The brain is often referred to as a computer. Researchers have tried for years to make artificial intelligence as fast and efficient as the human brain, but so far, the brain is still winning. Unlike a computer, however, the mind isn’t something a developer can sit down and program, with lines and lines of code. The brain is much too sophisticated for that, but could we do it in the future? The field of optogenetics is booming with scientists looking for a way to switch genes in the brain on or off, to create different results. Using light-sensitive proteins that are genetically inserted into individual neurons, scientists can send signals in the form of light pulses to control those neurons.
In one research project, light was used to make lab rats walk in circles, but it involved aiming the light at an entire area of the brain, rather than just specific cells. In April of 2018, one group of neuroscientists was able to use 3D holographic light to activate carefully chosen neurons in lab animals. Measurements showed that neural firing patterns were different as a result of the process, but it’s tough to measure how it feels to the mice. The possible applications of this could mean that by using light, the brain could be made to perceive memories, images or objects that are not actually there.