The Brain-Computer Interface

Man has taken another step toward godliness with the advent of the Thought Translation Device. For those unfamiliar with this invention (which probably makes about all of us), it harnesses brain activity so that fully paralyzed patients at Germany's University of Tubingen may communicate with computers and therefore the world.

In a nutshell, the device reads electrical signals produced by thoughts through electrodes attached to the scalp. These signals, known as slow cortical potentials (SCP) for their occurrence in the cerebral cortex, must be directed deliberately and painstakingly to accomplish something as simple as moving a mouse pointer. It reportedly takes years to become capable of writing a short letter.

But the ability has been proven: humans can now direct action completely from thought, without making a keystroke, voicing a command, even raising an eyebrow. More importantly, these actions are carried out by personal computers, which are becoming as powerful as they are ubiquitous.

To make the connection, consider another recent technical announcement; that the amount of information transmitted over the Internet will go on doubling each year for the next five years, reaching 5,175 petabits per day by 2007, up from 2002's 180 petabits per day, according to International Data (IDC). For the record, one petabit equals one million gigabits.

Consider also that the current incarnation of the Thought Translation Device uses external electrodes only, meaning each message must be transmitted through the skull and then interpreted using a new thought process. Subjects must learn to use certain imagery or thoughts to direct completely different actions. This makes the process laborious and inefficient.

But this is temporary. Studies at Brown and Emory universities have already shown great promise in implanting electrodes directly into test animals' motor cortex, where action is realized. This enabled monkeys to make cursor movements on pace with the speed of the human hand. Can you imagine what our species will be capable of when those sensors land in us?

With that much data a mere thought away, we will be closer than ever to omniscience.