Using nothing but her brain, Cathy Hutchinson drinks a canteen of coffee at Brown University. As the straw touches her lips, you see a quiver of a smile; after she takes a good long sip, her face brightens with a genuine laugh. Hutchinson has good reason to be happy– now 58 years old, she has struggled with quadriplegia since her stroke fifteen years ago.
As a volunteer for Brown’s cognitive study, Hutchinson had a “computer mind interface” only a few millimeters in size implanted in her brain–specifically, a patch of neurons in her motor cortex. The interface works by “translating neuronal activity directly into control signals for assistive devices” (Nature). In this case the assistive device is a robotic arm that moves in three-dimensional space. Researchers hope this implant will one day restore the mobility and independence that many handicapped people must live without. Very exciting technology!
But, of course, I am not handicapped, so why might I be so excited about this? Interactive art, people!! Duh! As I write this, the people at Google are probably thinking of all the wonderful ways we can implement this to make regular, non-handicapped people even lazier (sorry, not trying to hate on the google glasses, I just think they are mispurposed. And no, that’s not a real word). I recently read this heart-wrenching Gizmodo article called “Being Deaf: How Different the World is Without Hearing.” I wonder, could this implant create new methods of communication for those who are born deaf? And what about blindness? Only good things can come from this research.
Since I’m still only on Chapter 9 of my processing book, I can’t quite conceptualize the amount of programming and research that goes into a chip like this. I wonder…one day, will we all have chips in our brains? Will the interface be commercial, and only available to those in the highest tax bracket? Perhaps the chip will someday be programmed to read other people’s chips, creating a new “internet,” a revolutionary platform for communication and information sharing.
In my last post I discussed women’s proclivity towards mind-reading and speaking in code…this is a whole new level of telepathic communication! What will we women do when we no longer have to decode thoughts, and can literally just know them instead?
Sounds either really good, or really, really bad. Until that happens, I think I’ll just appreciate the simplicity of life as it is.