July 18, 2006

Mind of Machinia

Matthew Nagle is a quadriplegic. Five years ago, he was a healthy twenty-year old who was assaulted with a knife. Now, he is unable to move his arms and his legs... yet he can turn on the TV, flick off the lights and check his email with a few silent mental commands.

Nagle is not telepathic; his powers are the result of advanced scientific research into computer-brain interfaces (CBIs.) CBIs have come a long way in the past decade as the development of our technology and our knowledge of neurology have both increased significantly. A special computer chip was implanted in the motor cortex of his brain, allowing him to move a cursor. John Donaghue, the developer of BrainGate, believes that this tech could someday move a mechanical limb or direct a wheelchair.

However, DARPA's dreams of mechanical robots and tanks driven by the minds of super soldiers and Ironman Mech-Suits are not fully realized. The technology is not perfect. It is still bulky, experienced technicians are needed and unusual training of brain waves might require special customization of CBIs for each user. Nagle's unit malfunctioned after seven months and he had it replaced with another device to improve his breathing. He lost his ability to beat lab technicians at Tetris, but he did give the hope that this technology will one day help people with Parkinson's disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) or other disabling conditions.

LA Times: Quadriplegic Turns Thoughts Into Action
EMBO: When Mind Meets Machine
BBC: Brain Chip Reads Man's Thoughts

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