Okay This Seems Big

By | September 25, 2011

This video is amazing. Basically what we have here is scientists reverse-engineering visual data out of brain activity as measured in an MRI.

In the comments, there is quite a bit of angst about the government reading our minds via this kind of technology, which of course is a risk, but at least for now this particular bit of government intrusion can be avoided by not having a highly modified MRI conducted by this one group of researchers in Berkeley. So maybe we don’t need to panic quite yet.

But this speaks to another possibility, too.

We talked not that long ago, on our show about human enhancement and augmentation, about how the Cochlear implant suggests the beginnings of an eventual machine-mind interface. The Cochlear implant pumps sound into the brain via electronic signals. On that show, George Dvorsky said the next step would be a device that can send visual signals into the brain, noting that this is a significantly bigger challenge and will take a while to achieve.

Being able to turn brain information into visual information, as demonstrated in this video, seems like a good start. The process needs to be a lot more accurate, of course. The reconstructions will need to be made of something more flexible than “18 million seconds of random Youtube video (as described here.) More importantly, the process needs to be made reversible. If we can convert images in the brain into computer images, eventually we’ll be able to convert computer images into images in the brain. Big challenges, but they all feel like a matter of time — a question of when, not whether.

After vision will come taste and smell…and eventually touch. Every sensation that occurs in our bodies ultimately “happens” in our brains. This is the future of virtual reality interfaces: a computer telling us we’re having a particular experience, or more precisely, a computer writing that experience directly to our brains.

What’s coming is a world in which we can experience anything, truly a world without limits. And that is a simultaneously enticing and frightening thought.