Real World Brain-to-Computer Interfaces

Last post I described how the virtual space system will work. What it comes down to hooking a computer into a human brain so that it can deliver artificial sensory perceptions. But is such a feat feasible?

The interesting thing is that there are a number of present day systems which do just that. Take a look, for example, at Cochlear Implants. These implants have been around for a while and help deaf and other hearing-impared people be able to hear. This is not a normal hearing-aid, which amplifies sound. It “bypass[es] damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate[s] the auditory nerve”. Granted, these implants don’t produce sound as well as human hearing, but that’s just an engineering detail. We know, from the very fact that human hearing exists, that phyisical systems can be created that are just as good or better.

Artificial Retinas are the visual verson of the Cochlear Implant. They take a small camera and wire it up to the optic nerve to restore vision in those who have lost it. Again, these may not be as good as 20/20 human vision, but they are a step in the right direction.

What about robotic bodies? People, by and large, like having bodies (myself included). Artificial limbs have been around for a while, but these have been more or less controlled by utilizing a sequence of pressure-points at the point where the prothesis and body connect, rather than just hooking into the brain. However, there are protheses in development that are planned to recieve motor instructions directly from the human brain. In the future if you want to move your artificial arm, you’d do it in exactly the same way as if you had a biological arm.

These technologies are all precursors to what the virtual space system will be able to do. They are all relatively crude compared to typical human functions, and so seem unlikely that they could ever be as good as human functions. But we need to remember that the human body, for all its marvel and intricacy, is still just a physical machine which works via physical laws. There is absolutely no reason why we can’t do better.


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