Just occasionally when covering a science story you get the feeling you are showing something that seems incredible right now, but will seem quite routine in just a few years.
The development of “Bionic vision”, being developed by scientists at Monash University just outside Melbourne in Australia, is one such story.
At the moment their technology – artificially stimulating neurons in the brain of a blind person to create computer-generated “images” of what a camera is seeing – is in its earliest stages. They haven’t yet implanted their chip into anyone’s brain: no blind person has yet “seen” their images.
That makes it a hard story to show on TV – and explains why I made myself the guinea pig.
The scientists have put together a demonstration of the images they expect blind people to see. I had my own vision downgraded to that: what it’s hoped totally blind people – their vision upgraded – should be able to “see”.
Those images are pretty basic – like pixelated characters in the most simple of 1970s computer games. But it’s the potential here that is so interesting. Once the principle of plugging into the brain computer-generated pictures has been proved to work , the possibilities seem incredible.
The hard work is the first step being developed and perfected now. After that, there’s no theoretical reason why the images can’t improve dramatically – just as those of computer games have.
In 40 years, computer games have gone from basic pixels to HD video images that look virtually as good as real life. Why shouldn’t the same be true for visions of real life for the completely blind?