“Brain Implants Get Real”
Communications of the ACM, July 2022, Vol. 65 No. 7, Pages 18-20
By Samuel Greengard
“Like all science and technology, neural implants will deliver enormous benefits for some, but also amplify risks for misuse and abuse.”
Most of us never think about how the human brain works—until something goes terribly wrong. A person may lose sight or hearing, experience cognitive decline due to disease or aging, or suffer paralysis or damage due to an accident or some other type of trauma. Unfortunately, when impairment occurs, it often is irreversible.
For centuries, scientists have pondered how they could fix a broken brain. Now, the idea of implanting microchips inside the human head is becoming real. Sitting at the intersection of neuroscience, engineering, and computing, neural implants could restore functionality for people who have suffered degenerative diseases, accidents, vision or hearing loss, and more.
“Brain-computer interfaces are advancing at a remarkable rate. They promise to change medicine and other fields,” says Florian Solzbacher, director of the Center for Engineering Innovation at the University of Utah and chairman of Blackrock Neurotech, a firm developing implantable chips. “We are now reaching an inflection point.”
In fact, Blackrock Neurotech and others are already seeing positive results in humans. Several devices using brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are inching closer to commercial viability.
“We are witnessing significant, simultaneous advances across many areas of science, engineering, and medicine—the results are transforming our notions of brain-computer interfaces,” observes John Rogers, a professor of material science at Northwestern University.
Top of Mind
Mind control and superhuman powers are not the stuff of today’s brain implants—even if science fiction novels and films like Brainstorm, Neuromancer, and Johnny Mnemonic are etched into the popular psyche. So far, 34 people around the world have an implanted computer interface. These systems are designed to restore lost sight, hearing, or physical or mental functionality.
About the Author:
Samuel Greengard is an author and journalist based in West Linn, OR, USA.