'Cortical Modem' Latest On DARPA's Wishlist

Phillip Alvelda, one of DARPA's Program Managers, has announced a new project to develop a “cortical modem”.

Quite simply it is a direct neural interface that will allow for the visual display of information without the use of glasses or goggles. I was largely at this event to learn about this project and I wasn’t disappointed.

Leveraging the work of Karl Deisseroth in the area of optogenetics, the cortical modem project aims to build a low cost neural interface based display device. The short term goal of the project is the development of a device about the size of two stacked nickels with a cost of goods on the order of $10 which would enable a simple visual display via a direct interface to the visual cortex with the visual fidelity of something like an early LED digital clock.

Consider a more advanced version of the device capable of high fidelity visual display. First, this technology could be used to restore sensory function to individuals who simply can’t be treated with current approaches. Second, the device could replace all virtual reality and augmented reality displays.

To the extent that it is real, the cortical modem is still a crude device. This isn’t going to give you a high fidelity augmented reality display soon. And since the current approach is based in optogenetics, it requires a genetic alteration of the DNA in your neurons.

I'll bet sf readers are thinking of the cortical stack from Richard Morgan's 2003 novel Altered Carbon, which is used to make a backup copy of, well, you.

StimSim might be closer, from William Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer.

However, I might go even further back; consider the Neuronic Receptor-Transmitter from Masson's Secret, a 1939 short story by Raymond Z. Gallun.

...inside his skull, where the frontal region of his brain was located, is a little cylinder, that neuronic receptor-transmitter. It's wires are carefully embedded in the proper nerve ends.


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