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July 1, 2005

Humans could be 'plugged in'

From: News24 - Cape Town,South Africa - Jul 1, 2005

Singapore - Technological advances will one day allow computers to be implanted in the human body - and could help the blind see and the deaf hear - Bill Gates said on Friday.

But the Microsoft chairperson says he's not ready to be hardwired.

"One of the guys that works at Microsoft ... always says to me 'I'm ready, plug me in," Gates said at a Microsoft seminar in Singapore. "I don't feel quite the same way. I'm happy to have the computer over there and I'm over here."

Meshing people directly with computers has been a science fiction subject for years, from downloading memories onto computer chips to replacement robotic limbs controlled by brain waves.

The fantasy is coming closer to reality as advances in technology mean computers are learning to interact with human characteristics such as voices, touch - even smell.

Gates, whose Redmond, Washington-based company is spending more than $6bn on research and development this year to stay a world leader in software development, was asked at the seminar whether he thought computers would ever be implanted in the human brain.

He noted that cochlear implants and other medical implants were already being used to treat hearing problems and some conditions that cause constant pain, and were changing some people's lives dramatically.

Cochlear implants, which employ digital pulses that the brain interprets as sound, can help profoundly deaf people hear.

Advances were also being made on implants that can help fix eyesight problems, Gates said.

These types of technologies would continue to be improved and expanded, especially in areas where they would be "correcting deficiencies", he said.

"We will have those capabilities," Gates said.

He cited author Ray Kurzweil, whom he called the best at predicting the future of artificial intelligence, as believing that such computer-human links would become mainstream - though probably not for several generations.

© 2005 News24