Gettin' There

I LOVE this development. It's taking time, but scientists are really starting to get a thorough and practical understanding of brain components and their functions.

In High School, one of my favorite SF books was a novel by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven called Oath of Fealty. Skipping the very interesting premise, the relevant bit here is that the main characters each had a microchip implanted in their brains. This chip not only allowed them wireless access to a central supercomputer, it had a lot of processing power in its own right.

MAN! I would
still love to have one of those badboys!

Anyhow, this story shows that folk are making progress in understanding our brains enough to make such an integrated cybermind possible. It's still decades away at best, but it's still the biology that's taking the most time to figure out. The computing part, including miniaturization, is probably already beyond what that 1980's era story could invent.

Brain to Computer to Action

An electronic array implanted in the brain of a 25-year-old man paralyzed from the neck down has allowed him to use his brain signals to take actions such as opening e-mail and manipulating a computer mouse, scientists report.

While such brain-to-computer devices are still far from being able to mimic what humans can do in terms of fine control, precision and speed, they offer hope that people with spinal cord damage and other serious problems might one day regain important aspects of autonomy and functioning.

Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital and other academic institutions said the system developed at Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems Inc. is remarkable not just as a technological marvel but also because it shows that the brain is capable of sending out signals years after a severing of its connection to the limbs.

Shortly after the device was installed and calibrated, the patient was able to play a simple video game, read e-mail and control a television set.

A report on the case was published last week in the journal Nature, along with an article detailing a technique that seeks to convert an even earlier stage of brain activity into action. By picking up brain signals at the level of intentions instead of waiting until the brain begins to direct physical movement, scientists at Stanford University hope to allow patients one day to complete actions without even having to think about the action itself.

-- Shankar Vedantam


  1. Have you read any of futurist Ray Kurzweil's books? I just finished The Fantastic Voyage, about longevity and science and the future - practical nutritional advice but also all about nanobots that will travel inside us, repairing our organs etc. Might be rightup your alley ; )

  2. I have heard of Kurzwiel and "The Fantastic Voyage" does sound like something I wanted to read at one time. LOL! Thanks for the tip. I'll definitely check it out after my move at the end of the month.

    I love the library in the town where I'm going and know that they'll have it there.


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