Once again, a bit of Star Trek sci-fi is on the verge of becoming reality. This time it’s Geordi La Forge’s VISOR, which enabled the blind character to “see” on Star Trek: The Next Generation, that’s close to becoming a practical device. The Sensory Substitution Device, created 20-plus years ago by the Dutch researcher Dr. Peter Meijer, employs an algorithm to translate the appearance and position of an object into distinct tones.
Now, an Israeli group of scientists at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, led by Dr. Amir Amedi, have built upon Dr. Meijer’s initial work and developed a prototype that essentially “hacks” the brain’s cortex non-invasively and allows a congenitally blind wearer to interpret a “soundscape,” enabling him or her to “see” the position, shape and location of a person/object or even letters and written words.
According to Dr. Amedi, writing in the latest issue of Cerebral Cortex, sounds — which represent vision – can not only activate the visual cortex of people who have never previously seen, but they do so in a manner organized according to the large-scale organization and segregation of the two visual processing streams. As Dr. Amedi noted in a statement, “The brain is not a sensory machine, although it often looks like one; it is a task machine.”