October 11, 2008

Discover: Rise of the Cyborgs

Discover magazine has a very forward-looking article in their October edition. Titled Rise of the Cyborgs, it features the seminal work of scientist and physicist Philip Kennedy:
By any name, the devices created by Kennedy and a handful of others can decode the conscious intentions conveyed by neural signals. For those who are missing a leg or who have a broken spine, the signals can control computers, wheelchairs, and prosthetic limbs. For those suffering from “locked-in syndrome,” their bodies so immobilized by catastrophic disorders like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or brain stem stroke that they are unable to speak or communicate their needs, the devices can translate neural signals to spell out words on a computer screen. Spoken language through a voice synthesizer is coming soon.

Although his current work is aimed at the severely disabled and locked-in, Kennedy believes neural prosthetics will have applications for the well-bodied, too. In fact, he awaits a new, technologically driven stage of evolution that will qualify cyborgs for a branch on the human family tree.

“By connecting intimately with computers, we will take the human brain to a new level,” he says. “If we can provide the brain with speedy access to unlimited memory, unlimited calculation ability, and instant wireless communication ability, we will produce a human with unsurpassable intelligence. We fully expect to demonstrate this kind of link between brain and machine.”

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