Added 1 new A* page:|
|"A* is a visual tour de force with haunting, black and white artwork and an engaging storyline, my only complaint is that there isn't more to read."|
-- Connor Shearwood, Pathways Chronicles
Yesterday I talked about how Mother's digitized voice speaking directly into Selenis' head could work, and related it to the current real technology of cochlear implants, which create the sensation of hearing with electrical impulses applied directly to appropriate parts of the nervous system.
What about some of the other things Selenis' neural implants seem to do, though? As I mentioned yesterday, some of the things she has done in the comic suggest she has implants enhancing her vision--giving her eyes in the back of her head, as it were--and perhaps additional sensors capable of monitoring, for instance, specific vital signs of nearby individuals. One could imagine that these implants might give her feedback by creating "visual" displays directly in her brain, perhaps; I've tried to avoid drawing pages from her point of view with some sort of implant-generated visual overlays because that's been overdone in film and so forth to the point of being tacky--in any case it might be nicer to imagine a rather more elegant solution where the implant data is converted directly into thought, so she just "knows" something without having to re-interpret it from simulated visual data.
But like we did yesterday, let's start with the simple case: is it feasible that artificial signals could create the sensation of vision?
According to Wikipedia's "brain-computer interface" page, the answer is "yes"; in fact experiments with that sort of thing go back to the 70's. In 1978, for instance, a prototype implant connected to a blinded man's visual cortex succeeded in producing the sensation of seeing light; the subject could only see shades of gray, and had to be connected to a two-ton mainframe, but that has now been reduced to a portable device, and since at least 2002, the resolution of the simulated vision has improved to the point where an otherwise blind user is able to drive a car around a parking lot.
In 1999, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley were able to reverse the process: working with cats, by reading electrical signals from "177 brain cells in the thalamus lateral geniculate nucleus area, which decodes signals from the retina," they were able to decode the firings of the neurons recorded while the cats watched some short films, and reconstruct (albiet in low resolution) scenes and moving objects from the films, using only the data recorded from the brains of the cats.
In 2008, Japanese researchers were able to achieve a similar result with human subjects, and without using implants: using functional magnetic resonance imaging ("fMRI") to map blood flow changes in the cerebral visual cortex as the subjects viewed a series of images, they were able to reconstruct the images using only the recorded fMRI data from the subjects; "while the early results are limited to black and white images of 10x10 squares (pixels), according to the researchers further development of the technology may make it possible to achieve color images, and even view or record dreams."
Now that is significant for Selenis' implants, because as has been mentioned on a few occasions, her cloning system requires sensory transmissions from active clones to be sent back to Mother, where they are deciphered and stored, to be implanted into the next clone as memories. So having them on-hand in digital form, anyway, doesn't seem too unfeasible in light of recent advances in the field.
Not only that, but many experiments, again going back to the 70's, have shown that animal and human brains can learn to control artificial mechanisms through brain signals; I think the one I had in mind when I was coming up with this stuff for Selenis was a (apparently 2008; I thought I remembered one much earlier, maybe not) study where monkeys were able to operate a robotic arm using only their brain. A note on the Wikipedia page says that a Johns Hopkins researcher in the 80's found a "mathematical relationship between the electrical responses of single motor-cortex neurons in rhesus macaque monkeys and the direction that monkeys moved their arms (based on a cosine function)." So there you have it: you need geometry (all right so it was probably more like calculus in this case) for neuroscience, too. Dang.
But isn't it just fascinating that mathematics can be used to encode and decode brain signals? And that we (or really smart people with lots of study and training, anyway) can figure out the math behind the brain's thought codes? We've long taken it for granted that you need math in rocket science and computer programs and so forth, but now real, usable results are coming from applying mathematical functions to brain activity.
There have also been experiments using electroencephalography (reading brain activity without implants, although maybe currently you need a fun apparatus like this:
image by Thuglas (source)
) to control things, like moving cursors on a video screen; implants like the BrainGate
image by PaulWicks (source)
allow for even finer control, where a human brain can move a robotic arm. (But does it come in USB yet? That plug in the photo is a little clunky. :P)
So again, it seems like even things such as Selenis "thinking" words back to Mother--communicating with her computer program simply by forming words in her mind--or controlling functions of her onboard implants--telling an imbedded sensor array to scan Solvan Mar's vital signs, for instance--can't be considered outside the realm of possibility. Neat.
There's one more neuroscientific function of Selenis' technology whose feasibility I want to discuss, and we'll do that tomorrow, although I mentioned it in passing above--can you guess what it is? And I'm particularly excited about it because it just so happened that a day or two ago, a friend of mine on Facebook linked to an article showing what appears to be a significant breakthrough in the field, one whose implications I could only imagine and try to predict when I was coming up with this stuff a year or more ago.