One idea leads to another. The Microsoft HoloLens was revealed only weeks ago, and yet the US Defense Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA, is already tinkering around with the idea of granting humans the ability to regain lost sight or acquire a whole new field of vision – all without the need for a clunky headset.
DARPA’s concept is called a “cortical modem” and would connect directly to a person’s DNA, giving them the ability to see a heads up display not unlike what Arnold Schwarzenegger’s series 800 Terminator character is capable of experiencing.
And who needs augmented reality when we can just use little machines to mess with our own DNA?
What does a cortical modem do?
The cortical modem is built through the field of optogenetics, a form of gene therapy in which a subject’s neurons are bombarded with photons in order to manipulate a specific cell response. A small cortical implant using optogenetics technology could restore vision, help correct innumerable neurological disorders, or even produce a complex video display within your visual cortex.
A cortical modem won’t replace the new wave of augmented and virtual reality devices anytime soon, according to DARPA scientists. Most gene therapy techniques are still novel enough that they’re considered too risky for application in humans. Current research is therefore restricted to animal trials.
The device is already being mentioned in comparison to a Terminator’s vision, and we can see why: the cortical modem implant would take us beyond the realm of wearable devices and minor physical enhancements, and into a whole new territory. If people were to accept and pounce on this idea, it wouldn’t be long before the majority of us would incontrovertibly be defined as cybernetic organisms.
It really has to make you wonder about the future. We can grant vision (with this cortical modem), we can remove vision (by gouging someone’s eyes out), and we can manipulate the very reality we see (by switching on an Oculus Rift or Microsoft HoloLens). At this point, it’s just a matter of how much time will pass before scientists do it well enough to fool someone into thinking they’re in a different reality altogether.