Re: a new thread

From: Adrian Tymes (
Date: Wed May 17 2000 - 22:04:10 MDT

Ian Field wrote:
> | ----- Original Message -----
> | From: White, Ryan

> | I spend a lot
> | of my time pondering the integration of the human nervous system and
> | microprocessors (and also the extensions of that basic interface -
> | telepathy, anyone?
> Telepathy sounds incredibly wonderful - but I don't think we have the
> genetic basis for any sort of wireless brain-brain communication. Throw in
> the right machinery though...

...and cite the upcoming experiment of one Prof. Warwick, who wishes to
hook a device to his and a willing partner's (his wife's) nervous
system, such that signals which one device detects are played back in
the other's.

> | If any of you bright people know of anybody out there
> | working on making this possible, I would be very interested in initiating
> | contact with them. I actually have an outline for an experiment I would
> | love to try, on animal or insect models.
> I'm considering the possibility of putting together a business plan. The
> initial goal would be to obtain funding for an extended period of research
> into the biological and computer technology aspects of this concept. An
> early milestone might be the submission of a comprehensive "Advanced
> Human-Computer Interaction" RFC to IEEE and other standards organizations.
> There is a lot of money being spent on HCI research, which I see this as an
> extension of. Ideas, anyone?

You'd need to be able to develop bio-safe implants. Main problem:
infections around breached skin (as in, where the skin meets the plug or
the display screen). Not a problem in rooms where surgery performed
(allows temporary breach to insert devices); major problem for
day-to-day use in public spaces.

Possible solutions:
* Seal devices completely within the body. Communicate with and repower
  devices by induction, which need not breach skin.
  Advantage: existing technology, already commercially deployed for some
  life-critical applications (like artificial hearts).
  Disadvantage: long-term effects of necessary strength induction fields
  on skin unknown.
* Develop artificial skin that can merge with edge of plug/display
  screen, or can serve as surface of such.
  Advantage: easier upgrades to and interface with implants, allowing
  wider range of uses.
  Disadvantage: needs extensive R&D.
* Keep devices completely external to body.
  Advantage: mostly existing tech and therefore wide range of existing
  solutions for easy plug in; only new stuff is interaction with
  nervous system.
  Disadvantage: decreased sensitivity to control signals; research shows
  unacceptable skin degradation and significant signal diffusion
  problems for transmitting signals into nerves this way.
  (Refs on this last one:
  * Willis, W. D. Jr., and R. E. Coggeshall. Sensory Mechanisms of the
    Spinal Cord. 2nd ed. New York: Plenum Press, 1991.
  * Panescu, Dorin, et al. "The Mosaic Electrical Characteristic of the
    Skin". IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering 40 (1993):
  * Liu, Mark Davidson. An Electrocutaneous Stimulation Facility for
    Sensory Feedback Research. Diss. UCLA, 1979.
  * Tymes, Adrian. Direct Sensory Feedback from Prostheses. Diss.
    UCLA, 1996.)

There's also the little issue of decoding neural signals, though
fortunately, if you keep the signals you send/interpretation of what you
receive fairly constant, human nervous systems can adapt to the desired
result over time if the human trains with it. (Babies take a year or
two to learn to walk, for example.) The closer you can get to what the
particular human already has, the less training time needed - and thus,
the less people who will ultimately give up and request the implant be

Both problems are already being worked on. Perhaps a good first product
- tackling only the first issue, not the second - would be a hard drive
implanted in one's arm, with an I/O plug or minicomputer worn around it
and communicating via induction. The plug/computer could get stolen,
but stealing the data would not be a pickpocket's work, as opposed to
(say) a laptop. There's a potential problem with upgrades, but the
steady stream of new users, and licensing and reselling some of the
better upgrades that those who buy the system and tinker around with it
come up with (which would probably be a significant percent of the early
market), should make up for this revenue. It would also provide lots of
real-world research on HCI for devices that people have good reason to
use as extensions of their body, rather than as foreign objects.

Remember, business plans are about *business*. Funders don't care about
submissions of proposals to standards bodies - at least, not directly.
The most overriding question you'll have to address: how are you going
to make money off of this? There are many ways you can do this, but you
have to look to find them.

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