Sensory enhancement through brain interfaces

Who hasn’t dreamed of augmenting their senses? Imagine if we could see in infrared or use sonar like dolphins. The sensory toolkit evolved with humans is OK but nothing really special. We have an average set of senses to help us navigate through our mostly land-based, 3D experience. However, as invasive brain-computer interfaces evolve, there’s no barriers to adding or enhancing our senses. To date, sensory enhancement has been the realm of the biohackers who added magnets in their fingertips to sense magnetic fields, or implanted devices in their chests to orient to magnetic north.

Neil Harbison was born completely color blind, but decided that he wanted to be able to add color perception to his experience of the world. So he designed the Cyborg Antenna which is implanted in his skull. The camera mounted on the antenna transmits colors as sounds, allowing him to hear colors and adding a new sensory modality to his grayscale vision.

With invasive brain computer interfaces on the near-term horizon for the restoration of function (motor, sensory, etc.) there is no reason to believe that “upgrades” to these systems would not be far behind, before the end of the decade.

To learn more about Neil’s journey see this excellent review in National Geographic.