Real-life science closes in on Star Trek with new device to hack into blind people's visual cortex to let them 'see'

 Dr Amir Amedi, left, models his Sensory Substitution Device, which looks remarkably like the visor work by Star Trek character Jordy La Forge, right


 In Star Trek: The Next Generation, their congentially blind engineer, Jordy LaForge, is able to see thanks to a visor worn across his eyes.
Now, thanks to an Israeli team, real-life technology has taken one more step to catching up with science fiction.
An amazing new device can use sound to hack into the visual cortex of blind people to let them 'see'.

The Sensory Substitution Device, brainchild of Dr Amir Amedi from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, uses an algorithm to translate visual data into sound.
With only a brief period of training, users can learn to interpret the 'soundscape' to show them the shape, location and position of peopele objects, and even read written words.
Remarkably, the sounds created actually activate the otherwise dormant visual cortices of congenitally blind people, giving them the opportunity to see, after a fashion.


Writing in the current issue of the journal Cerebral Cortex, Dr Amedi and his team tell how previous research has indicated that the visual cortex organizes data into two parallel pathways.
The 'what' pathway, known technically as the ventral occipito-temporal pathway, deals with form, identity, and color.
The dorsal occipito-parietal pathway. or the 'where/how' pathway, focuses on object location and coordinates visual data with motor function.



 This graphic shows how the Sensory Substitution Device works to give blind people a sense of sight

 Remarkably, MRI scans showed blind people using Dr Amedi's device activated these pathways the same as people with normal vision would, showing the proper functioning of the visual cortex doesn't actually need visual information.
'The brain is not a sensory machine, although it often looks like one; it is a task machine'
 Dr Amir Amedi, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The invention builds on previous work by the team which showed braille readers show activity in precisely the same part of the brain that lights up when sighted readers read.
In a statement, Dr Amedi argued that this means: 'The brain is not a sensory machine, although it often looks like one; it is a task machine.'
According to io9.com, the Isreali study is just one of several recently published to suggest that actual visual, auditory, or tactile data aren't necessary for the brain to interpret what is going on around it.

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