November 16, 2003

Brain implants

Researchers at Cyberkinetics, Inc. have invented a device that could enable paralyzed people to perform simple computer operations, such as play video games, directly with their brains. Although the current system is limited in functionality, researchers hope that the technology could someday enable paralyzed patients to perform a multitude of other operations as well. For example, patients might be able to use the technology to "type" on their computers, control lights and heating equipment, maneuver wheelchairs, and manipulate robotic limbs.

The device, which has already been tested on animals, consists of two components: a chip to be installed inside a patient's brain, and an external computer that processes the data from the chip. As Nature reports, future prototypes will be smaller and wireless.

This technology sounds fantastic, and could really help change the lives of some paralyzed individuals. Unfortunately, this technology also has the potential of being very abusable. Let's just hope that the designers of this technology, unlike the designers of other technologies, realize the importance of security. Once the prototypes become wireless, we'd hardly want a situation where someone could spy on a paralyzed neighbor's thought processes (such as when the patient is "typing" on a computer). And we'd hardly want a maladjusted person to be able to control an innocent patient's wheelchair or robotic limbs "just for fun." Posted by Tadayoshi Kohno at November 16, 2003 12:44 PM