Cybernetics: Bionic Eyes


A close-up view of Retina Implant’s subretinal implant. It measures 3×3 mm across and 70 microns thick. It contains 1500 microelectrodes that replace light receptors lost in macular degeneration.

The bionic eye is an artificial device that gives site to the blind or enhanced sight to those who can see on their own — a cybernetic device.   Currently, bionic eyes for the blind are experimental with some success depending on when the patient was blinded and what cause the blindness. According to Wikipedia, there are at least 11 ongoing bionic eye projects:

In the video below Miikka Tertho, a blind man, sees images for first time (filmed by the University of Tuebingen/Retina Implant AG).  This is not Six Million Dollar Man stuff. (Remember that show?) This is not Lee Majors zooming in on the bad guy with a “boop-boop-boop-boop.”  This is a blind who can see because he has something like parts of a camcorder stuck in his eye.

Seeing verses Perceiving

Mike May (not the guy in the video above) was 3 years old when a chemical explosion blinded him.  In 2000 when he was 46 years old, he regained partial vision after a corneal transplantation stem cell procedure.  Although he can see, he has difficulty perceiving. “May still has no intuitive grasp of depth perception. As people walk away from him, he perceives them as literally shrinking in size, problems distinguishing male from female faces, and recognizing emotional expressions on unfamiliar faces”(Wikipedia, Article: Mike May (skier))

Why?

One theory is that the temporal visual cortex uses prior memory and experiences to make sense of shapes, colors and forms. During our first five years of life outside the womb, our brains are building a library or database of images associated with their context.  Over time, subtle cues are extracted from those images.  The visual cortex compares the image we see now to those library of cues.  But that part of the library of our brain is best stocked early when our brains are subtle.  For Mike May, this part of the library was closed, but he was able to stock the cues in the sound and touch section.  He developed very precise senses of hearing and touch.

The Problem with Adult Bionics

In the future when cybernetic replacements or enhancements are more common, it will also be necessary to fiddle with the mind to get the implants to work easily.  A method might be found that will allow the patient to restock his or her visual database quickly.  If not, then seeing will not equal perceiving.

Images and video courtesy of Retina Implant AG.

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