Are Cyborgs Possible?

Part of the Neurobiology For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cyborgs (cybernetic organisms) already exist! Any one of the more than 100,000 people worldwide who has a cochlear implant to restore hearing is essentially a cyborg, a functional combination of organic and machine parts. Your Great-Aunt Gertie suddenly seems much cooler, doesn’t she? The real question is how rapidly additional brain functions will be carried out with brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) and how quickly they’ll be developed.

Here are some interesting ideas about cyborgs:

  • The beginning of the human cyborg era began with the need to restore lost function, particularly hearing, where the BCI was relatively straightforward.

  • Research is underway to use a cyborg approach to repair some kinds of blindness via miniature cameras and arrays of stimulators to inject the camera signal into the nervous system.

  • A long-standing project is aimed at replacing some memory functions in a portion of the medial lobe of the brain called the hippocampus with silicon circuitry.

  • Just as the nervous system adapts to new and novel inputs, such as those that occur when learning how to ride a bicycle or drive a car, it can likely adapt to direct injection of signals into the nervous system.

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