Future Prospects for Sensory Replacement and Sensory Substitution

With the enormous increases in computing power, the miniaturization of electronic devices (nanotechnology), the improvement of techniques for interfacing electronic devices with biological tissue, and increased understanding of the sensory pathways, the prospects are great for significant advances in sensory replacement in the coming years. Similarly, there is reason for great optimism in the area of sensory substitution. As we come to understand the higher level functioning of the brain through cognitive science and neuroscience research, we will know better how to map source information into the remaining intact senses. Perhaps even more important will be breakthroughs in technology and artificial intelligence. For example, the emergence of new sensing technologies, as yet unknown, just as the Global Positioning System was unknown several decades ago, will undoubtedly provide blind and deaf people with access to new types of information about the world around them. Also, the increasing power of computers and increasing sophistication of artificial intelligence software will mean that computers will be increasingly able to use this sensed information to build representations of the environment, which in turn can be used to inform and guide visually impaired people using synthesized speech and spatial displays. Similarly, improved speech recognition and speech understanding will eventually provide deaf people better communication with others who speak the same or even different languages. Ultimately, sensory replacement and sensory substitution may permit people with sensory impairments to perform many activities that are unimaginable today and to enjoy a wide range of experiences that they are currently denied.

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