Friday, December 30, 2005

The Melding
Of Computer
And Brain

In the future brain and computer will meld. Our brains will be wired directly to the internet via wireless, or satellite. The speed of computing, and of the servers at the gateways to the internet will increase exponentially, so everyone will be able to retrieve and send information at incredibly fast speeds. Human beings will achieve a kind of omniscience.

Let's look at some of the technology, already being developed and used, which will eventually bring about such a world.

From the BBC comes the story of a paralyzed U.S. man who is being given the ability to manipulate objects around him by thinking. How? A chip implanted in his brain, reads his thoughts, and sends messages to his household appliances:

A paralysed man in the US has become the first person to benefit from a brain chip that reads his mind.

Matthew Nagle, 25, was left paralysed from the neck down and confined to a wheelchair after a knife attack in 2001.

The pioneering surgery at New England Sinai Hospital, Massachusetts, last summer means he can now control everyday objects by thought alone.

The brain chip reads his mind and sends the thoughts to a computer to decipher.
Mind over matter

He can think his TV on and off, change channels and alter the volume thanks to the technology and software linked to devices in his home.

Scientists have been working for some time to devise a way to enable paralysed people to control devices with the brain.

Studies have shown that monkeys can control a computer with electrodes implanted into their brain.

Recently four people, two of them partly paralysed wheelchair users, were able to move a computer cursor while wearing a cap with 64 electrodes that pick up brain waves.

Mr Nagle's device, called BrainGate, consists of nearly 100 hair-thin electrodes implanted a millimetre deep into part of the motor cortex of his brain that controls movement.

Wires feed the information from the electrodes into a computer which analyses the brain signals.

The signals are interpreted and translated into cursor movements, offering the user an alternative way to control devices such as a computer with thought.

Professor John Donoghue, an expert on neuroscience at Brown University, Rhode Island, is the scientist behind the device produced by Cyberkinetics.

Mr Nagle has also been able to use thought to move a prosthetic hand and robotic arm to grab sweets from one person's hand and place them into another.

Professor Donoghue hopes that ultimately implants such as this will allow people with paralysis to regain the use of their limbs.

The long term aim is to design a package the size of a mobile phone that will run on batteries, and to electrically stimulate the patient's own muscles.

So, we can see the melding of brain is already happening here at outset of the 21st century. Currently, we can download information directly from the brain to computer. Can we go in the other direction? Can information be fed into the brain from a computer in a way which the brain can understand?

Yes, apparently, we can:

US and German scientists have designed a bionic eye to allow blind people to see again.

It comprises a computer chip that sits in the back of the individual's eye, linked up to a mini video camera built into glasses that they wear.

Images captured by the camera are beamed to the chip, which translates them into impulses that the brain can interpret.

So, we can see, human beings are already able to translate information from and to the brain.

What will it be like for individual human beings to have access to all available knowledge? What will a human do with practical omniscience?