Thursday, April 07, 2005


If your goal, like ours, is to attain the absolute apex of passive consumerism, you should know that Sony has just been granted a patent for a "non-invasive" technology that transmits sensory data such as smell, taste, even sight and sound directly into the brain:
The technique suggested in the patent is entirely non-invasive. It describes a device that fires pulses of ultrasound at the head to modify firing patterns in targeted parts of the brain, creating "sensory experiences" ranging from moving images to tastes and sounds. This could give blind or deaf people the chance to see or hear, the patent claims . . . .

If the method described by Sony really does work, it could have all sorts of uses in research and medicine, even if it is not capable of evoking sensory experiences detailed enough for the entertainment purposes envisaged in the patent.

Details are sparse, and Sony declined New Scientist's request for an interview with the inventor, who is based in its offices in San Diego, California. However, independent experts are not dismissing the idea out of hand. "I looked at it and found it plausible," says Niels Birbaumer, a pioneering neuroscientist at the University of Tübingen in Germany who has created devices that let people control devices via brain waves . . . .

Elizabeth Boukis, spokeswoman for Sony Electronics, says the work is speculative. "There were not any experiments done," she says. "This particular patent was a prophetic invention. It was based on an inspiration that this may someday be the direction that technology will take us."
Pentagon techno-fetishists are undoubtedly slavering over the potential telepresence applications (imagine a Sony unit transmitting sensory data from a robotic battlefield drone), just as connoisseurs of fictional dystopias are fretting about the possibility -- nay, the certainty -- of governmental mind control (as if existing technology had not proved more than adequate to the task). Still, when we consider the more traditional uses to which the technology might be put, we cannot help but wonder whether the benefits might not outweigh the risks.

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