Seated off to one side, with a slim gray plastic band wrapped around his brow, Erik Weihenmayer was warming up, too--by reading flash cards. The camera feed is reduced in resolution to a grid of four hundred gray-scale pixels, transmitted to his tongue via a corresponding grid of four hundred tiny electrodes on the lollipop. Bach-y-Rita had already begun tinkering with devices that substituted tactile sensation for vision, but, encouraged by this personal evidence of the brain's ability to adapt to loss, he completed his first prototype in 1969. The pins vibrated intensely for dark pixels and stayed still for light ones, enabling users to feel the picture pulsing on their backs.
" (In the book, the author, Yuval Noah Harari, discusses Google's anti-aging research, and writes that the company "probably won't solve death in time to make Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin immortal.") A few years ago, there was great excitement about telomeres, Liz Blackburn's specialty--DNA buffers that protect the ends of chromosomes just as plastic tips protect the ends of shoelaces. But it turns out that animals with long telomeres, such as lab mice, don't necessarily have long lives--and that telomerase, the enzyme that promotes telomere growth, is also activated in the vast majority of cancer cells. Aubrey de Grey likes to compare the body to a car: a mechanic can fix an engine without necessarily understanding the physics of combustion, and assiduously restored antique cars run just fine.
The physicalists believe, with Dennett, that science can explain consciousness in purely material terms. Rainier, dozens of researchers shared speculative work on honeybee brains, mouse minds, octopus intelligence, avian cognition, and the mental faculties of monkeys and human children. The zombie problem is a conversational vortex among those who study animal minds: the researchers, anticipating the discussion's inexorable transformation into a meditation on "Westworld," clutched their heads and sighed. Animals have fewer mental layers than people--in particular, they lack language, which Dennett believes endows human mental life with its complexity and texture--but this doesn't make them zombies.
The following was delivered as the commencement address at the California Institute of Technology, on Friday, June 10th. If this place has done its job--and I suspect it has--you're all scientists now. Sorry, English and history graduates, even you are, too. Science is not a major or a career. It is a commitment to a systematic way of thinking, an allegiance to a way of building knowledge and explaining the universe through testing and factual observation.
On a bitter, soul-shivering, damp, biting gray February day in Cleveland--that is to say, on a February day in Cleveland--a handless man is handling a nonexistent ball. Igor Spetic lost his right hand when his forearm was pulped in an industrial accident six years ago and had to be amputated. In an operation four years ago, a team of surgeons implanted a set of small translucent "interfaces" into the neural circuits of his upper arm. This afternoon, in a basement lab at a Veterans Administration hospital, the wires are hooked up directly to a prosthetic hand--plastic, flesh-colored, five-fingered, and articulated--that is affixed to what remains of his arm. The hand has more than a dozen pressure sensors within it, and their signals can be transformed by a computer into electric waves like those natural to the nervous system.