Human Machine Interaction Potential Impact of Nanotechology in The Design of Neuroprosthetic Devices Aimed at Restoring or Augmenting Human Performance

Miguel A. L. Nicolelis, Duke University Medical Center and Mandayam A. Srinivasan, MIT

Throughout history, the introduction of new technologies has significantly impacted human life in many different ways. Until now, however, each new artificial device or tool designed to enhance human motor, sensory, or cognitive capabilities has relied on explicit human motor behaviors (e.g., hand, finger, foot movements), often augmented by automation, in order to translate the subject's intent into concrete goals or final products. The increasing use of computers in our daily lives provides a clear example of such a trend. In less than three decades, digital computers have permeated almost every aspect of our daily routine and, as a result, have considerably increased human capabilities. Yet, realization of the full potential of the "digital revolution" has been hindered by its reliance on low-bandwidth and relatively slow user-machine interfaces (e.g., keyboard, mice, etc.). Indeed, because these user-machine interfaces are far removed from the way one's brain normally interacts with the surrounding environment, the classical Von Neuman design of digital computers is destined to be perceived by the operator just as another external tool, one that needs to be manipulated as an independent extension of one's body in order to achieve the desired goal. In other words, the reach of such a tool is limited by its inherent inability to be assimilated by the brain's multiple internal representations as a continuous extension of our body appendices or sensory organs. This is a significant point, because in theory, if such devices could be incorporated into "neural space" as extensions of our muscles or senses, they could lead to unprecedented (and currently unattainable) augmentation in human sensory, motor, and cognitive performance

It is clear that recent advances in nanotechnology could significantly impact the development of brain-machine interfaces and neuroprosthetic devices. By establishing direct links between neuronal tissue and machines, these devices could significantly enhance our ability to use voluntary neuronal activity to directly control mechanical, electronic, and even virtual objects as if they were extensions of our own bodies.

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