Brain-Machine Interfaces to Assist the Blind
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
The loss or absence of vision is probably one of the most incapacitating events that can befall a human being. The importance of vision for humans is also reflected in brain anatomy as approximately one third of the human brain is devoted to vision. It is therefore unsurprising that throughout history many attempts have been undertaken to develop devices aiming at substituting for a missing visual capacity. In this review, we present two concepts that have been prevalent over the last two
... s. The first concept is sensory substitution, which refers to the use of another sensory modality to perform a task that is normally primarily sub-served by the lost sense. The second concept is cross-modal plasticity, which occurs when loss of input in one sensory modality leads to reorganization in brain representation of other sensory modalities. Both phenomena are training-dependent. We also briefly describe the history of blindness from ancient times to modernity, and then proceed to address the means that have been used to help blind individuals, with an emphasis on modern technologies, invasive (various type of surgical implants) and non-invasive devices. With the advent of brain imaging, it has become possible to peer into the neural substrates of sensory substitution and highlight the magnitude of the plastic processes that lead to a rewired brain. Finally, we will address the important question of the value and practicality of the available technologies and future directions.