Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Brain-to-machine interface possible without surgery

Think transhumanism is naught but folly? Tell that to DARPA.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has found a way around one of the biggest objections against transhumanism. In fact, it was one Dr. Rich tossed at me about three years ago. Paraphrasing: "That kind of thing requires major surgery on the brain. People aren't going to want to do that."

So much for all that. It's been announced that DARPA has found what they call a "minimally invasive way" to have the human brain communicate with machines. The technique uses what's called a "stentrode."

Wow. It even sounds like it belongs on a cyborg. But I digress...

It's a stent "about the size of a paperclip"covered in electrodes. Rather than carving someone's skull open, a catheter is inserted in someone's neck and the stentrode goes in, worming its way through the bloodstream. Once in, the brain-machine interface (BMI) allows someone to communicate with machines using only their mind. What sorts of machines? Of immediate interest would be interfaces with cybernetics such as prosthetic limbs. Those types of interfaces have been growing in sophistication but the stentrode would allow for the next big leap.

Tests have been conducted thus far by implanting the stentrode in the motor cortexes of sheep. By next year those tests are expected to move to humans.

Like I seem to always say in a post like this one, it's another step forward. If I was someone in need of an efficient prosthetic limb, or if I were someone paralyzed from neurological disorder, I'd see this as a hopeful sign that something could be done to ameliorate whatever was keeping the electrical signals in my body from working properly. Of course I'm thinking of other advancements this vicissitude can lead to with cybernetics.

Because as much as I begrudge the fact, Dr. Rich does have something of a point. Getting a flap of your skull pried off so that someone can dig into your brain and stick in the implants has its drawbacks. It's off-putting to say the least. Yet I also knew that less invasive techniques, such as the stentrode, would inevitably come along.

Now to see if it works in humans.

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