New results out of France show that a team of researchers have created a transistor which mimics certain behavior of the brain. Their innovative new device is called a nanoparticle organic memory field-effect transistor (NOMFET). Specifically, the NOMFET appears to allow for the "short-term plasticity" which is a hallmark of biological synapses in the neural systems of humans and other animals. As explained in a Physics World posting:
A biological synapse transforms a voltage spike (action potential) arriving from a pre-synaptic neuron into a discharge of chemical neurotransmitters that are then detected by a post-synaptic neuron. These are subsequently transformed into new spikes, leading to a succession of pulses that either become larger or diminish in size. This fundamental property of synaptic behaviour is known as short-term plasticity, which is related to a neural network's ability to learn. It is this plasticity that Vuillaume and colleagues have succeeded in mimicking.
This isn't the first time in the last few years where physicists have announced ground-breaking new types of transistors (see Nano-Transistor, Tiny Graphene Transistor, and Optical Transistors). This sort of work shows the amazing potential for some of the emerging technologies in modern physics, neurology, and the integration between the organic and inorganic worlds in the form of biotechnologies. Discoveries such as this out of nanotechnology and biophysics could potentially revolutionize the very nature of technology. Think about how the world was revolutionized by telephones, and then by radio, and then television, and then computers, and then cellphones ... and then try to picture what the ability to build our own synapses might unleash.
It's a truly astounding vision, one which has been explored by science fiction for years in ways both positive and negative. Only time will tell, of course, what useful technologies actually manifest, and what the impact of those technologies will be.