Cybernetics, continued

Comments   0   Date Arrow  October 14, 2004 at 9:36am   User  by joel

Back in February I posted about some remarkable developments in the area of cybernetics, and mentioned the possibility of allowing people with paralysis to perform complex tasks. Well, here we are only eight months later (eight months!!) and that wall has been breached. In an FDA-approved trial, a company called Cyberkinetics has implanted 100 sensors in the brain of a 25-year old quadriplegic with wires running to a computer. Just by thinking, the patient is able to “control a computer well enough to operate a TV, open e-mail and play Pong with 70% accuracy.” That’s pretty incredible. The article clarifies that this is obviously still at a very early stage, likening the technology to “the first pacemaker in 1950, which was the size of a boombox and delivered jolts through wires implanted in the heart.” For one thing, they’re only capturing a small part of the signals the brain is sending. For another, there’s still the wires-poking-through-the-skull issue.

Not surprisingly the question of medical ethics comes up, and our friend Art Caplan gets a few quotes about how the brain isn’t “some sacrosanct organ you can’t touch” and that we shouldn’t hold up this kind of research for those who fear a slippery slope of body modifications and human enhancements. And this time, I couldn’t agree with him more. This needs to be monitored, to be sure, but the potential vastly outweighs the risk that some mad scientist is going to start churning out cyborgs or something.

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