This far out article by Featured Writer Phillip Jackson will introduce you to a few recent technology innovations that bring to life many concepts from our favorite science fiction films and books.
Would you believe it if I told you that scientists have created technology that allows for brain-to-brain communication? If so, you would probably not have a hard time believing that researchers are already learning how to use this to hack the brain, right? How about if I told you that other scientists have taken this same technology and extended it, in a different way, to create real-life cyborg suits and other assistive technology? Well, what if I told you that researchers are actually working on real-life avatars, and doing quite well at it?
“If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas… Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy… Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s… Now is not the time to cut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.”
- President Barack Obama, 2013 State of the Union
In April of 2013, President Obama announced a bold new research initiative called BRAIN to do just this. Although research into this area had been going on well before this, it seems to show that there is actually great interest in this field of study. So much so that the president set aside $100 million in his 2014 budget proposal to help fund some of these projects. And they are happening!
Harvard University created the first BBI sometime in 2012. With this interface, they were able to connect the brain of a human to the brain of a mouse. After hooking up the human and the mouse, the human could basically think of a mouse’s tail moving and the mouse’s tail would move. This was a very crude and noninvasive experiment.
In August of 2013, researchers at University of Washington announced that they had created a human BBI that allowed for messages or thoughts to be sent from one human to another, across a network no less. Most recently, researchers have demonstrated this technology with two different users, one in Spain and the other in India.
Currently, all these methods are crude in the sense that the users are sending binary data to each other by way of pulses of light that the users see in their peripheral vision. That data is converted and then transmitted to the user. It is only a matter of time before these methods are fine-tuned and turned into something very usable.
Hacking the Brain
Anytime there is something good in the world, there has to be something bad. So might as well get it out of the way! Researchers are actually looking into hacking the brain. And if that is not enough to scare the pants off of you, then I give you this: memories can be implanted, even captured in a way, and played back. Memories can even be changed.
Researchers predict that at some point we will be able to backup our memories much the same way we do our computers today. This would prevent us from forgetting anything. There is also research to remove bad memories, such as in veterans suffering from PTSD.
If you watched the opening ceremony of the 2014 World Cup, you probably saw a guy in a weird suit that kicked out the first ball of the game. This fellow, whose name was never released to the public, is a Brazilian paraplegic. Yes, that means he is paralyzed from the chest down. The suit he was wearing was designed by scientists as an exoskeleton that can be controlled by the user’s brain waves. You can learn more about it in the Washington Post article and the video below.
“The patient imagines that he wants to move, to walk. This is detected by sensors and sent to a computer which interprets this information and sends info to the exoskeleton,”
But this is not the only cyborg on the block! CyberDyne has created HAL. No, not a computer system that goes postal on its crew, but a series of exoskeletal devices that can be worn for various purposes. These devices vary from a full body suit, invented specifically to help workers that are part of the Fukushima clean-up efforts, to individual/single joint units that can be used to bring life back to a single limb or aid in rehabilitation efforts.
All of the above mentioned products and studies are real. There is nothing science fiction about them. Whether or not the research is funded by our government, or even if people think we should be researching these things at all, it is happening and quickly making progress. Soon there will be medical breakthroughs like we have never seen. Some will be amazing life-saving advancements that will improve the lives of people all over the world. For others, however, they could make life a living hell.