The ability to learn and understand new things is one of the most amazing functions of the human brain. Though scientists have been looking for ways to find out how the learning process exactly works, they were only just able to scratch the surface of the secret.
But now, a team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Mellon University has found new information that makes our understanding of the brain’s learning process more comprehensive.
Learning new tricks by using old habits
The researchers had equipped a few primates with Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) and started training them to be good at moving a computer cursor left and right. The team soon found that the primates used “recycling” to learn how to move the cursor.
A primate that had learned to move the cursor left to right would now use the neural pattern associated with this activity to learn how to move the cursor in reverse. The researchers found this perplexing since this was a very inefficient learning process. Why was the brain using an inefficient process for learning new things?
One researcher theorizes that the changes required in neural activity to accomplish a new task might be too difficult for the brain to swiftly accomplish. As a result, the brain chooses to use established neural patterns for new learning new activities.
“Plasticity must be more limited in the short term than we thought… Learning entails forgetting. The brain might be reluctant to let go of things it already knows how to do,” Quantum Magazine quotes researcher Aaron Batista.
Brain tech to help speed up learning
In addition to learning more about the brain, scientists are also busy creating technology to help us improve how we use our brains. Researchers from the Tufts University in Massachusetts have created a tool to speed up the learning activity of the brain. Called the Brain Automated Chorales (BACh), the device uses functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to determine how the brain is operating.
When someone is trying to learn anything, the brain typically will need more oxygen. And it is this oxygen content in the prefrontal cortex that BACh measures, delivering information to the brain only when the oxygen content is optimal.
For the experiment, the researchers checked out how a group of beginner piano players with BACh performed against those who played the piano without the device. They discovered that the first group was able to learn piano faster and more accurately.
“We found that learners played with significantly increased accuracy and speed in the brain-based adaptive task compared to our control condition… They could play with faster speed with BACh compared to a control where they learned the way they normally would,” the researchers said in an interview with Forbes.
Another company called Neuralink has a bigger dream. Instead of using a device to boost the power of the brain, it wants to link an AI with the brain to create a unique fusion of the two that would allow people to transcend the limitations of human brains.
The company is founded by Elon Musk, who believes that the best course for humanity is to blend with the AI. “Under any rate of advancement in AI, we will be left behind by a lot… The benign situation with ultra-intelligent AI is that we would be so far below in intelligence we’d be like a pet, or a house cat,” NBC News quotes Musk.
Whether Musk’s vision becomes a reality or not, it is undeniable that humanity is stepping into a revolutionary phase with all the brain research and enhancement experiments going on.