how far will cyborg technology really go?

Brain-machine interfaces are developing at a rapid pace. But don't expect to order implants on demand anytime soon.

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In the sci-fi realm, cyborgs are the results of a military experiment or products of a society where being only human just isn’t enough. In the real world, the story of the first cyborgs is rather grim. The vast majority aren’t people trying to enhance themselves but victims of an accident or a stroke, no longer able to communicate or do anything on their own. So to help these patients, researchers developed a package of software and hardware called BrainGate that allows a tiny brain implant to control computers by thought, restoring a sense of mobility to those who need it.

To talk, move wheelchairs, or use another tool able to decode their commands, patients think of the motions they want to do and their implants convert the thought into a digital signal. Over time, the patients get used to their new abilities, manipulating their devices like new appendages. But since plugging a computer chip into a brain is pretty risky, it was limited to a small patient group for testing and observation. So far, the tests are going so well that a new wave of BrainGate devices has been greenlit for a clinical study and if this study goes as well as expected, the technology may well be on its way to a hospital near you.

For the next ten years or so, the technology is very likely to remain a treatment. If the devices will be confirmed as safe and reliable by larger studies and real world data, they might quickly find their way into the military. But the big question is whether normal, healthy people would want to undergo brain surgery to work with all their household electronics on a whim. Let’s be clear that this procedure is very invasive and the more electronics we’ll want to adopt into our bodies, the more invasive and risky the required surgeries will have to be. To be a cyborg similar to those described in sci-fi movies and novels would be very extensive and extreme process, a process that would probably deter anyone who doesn’t have to endure it for very good reasons. As nifty as it’d be to turn the TV on with a glance, I would have to question the value of this ability considering what had to be done to make it happen.

That said, when doctors can use new, less invasive techniques to merge us with machines and the required procedures will be safer and cheaper, we might see the real dawn of the cyborgs. Until then, it seems that the technology is likely to be limited to extreme medical cases and small scale military experiments.

[ story tip by OregonMJW ]

# tech // cyborg / futurism / medical research

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