VSJ – November 2007 – Work in Progress

Council member John Ellis, FIAP is rapidly becoming the IAP’s resident futurologist. In the first of a two-part article he expands on some ideas he introduced in VSJ for March 2005.
Some time ago I wrote a series of articles on making Web sites accessible for the disabled. I finished the series with what appeared to me to be a fanciful look at a future in which people would have chips implanted in their brains to provide access to the Internet and other facilities.
Shortly after writing the articles I read two pieces on the BBC News Web site that showed I wasn’t being as imaginative as I’d thought. The first concerned a paraplegic with a matrix of electrodes inserted in the  motor cortex part of his brain to allow him thought control of physical devices such as a television. The second referred to a prototype eye implant allowing visual images to be transmitted to the brain of someone suffering from macular degeneration, say.  The details are athttp://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6368089.stm and http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4396387.stm
So I was encouraged take an even  bigger leap with some wild-ish theories and unsupported conjecture!

The Brain: Being possibly the most mysterious organ of the body there is a lot of work being carried out to find out how the brain, and indeed the mind, work, the latter being how we think rather than the ‘wiring’ that makes it function.

Various experiments have arrived at the point where, using technology like that described above, signals are being received by and transmitted from the brain to accomplish a number of practical tasks. Clearly, this technology is improving rapidly. Assuming it could be incorporated at source, i.e. the eye or at some interface directly in the brain, it would be a very practical solution for many people. If the power source could be generated from within the body then we could insert a chip or series of chips into the body and make a subject ‘Internet ready’, say via WiFi. And people do have a good source of energy – heat. This is already being considered for use in hospital intensive care monitoring devices to minimise cabling.
Eventually the technology will be able to interface with the brain at a lower level than the crude eye/spinal interfaces we currently have. Technology will and always has expanded to fill the need.

Environmental Technology: If we have the technology, could we build a room that was wired to transmit and receive the signals being transmitted by the chips above? I think that existing WiFi networks could be expanded into a house as a concept rather than a single access point.

Could this technology be taken out further, say to a train, office, or car?
What sort of range could we create that would be effective within a particular environment that would not affect someone else’s space?
Would a human being need to have a chip implanted to effect the interface or could some other technology interact with the brain at a different level? If so what sort of technology needs to be invented and what motivation have we got to do this?
Next month, John tries to answer some of these questions. You can contact him at john@74stonelane.co.uk.
[Interesting project or development? Let us know at eo@iap.org.uk!]

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