Although the focus of the story is helping handicapped people, I think it is obvious that the goals are much broader. There is a reason that DARPA is behind the study. Imagine being able to control a drone directly, without having to rely on a computer game joystick. Or equipping soldiers with heavy exoskeletons that turn a single soldier into a walking tank (shades of Metroid). The possibilities are endless, and somewhat frightening at the same time. Remember the movie Surrogates?
I just find it interesting that the project is being publicized in this way. Fact is, although it may lead to ways to help handicapped people, right now they are the guinea pigs for development of much less altruistic objectives.
Brain-controlled technologies could restore communication, mobility and independence for patients like Hutchinson, who is identified as patient S3, said Dr. Leigh Hochberg, engineering professor at Brown University and a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. “We are hoping to provide a technology that will translate the intention to move, as decoded directly from brain signals, back into commands to control assistive devices or prosthetic limbs,” he said.
Previous research by this team proved that paralyzed patients could control a computer cursor with their thoughts, and last fall, neuroscientists at Duke Medical Center proved that monkeys could control a robotic arm with their thoughts. This new paper, appearing today in Nature, shows it can work in humans. Hutchinson had the implant for five years, according to study co-author John Donoghue, who has led the development of the technology known as BrainGate. The fact that it worked for so long — both the implant, and her motor cortex itself — is an encouraging sign, he said