Thursday, July 13, 2006

"If your brain can do it, we can tap into it"

A paralyzed man, with a small sensor implanted into his brain, is able to control a computer, television set, a robot, etc. with only his thoughts !

Some excerpts...
In a variety of experiments, the first person to receive the implant, Matthew Nagle, moved a cursor, opened e-mail, played a simple video game called Pong and drew a crude circle on the screen. He could change the channel or volume on a television set, move a robot arm somewhat, and open and close a prosthetic hand.

The sensor measures 4 millimeters by 4 millimeters — less than a fifth of an inch long and wide — and contains 100 tiny electrodes. The device was implanted in the area of Mr. Nagle’s motor cortex responsible for arm movement and was connected to a pedestal that protruded from the top of his skull.

When the device was to be used, technicians plugged a cable connected to a computer into the pedestal. So Mr. Nagle was directly wired to a computer, somewhat like a character in the “Matrix” movies.


Mr. Nagle would then imagine moving his arm to hit various targets. The implanted sensor eavesdropped on the electrical signals emitted by neurons in his motor cortex as they controlled the imaginary arm movement.

Obstacles must be overcome, though, before brain implants become practical. For one thing, the electrodes’ ability to detect brain signals begins to deteriorate after several months, for reasons not fully understood. In addition, the implant would ideally transmit signals wirelessly out of the brain, doing away with the permanent hole in the head and the accompanying risk of infection. Further, the testing involving Mr. Nagle required recalibration of the system each day, a task that took technicians about half an hour.

Well, it seems like the future, only seen in science fiction to date, is finally here ! Perhaps we can all envision a future where human computer interactions are more "natural" than using a keyboard or mouse, or even a pen !

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