A half century of artificial-sight research has succeeded. And now this blind man can see.
By Steven Kotler
I'm sitting across from a blind man - call him Patient Alpha - at a long table in a windowless conference room in New York. On one end of the table there's an old television and a VCR. On the other end are a couple of laptops. They're connected by wires to a pair of homemade signal processors housed in unadorned gunmetal-gray boxes, each no bigger than a loaf of bread. In the corner stands a plastic ficus tree, and beyond that, against the far wall, a crowded bookshelf. Otherwise, the walls are white and bare. When the world's first bionic eye is turned on, this is what Patient Alpha will see. [...]
From a few steps closer, I see that the wires plug into Patient Alpha's head like a pair of headphones plug into a stereo. The actual connection is metallic and circular, like a common washer. So seamless is the integration that the skin appears to simply stop being skin and start being steel. [...]
So smoothly has the morning been going that while we're talking, the techs allow the patient to take control of the keyboard and begin stimulating his own brain. This isn't standard operating procedure, but with the excitement, the techs don't stop him and the doctor doesn't notice.
Suddenly, the color drains from the patient's face. His hand drops the keys. His fingers crimp and gnarl, turning the hand into a disfigured claw. The claw, as if tethered to balloons, rises slowly upward. His arm follows and suddenly whips backward, torso turning with it, snapping his back into a terrible arch. Then his whole body wrenches like a mishandled marionette -- shoulders tilting, neck craning, legs twittering. Within seconds his lips have turned blue and his deadened eyes roll back, revealing bone-white pupils, lids snapping up and down like hydraulic window shades. There's another warping convulsion, and spittle sails from his mouth. Since the doctor's in a wheelchair and the techs seem hypnotized, I rush over and grab him. [...]
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