January 15, 2014
Plugging In Your Brain
Of all the modern miracles out there, I find none as fascinating as the concept of the cyborg. The blending of man and machine has long been a dream of the sci-fi/fantasy nerd (such as myself) and thanks to the nigh limitless potential of scientific discovery, it is a reality. Sure, we might not be creating augmented super-soldiers with machine-gun arms or rocket boosters in their feet like you might see in a comic book or movie, but we have managed to accomplish many incredible things with cybernetic technology. We have successfully replaced missing limbs, created artificial eyes, and more. We have the technology and, just like the Six-Million Dollar Man, we can rebuild ourselves. What makes all of this possible, and what is now being given a great deal of attention, is the study of neuroscience and of BMIs.
BMIs, or brain-machine interfaces, are what would allow a patient with an artificial limb to control that limb with a thought, just as they would their organic limbs. It is the linking of mind and machine, giving control over to the mind in order to operate the machine. Remember the biobot? The remote controlled insects developed by North Carolina State University? They were able to be directed thanks to a remote BMI thinking the cybernetic component to their motor controls, allowing us to direct them. These were early uses of BMI technology, able to work thanks to the insect having a much simpler brain than humans. Simple signals were able to be used, commanding it to do things like “fly” or “fun.” Presently, they are being used as a model system in neuroscience in order to understand the basic relationship between an organic mind and the inorganic components used to create a BMI. There are some areas of concern considering BMIs, such as their ability not only to transmit signals from the brain, but to send signals into the brain as well. Fear that such technology might lead to the ability to control the thoughts or actions of others may sound like something out of a darker science fiction work, but given the recent leaps in technology, it is not entirely out of the realm of possibility. Other work being done if the field of cybernetics is trying to figure out a way of powering various medical implants without the need for any sort of external sorts. There are ideas circulating about using a body’s own kinetic, thermal, bio-electric, or chemical energy, but as of yet these are all still theories of what might be possible.
Reading up on the latest news regarding cybernetic technologies is what originally inspired my writing this column, and it remains one of my greatest fascinations. I am always excited to hear what new ideas are circulating in the field and what progress has been made to make the dream of a cybernetic future a reality.
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