Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cyborg Future

The February 2011 issue of Scientific American has an article in it called Mind Out of Body by neuroscientist Miguel A.L. Nicolelis. The article is an excerpt from his new book "Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines - and How It Will Change Our Lives" (link to the book's Amazon page is below).

Nicolelis paints a picture of a future wherein the disabled use robotic exoskeletons which are wired directly to their brains. Via thought (the specific patterns of neurons firing), the patient will control the exoskeleton. He even envisions the end of internet based social networks with the advent of what he calls neurosocial networking - communicating brain to brain - either with a coworker in the next cubicle or to hundreds of 'followers' in a new medium he calls the 'brain net'.

Nicolelis is at the forefront of neuroprosthetic research - looking for the ways and means to handle both input and output links from the brain to a machine (like a robotic leg) and back again. He describes a day when someone with a spinal injury or a debilitating neurological disease will select a robotic suit to wear, plug in the control leads, and walk out the front door.

The article intrigued me because it sounds like cyborgs may be closer to possible than any of us had dreamed. While the Scientific American article isn't available online, Miguel Nicolelis's book is available in print or in e-format. The excerpt of the book was very readable and nontechnical (you need not be a neuroscientist to understand the concepts). The author seems very adapt at communicating very specialized science to nonscientists if you're interested in having a look at the progress Nicolelis's labs have already made in marrying mind to machine.

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1 comment:

  1. Great article, Marcella. Think of the applications!

    I use a similar concept in one of my manuscripts (The Outer Planets), except my "exowalkers" aren't connected to the brain, they're robotic-assist braces that help crewmembers who've been in hypersleep for a year learn how to control muscle function in their legs again. (An exowalker also plays a critical part in the climax of the story.)


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