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Brain-Machine Interface

by Dennis M. Myers, 10/19/2019

A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted device that provides a sense of sound to a person with moderate to profound hearing loss. Cochlear implants bypass the normal hearing process, instead replacing it with electric signals which directly stimulate the auditory nerve. With training the brain may learn to interpret those signals as sound and speech. Author Teresa Frohock, a friend of mine, has one. She hears differently than we do, but she does hear, which is a good thing. It means that when I tell her that I love her writing, she can understand what I am saying.

Back in about 1980 the first IBM PC came out. It had a tiny green screen monitor, and graphics that were absolutely primitive by today's standards. It had less computing capacity than today's basic microwave oven. Yet it fundamentally changed the world. Today's computers are vastly better in every way.

I see the groundbreaking work of things like the cochlear implant as being at about the same level as that old PC. It's rudimentary now, but in the future, as the technology develops, and as we better understand the brain-machine interface, future implants will be able to give us true fidelity hearing, and even more.

In my stories I have something called the Communications Controller. This is a small device that sits at the junction of the auditory nerves and provides full hearing integration. Coupled with a low powered (think Bluetooth) connection to the local network, this allows direct communication between people and the system running the show.

Yes, I know. Somewhere has to be a microphone or some kind of pickup. I just now realized I've never mentioned it. If I get the chance I'll add it into the story.

Now imagine another implant. This one I call the Display Controller. It sits at the junction of the optic nerves, and provides visual communication. And yes, it can go both ways. We deal with that briefly at the start of the first book, where the young boy is entertaining his friends. Then in the second... well it's a bit more problematic. That's all I'll say.

This kind of technology is what I see coming from the work to help the disabled. Someone who loses their eyesight need not remain blind. And again, you advance it to give people tools for life. Now, I don't see this happening overnight. This is something I see having taken most of that thousand years my story is set in the future. The implants themselves are assembled in place by nanotechnology, and it will be as commonplace in some societies as vaccines are today.

That being said, not everyone in my universe has them, and playing with that dynamic was a lot of fun. My first story is set mostly on Luna, and they are a wealthy society where this is one of those things that people just assume happens and don't even think about. In the second book, I had a chance to take the story to an orbital habitat that wasn't well off. A place where something like that is expensive, and not common. It had a definite impact on how the story unfolded.

The story I am working on now ended up having a virtual reality component even more dramatic than the first book. So now I need to work out the sense of touch and smell. How would a physical person interact with the virtual world. I'm toying with the idea of a game room, where the person walks in, activates their virtual feeds, and the room itself articulates and provides tactile feedback. If you go to sit in a virtual chair, parts will have been extruded to give you that feeling as you sit. You'll see a chair, and when you walk around the virtual world, you'll still see the chair, but in reality it will have been folded away and it now part of that tree trunk you are leaning against.

I'm not entirely certain this is the way I will go, but I think it might be better than having a device that can stop a person from walking around, while they explore a virtual world. Food is another matter, of course. Maybe when you bring the turkey leg up to your mouth, it flashes, evaporates, and your health meter goes up. It's a game. If you want real food, go get something to eat, or arrange for it ahead of time.

Future gaming will be transformed by technology like this. As well as communication, and many forms of entertainment. Virtual Reality coupled with a true brain-machine interface might be absolutely amazing.

Next thing for me to understand is the art of baking bread.

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