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Suppose that our understanding of biology and bio electronic interface technology reaches a point that it is possible to make a spinal cord implant that:

  • forwards spinal cord signals exactly as they come
  • also duplicates them and sends them to a computer (wirelessly)

In other words: like the UNIX tee util!

Also suppose that we have reached full understanding of the meaning of all spinal cord signals.

If that were possible, would it allow humans to interact with computers faster than typing physically with your hands?

Or would the communication bandwidth be essentially unchanged, since the signals are still going through the spinal cord at the end of the day?

Possibly the device would also have a mode that selectively suppresses e.g. finger movements from being sent to muscles, and only redirects them to the computer instead, to avoid all mechanical inertia.

I'm betting that the answer is yes, since typing a letter requires several muscle movements, and with the implant we could just map each letter to a single muscle. But I wonder how much faster it would allow us to go.

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  • $\begingroup$ How do I operate my limbs etc. and communicate at the same time ? How do I prevent my communication signals from turning into random signals to my limbs that contort my body ? How do I prevent signals to move my muscles, etc. from becoming random gibberish send to people or devices ? And to encode in binary for basic comm needs 6 to 7 bits, not one. $\endgroup$ – StephenG May 12 '18 at 9:54
  • $\begingroup$ The only tee I know is related to golf. UNIX is not exactly mainstream, do you mind explaining better? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch May 12 '18 at 10:02
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    $\begingroup$ Unix Tee : It just means you get two copies of the signal, passing one copy through where it was going anyway and feeding the other copy to somewhere else you want it. $\endgroup$ – StephenG May 12 '18 at 10:14
  • $\begingroup$ I think that answer to this will alway be, yes if you can make it work in the first place. The conversion of nervous signals to digital would be complicated not to mention the translation and interpretation of the commands sent by the user, so the only question is how fast is the signal convertor and translator. And that is something fictional, so it can be as fast as you want it to be. But I don't think it would be easier to use. $\endgroup$ – Nuloen The Seeker May 12 '18 at 10:24
  • $\begingroup$ @StephenG "How do I operate my limbs" > I think those are all part of perfect engineering / bio understanding hypothesis. $\endgroup$ – Ciro Santilli 新疆改造中心996ICU六四事件 May 12 '18 at 10:29
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When you deal with transmitting signals via electric signals, you are not bothered by those nasty physical quantities such as inertia and momentum.

Therefore I say that definitely a nervous interface would be faster than a keyboard in exchanging communication with a computer: transmitting a Print "Hello World" via neural interface would be quicker than coordinating the muscles to move the fingers on the keyboard to type the same message.

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A direct connection to the brain may work better. Miguel Nicolelis's work on cyborg monkeys (love that that is a thing now) have shown they can learn to control a robotic arm without interfering with their ability to use the normal limbs. His implants are far less invasive then severing the spinal cord would be. It would take time to learn to use it of course but that is true of anything the brain does.

It is hard to say how much information could be moved this way, the brain does not work digitally. It is several different analog forms overlaid on top of each other. Memristors would be a better analogy than transistors for the brain. But it would certainly be faster than typing, typing is limited by physical motion and keyboards designed to slow your typing speed. The human brain operates at about 40 Hertz refresh rate, under normal activity levels. So 40 bits per second, per individual connection (wire or filament in the implant connecting to the brain) is a safe estimate and that's not accounting for an multistate signal instead of digital. The only question is how many connections can you have before the brain can't keep up, which we really can't answer. This is partially controlled by attention and how redundant the process, but we really don't know what the upper limit is for output, we know much more about the limits on incoming information.

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From a story telling technique point of view - when you reach the point of being the most powerful of anything in a given universe the story becomes less interesting, thus limits must be placed - three wishes not an infinite number, superman is helpless near kryptonite - all faces of the same cliche.

In this vein, an issue touched upon by the game Deus EX Human Revolution is that by introducing artificial interfaces into natural ones, there is the chance that over long term usage there will be negative side effects physical or psychological. The pro-augmentation proponents believe the artificial upgrades make gods out of mere humans but the price is taking ani-rejection meds for the rest of your life, and the considerable financial burden of owning implants sees a thriving black market serving those that fall between the cracks.

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