The US researcher – and sci-fi author – on how brain implants will drive the next turning point in human evolution
Dr Eric C Leuthardt, 45, is a neurosurgeon at Washington University in St Louis. He is also the co-founder of NeuroLutions, a research laboratory developing direct interfaces between mind and computer. Leuthardt is pioneering the use of electrical brain implants to help restore motor function to the paralysed limbs of stroke victims. He is also helping to develop electrode systems that can directly decode the unspoken “inner voice” of the mind, and use it to direct external action; for example, Leuthardt’s subjects have been able to control the cursor of a Space Invaders video game just by thinking. He has published two science fiction novels aimed at “preparing society for the changes” that his work predicts. He believes that in the coming years neural implants that link the human brain directly to computers to enhance cognitive functions will be like pacemakers or tattoos, used with hardly a second thought. This interview was conducted by phone, when Leuthardt had just dropped off his children at school and was on his way to perform an operation to remove a brain tumour.
A direct neural interface with machines has long been a science fiction dream. When did you first get involved in helping to make it happen?
I started down this road back in 2002, when people were testing the first examples on monkeys. We have come a long way since then. We have a number of different implants being used in clinical trials now. In my view, we will reach a real inflection when these things become really clinically relevant.