THINKING, EMOTION, AND SELF-AWARENESS
brains for artificial bodies, an ultimate possibility that avoids the diffi- cult task of re-creating in silicon what nature has already worked out. This is the idea of merging living neurons or brains with artificial systems to create bionic or cyborglike arrangements. Whatever the advantages of neuronal processing, whatever the correct mix of reason and emotion, whatever the combination of brain structures and inter- actions that gives rise to consciousness, they already exist in living neural systems and brains.
The connection between organic brains and artificial construc- tions requires brain–machine interfaces (BMI), a technology still in its infancy. If true cyborgs, neural prosthesis, or the “jacked-in” world described by the science-fiction writer William Gibson ever come to pass, they will start with this research.
It is a serious step, scientifically and ethically, to go beyond emulating or copying the brain in silicon to merge living nervous systems with electronic networks, or to use living brains to operate nonliving de- vices. Some people feel a visceral shudder at the idea; it seems an unholy alliance, creating for them the same dreadVictor Frankenstein felt as he animated a dead hulk. Grisly though the merging might seem, it is hard to argue with the main motivations for exploring this possibility; namely, the desire to aid paralyzed and handicapped people and also to develop new probes of the brain. Most of the scientists and physicians who work in this field (and the number has grown explo- sively in the last decade) seek to improve life for the ill and handi- capped, but their research potentially also forms the basis for cyborg science.
One approach to making brain–machine interfaces focuses on the brain-wave method, where electrodes pressed against the scalp detect the brain’s neural activity, and the signals detected in this way are connected to an appropriate interface and computer.The infor- mation gained thereby can be used to train patients, who learn to tailor their brain activity to perform such useful functions as guiding a