Ok, so we have not reached the Singularity quite yet. But this is the week that researchers announced they've found the path that will let them watch the thoughts of a comatose patient, or play dreams on YouTube. And a separate group of researchers have found a way to build transistors that manipulate protons, breaking through the barriers that prevented electrical devices from communicating directly with human cells, in their language.
First, brain pictures.
Researchers at the University of California used magnetic resonance imaging to watch the visual stimuli that study subjects experienced as they watched movie trailers. (Though the decision to subject innocent victims to the Steve Martin remake of "The Pink Panther" seems like one that could result in sanctions if not criminal charges.)
The development "paves the way for reproducing the movies inside our heads that no one else sees, such as dreams and memories, according to researchers."
The university's press office announced that the breakthrough could result – years from now – in major advances in medical treatment.
Eventually, practical applications of the technology could include a better understanding of what goes on in the minds of people who cannot communicate verbally, such as stroke victims, coma patients and people with neurodegenerative diseases.
It may also lay the groundwork for brain-machine interface so that people with cerebral palsy or paralysis, for example, can guide computers with their minds.
Machines and gadgets use electrons (negatively charged particles) to send information and commands through their circuitry—turn on, turn off, increase volume, and so on. But living creatures use protons (positively charged particles) or ions (charged atoms) to send signals within our bodies and drive actions like flexing muscles or pumping molecules in and out of cells.
While he cautions that “applications are quite far off,” Rolandi imagines a range of practical uses on the horizon. “It would be nice if, in the far future, we could have implantable devices that, by monitoring proton-related biological processes, could help in early disease detection and therapeutics,” he says, but adds: “It’s just daydreaming for now.”
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.