Thursday, May 17, 2007

Technological Senses

A very cyberpunk/Sterling/Stephenson/Gibson-esque article at Wired Magazine here. The article explores how people can develop "artificial senses" with the aid of synthetic devices. From the article:

"Figure out how to change the sensory data you want — the electromagnetic fields, the ultrasound, the infrared — into something that the human brain is already wired to accept, like touch or sight. The brain, it turns out, is dramatically more flexible than anyone previously thought, as if we had unused sensory ports just waiting for the right plug-ins. Now it's time to build them."

This short-cut removes the tedious necessity of developing extremely complex "neural interfaces". Something very similar to this concept is explored in Greg Egan's Teranesia (excellent, like all of Egan's work that I've read), in which a blind character develops a sense of sight via a mat-like haptic interface on his back.

In the book, a camera feeds input to the mat to generate an image using the tiny lumps on the surface of the mat. The blind man gradually learns to interpret this input as visual information.

Anyway, it's wonderful to see this sort of thing happening in the real world.

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