。对于N3所带来的任何技术能否让用户同时处理多项任务,还有待观察。”

There is an even more fundamental question than this. No one who is able-bodied has yet chosen to be embedded with an interface in order to play a video game like Fortnite or shop online – and no one knows whether their behaviour towards an interface would be different, nor whether it would change if the chip was in a baseball cap.

还有一个更关键的问题。没有一个健全的人愿意选择嵌入一个接口,为了玩视频游戏如堡垒之夜或网上购物,所以无法知道他们的行为会不会因为一个接口而有所不同,如果芯片是在一个棒球帽里,情况会不会有所改变。

The ethical dilemmas are tremendous. “The benefits coming out of that technology have to outweigh the risks,” says Emondi. “But if you’re not trying to regain some function that you’ve lost then that’s different: that’s why non-invasive approaches are so interesting.

面临的道德困境也是巨大的。埃蒙迪说:“这项技术带来的好处必须大于风险。但如果并不为恢复失去的某些功能,而选择这项技术那就不一样了,这就是为什么非侵入性方法如此有吸引力。”

“But just because it’s not invasive technology doesn’t mean that you aren’t causing harm to an individual’s neural interface – microwaves are non-invasive, but they wouldn’t be a good thing,” he adds. “So, there are limits. With ultrasound, you have to work within certain pressure levels. If it’s electric fields, you have to be within certain power levels.”

埃蒙迪补充道。“不能认为非侵入性方法,就对个人的神经接口没有伤害——微波是非侵入性的,但它不会是一件好事。所以,这是有限制的。使用超声波,必须在一定的压力范围内工作。如果是电场,就必须在一定的功率范围内。”

The development of powerful brain-computer interfaces may even help humans survive the hypothetical technological singularity, when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence and is able to self-replicate itself. Humans could use technology to upgrade themselves to compete with these new rivals, or even merge with an AI, something Elon Musk has made explicit in his sales pitch for Neuralink.

强大的脑-机接口的发展,可能帮助人类在假想的技术奇点中生存,当人工智能超越人类智能并能够自我复制时。人类可以利用技术升级自己,与这些新对手竞争,甚至与人工智能合并,这是马斯克在推销神经连接线时明确指出的。

“Our artificial intelligence systems are getting better and better,” says Wolmetz. “And there is a question of at what point humans become the weakest link in the systems that we use. In order to be able to keep up with the pace of innovation in artificial intelligence and machine learning, we may very well need to directly interface with these systems.”

沃尔梅茨说:“我们的人工智能系统越来越好。现在的问题是,人类在什么时候会成为我们所使用的系统中最薄弱的环节。为了赶上人工智能和机器学习创新的步伐,我们很可能需要与这些系统直接对接。”

In the end, it may not make any difference.  At the end of the film Upgrade, Stem takes full control over Grey’s mind and body. The mechanic’s consciousness is left in idyllic dream state in which he isn’t paralysed, and his wife is alive.

最终,这可能没有任何区别。在电影《升级》的最后,Stem完全控制了格雷的身心。机械师的意识停留在田园诗般的梦境中,他没有瘫痪,并和妻子生活在一起。
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