I love to follow the advances in Man/Machine interfaces. From a long time back people have been experimenting with both invasive and non-invasive interfaces, using a variety of methods to monitor both brain and nerve signals.
Neural implants continue to make huge advances, and the probes and various hardware required are also advancing rapidly. When you look at companies like Cyberkinetics (Actually Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems, Inc. with R&D here in Salt Lake City, Utah) they have an expanding product line which includes the BrainGate Neural Interface System:
The BrainGate Neural Interface System is an investigational medical device that is being developed to improve the quality of life for physically disabled people by allowing them to quickly and reliably control a wide range of devices including computers, environmental controls, robotics and medical devices.
Besides the presentations about Jesse Sullivan – the “bionic man” – that I have seen, I just saw the most impressive demonstrations on YouTube … of course. I was actually watching the History Channel at home the other night and saw a short clip about the Roborat. Well … YouTube had the Roborat video, and if you haven’t seen it …. you’ve got to watch it. Researchers have now inserted probes into the brain of a rat to allow remote control of the rat! They even added a wireless webcam to allow the controller to see what the rat is seeing.
The part of this that is wild is that neural stimulation is being used to both cause the rat to turn left or right, but also to stimulate the pleasure center of the brain to provide reinforcement for the actions. The rat will continue to learn to “obey” the senses driving it, in order to gain the pleasure stimulation.
This is a variation of the research being done with monkeys and additional appendages. Check out this YouTube video of Monkeys controlling a Robotic Arm through thought! With arrays of neural probes inserted into their brain, a computer monitors the brain activity and moves the arm. The monkeys have actually learned how to control their brain activity to cause the intended motions. Feeding themselves with a robotic arm …
Now … if Ray Kurzweil is right, and we’ll eventually be able to perform neural stimulation through blood-borne nanomachines, then this type of work could be done non-invasively … or at least not having to go through the skull. Imagine that you might just get injected with a syringe of nanomachines that have the ability to stimulate your neurons … and turn you into a remote control human! 🙂