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FutureTech: Theodore Berger

Engineering the Future: Theodore Berger

For more than three decades, a Viterbi biomedical engineer Theodore Berger and his colleagues (Vasilis Marmarelis, John Granacki, and Armand Tanguay) have been pursuing an extraordinary vision: silicon chips that can speak to living brain tissue in the brain’s own electronic language, chips that might someday be used to repair damaged or diseased brain tissue.

He is now within sight of his goal. In a living slice of brain from a rat he’s demonstrated systems that are half-silicon, half brain tissue, which respond exactly as brain tissue does. From the point of view of function, there’s no way to tell where the brain part ends and the silicon part begins. In two years, he is confident that his team will have chips implanted into the brains of rats, working as part of these brains to replace lost memory function. In 10 to 15 years such chips may be in human brains, curing patients with epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, stroke and other neurological disorders.

And beyond that? The 50-something engineer smiles. “That’ll will take me past when I’m seventy.” But he believes that the next generation of researchers, building on his research, have extraordinary prospects. Berger says that “we are now on the verge of understanding the computing platform that makes up memory” and other higher mental processes. From afar, we are starting to see how to literally read minds, to decode the activity within living brains, to see how the brain represents objects, goals, abstract concepts.

“The next generation will start being able to manipulate the code,” he says, referring to the brain’s internal language. “And the possibilities from there are limitless.”