Will we ever… have cyborg brains?

For the first time in over 15 years, Cathy Hutchinson brought a coffee to her lips and smiled. Cathy had suffered from the paralysing effects of a stroke, but when neurosurgeons implanted tiny recording devices in her brain, she could use her thought patterns to guide a robot arm that delivered her hot drink. This week, it was reported that Jan Scheuermann, who is paralysed from the neck down, could grasp and move a variety of objects by controlling a robotic arm with her mind.

In both cases the implants convert brain signals into digital commands that a robotic device can follow. It’s a remarkable achievement, one that could transform the lives of people debilitated through illness.

Yet it’s still a far cry from the visions of man fused with machine, or cyborgs, that grace computer games or sci-fi. The dream is to create the type of brain augmentations we see in fiction that provide cyborgs with advantages or superhuman powers. But the ones being made in the lab only aim to restore lost functionality – whether it’s brain implants that restore limb control, or cochlear implants for hearing…

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