Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Omni Future Almanac: Decyphering the Brain
The manner in which the brain encodes, assimilates, stores, and retrieves information will be understood within our lifetimes... Early in the twenty-first centru, researchers will achieve the ability to use the electrical patterns of the brain code to communicate directly with our minds.
Hmmm, maybe. But this is one of those things where people believe we're on the cusp of things that will still take us quite a while to actually figure out.
We have mapped out some of the kinds of activities various regions of the mind are involved in. We come ever closer to understanding the cellular functionality of various nerve cells (only recenly appreciating the large number of cell types in use in the brain). We can tap in to nerves to pass along information of sorts, and to get information back out of them. We have even plugged an interface into a monkey's brain, allowing it to play a computer game without touching a controller.
But these things are still a far cry from understanding the system as a whole. They are a long way from implanting any information into the brain, just data. The brain is a big darn complex system, and we have a ways to go before we can talk to it directly.
It's very possible, in fact, that each brain lays itself out differently enough (working around localized malfunctions, and taking advantages of localized happy accidents) that even if we could directly interface with one brain after a lifetime of work, it may still take quite a while after to interface with the next brain.
Now, advances in computing power will make the development of these "custom" brain interfaces ever faster, so it's unlikely that it really will take a long time to interface with the second brain after we've done it with the first, but given that the brain is an active, living system, I think we have some time yet before we're plugging Internet interfaces right into our skull.