‘Where humans and technology merge’

Dr Jörn Rickert specialises in communication at the interface between the nervous system and artificial intelligence. At Hypermotion, the managing director of CorTec will be speaking about cyborgs. We interviewed the neurobiologist to find out more.

Dr Jörn Rickert works with CorTec on electronic implants for paralysed patients (photo: CorTec GmbH)
Dr Jörn Rickert works with CorTec on electronic implants for paralysed patients (photo: CorTec GmbH)

What inspired you to appear on a platform for intelligent transport systems that are not primarily about the transport of messenger substances in the brain?

I had an exciting discussion in Berlin at a forum about cyborgs, which was organised and chaired by Martin Fröhlich, Head of New Horizons at Deutsche Bahn, who is also a presenter at Hypermotion-Lab. The topic of where humans and technology end or merge is of increasing interest to more and more people. With the help of brain implants, Elon Musk’s new company  Neuralink hopes to connect the human brain to the Internet so that humans can keep up with artificial intelligence in the future. We are also working on this technology at CorTec, but with the aim of being able to treat diseases.

What solutions do you offer patients?

We research brain implants. Paralysed people could use these to bridge non-functional nerve pathways, work the muscles and therefore move themselves. The impulses from these brain implants could also be used to control an exoskeleton and also of course to communicate.

In its communication materials, Hypermotion used for the two last events the image of a brain that depicts a neuronal network. How apt do you think this analogy is as a neurobiologist?

There are already parallels between traffic and a brain. A road user would correspond to a brain signal on its way, e.g. from the retina to the visual cortex. And because so many of them are on the go at the same time, I need lots of parallel structures. Time synchronisation plays an important role in both, and both brain and traffic have numerous nodes. With the latter, nodes would be stations or airports.

You’ve worked on human intelligence, today you are also an expert on artificial intelligence. Which intelligence can cope better with the demands of modern mobility?

As long as mobility takes place in artificial, clearly structured environments, for example on a motorway, artificial intelligence can certainly do better. But the less structures there are and the more chaotic the environment is, the more human intelligence has an advantage. Walking through the forest, making your way through a natural wilderness: humans can do this a lot better.

A question for you as a private user: what do you associate with “new mobility” and which aspect of digitally driven traffic in large cities appeals most to you personally? And what does the term hypermotion mean to you?

Large cities should become car-free. Personally, I think that a bicycle driven by muscle power is best for this – most of us need more exercise. For longer distances, I would personally find autonomous cars helpful and in the end also safer and less prone to getting stuck in traffic jams. When I think of hypermotion, I think of hyperspace and the next generation of mobility. For me, a key question of the future is: will we continue to travel physically or more and more virtually?

Dr. Jörn Rickert
The biologist did his doctorate on the representation of movement in the motor cortex and thus made a contribution to basic neurobiological research. He has been managing director of CorTec since it was founded in September 2010.