Advanced digital networks closely resemble the human nervous system


The parents experienced how the newborns grasp the finger and hold tight. This almost instantaneous response is one of the sweetest involuntary movements that babies exhibit. The newborn's nerves feel a touch, process the information and react without having to send a signal to the brain. Although this capability disappears in people, the system that enables it provides a useful example for digital networks connecting sensors, processors and machinery to translate information into action.

My research on the human nervous system and advanced telecommunications networks has found some remarkable parallels between the two, including the similarity between babies' nervous systems and the rapid response networks being developed to deal with networks of always-connected sensors and always connected. , cameras and microphones in people's houses, communities and workplaces.

These insights may suggest new ways of thinking about the design of future telecommunication systems, as well as providing new ideas for the diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, autism spectrum disorder and Alzheimer's disease.

A vision of human neurology

In general, the nervous system has three main components: the brain, the spinal cord and the peripheral nervous system.

The human nervous system can be understood as a network of sensors and interconnected processors.
Education Siyavula / Flickr, CC BY

The peripheral nervous system is distributed throughout the body, feeling pressures such as pressure, heat and cold, and transmitting this information through the spinal cord to the brain. This system also deals with brain responses, controlling voluntary movements, and does some local regulation of involuntary body functions, such as breathing, digesting, and keeping the heart pounding.

The spinal cord deals with a large number of sensory inputs and action responses that pass from side to side between the brain and the body. It also deals with involuntary muscle movements called reflex arcs, such as the reflex of the knee reflex when the doctor performs an exam or the quick "jerk" of a hand when something hot is touched.

The brain, the center of most of the processing power of the nervous system, has several specialized regions in its right and left hemispheres. These areas receive information from sensors such as eyes, ears, and skin, and return exits in the form of thoughts, emotions, memories, and movements. In many cases, these outlets are also used by other parts of the brain as inputs that allow for refinement and learning.

In healthy people, these elements work together in extraordinary harmony, combining networks of cells that respond to specific chemicals, mechanical changes, light characteristics, temperature changes and pain through a process called sensory transduction. This complexity makes even one of the smallest components of the nervous system, the nerve fiber, or the axon a challenge to be studied.

Some of the interconnections of the nervous system, long considered only physical, may also be effectively wireless. The brain generates a highly specialized electric field at certain sites of nerve fibers during the normal course of its operation. Measuring the characteristics of this field may offer indications that a brain is healthy, or that it may have certain neurological disorders.

Within telecommunications networks

The current generation of advanced telecommunications networks, known as 5G, is wireless and has three similar categories of components.

The digital equivalent of the peripheral nervous system is the "internet of things." It is a vast and growing network of devices, vehicles and home appliances that contain electronics, software and connectivity that allow them to connect to each other, interacting and exchanging data.

The technological equivalent of the brain is the "cloud," a group of powerful computers and processors connected to the Internet that store, manage, and process data. They usually work together to handle complex tasks involving large amounts of input and processing, before delivering the outputs over the Internet.

Between these two types of components is the spinal cord equivalent, a new type of network called "fog" – a joke with the fact that it is a finely distributed cloud – configured to shorten the network connections and the resulting processing delays between the cloud and remote devices. Processors and fog storage devices can handle tasks that require especially fast reactions.

Awesome resemblances

By building technological networks throughout the modern world, people seemingly – and probably unconsciously – mirrored human neurology.

This provides opportunities to identify technological solutions to network problems that could be adapted in medical treatments for neurological disorders that do not have known cures.

Autism spectrum disorder, for example, is a serious developmental condition that impairs people's ability to communicate and interact. It is thought to occur as a result of an imbalance between two types of neural communication: people with autism spectrum disorder have a lot of activity in neurons that excite other neurons and little activity in neurons that calm other neurons. This is what happens when some links in telecommunications networks get overwhelmed while others are not busy. Software tools that manage large cloud and mist networks can even require and minimize telecom delays. These programs can also simulate – and suggest ways to reduce – network imbalances in autism-related disabilities.

Salvatore Domenic Morgera explains the network of the nervous system.

Multiple sclerosis is an often disabling disease in which the body's immune system erodes the protective coatings of nerve fibers. This stops the flow of information inside the brain and between the brain and the body. Technologically, this is similar to interruptions at specific network connection points, which are handled regularly by sending messages on other routes that have working connections. Perhaps medical research can identify ways to redirect nerve messages through close links when some nerves are not working properly.

Using software and medicine together

Neural communications break down when affected by Alzheimer's disease.
BruceBlaus / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Alzheimer's disease is a type of dementia that causes memory, thinking and behavior problems. In 2015, I presented the work of my research lab on the discovery of new networks in the brain whose behavior indicates that Alzheimer's disease may be an autoimmune disease, as is the case of MS. This suggests that a brain with Alzheimer's may be like a telecommunications network being attacked by an intruder, changing not only the data within the network, but also the network structure itself.

My research group then used the human immune system as inspiration for software development to defend computer networks against malicious attacks. This software can, in turn, be used to simulate the progress of Alzheimer's disease in a patient, perhaps highlighting ways to reduce its effects.

Involvement of the nervous system in other autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, may offer opportunities for additional information about digital networks, or ways in which sensors and software solutions can help patients. In my view, software models, made more realistic by clinical research, will help researchers understand the structure and function of the human nervous system and, at the same time, make telecommunications networks and services faster and more reliable. insurance.


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