Friday, April 08, 2005

The Matrix a reality?

Sony takes 3-D cinema directly to the brain
By Michael Horsnell

THE cult sci-fi movie The Matrix might not have such an improbable plot after all.

The first step towards a real-life version, in which cyber-reality is projected into the brains of people via an electrode feed, could be just over the horizon.

Sony, the Japanese entertainment giant, has patented an idea for transmitting data directly into the brain, with the goal of enabling a person to see films and play video games in which they smell, taste and perhaps even feel things, New Scientist magazine says.

The patent is based purely on theory, not on any invention — but they used to say that man would never fly.

In Sony’s patent, the technique would be entirely noninvasive. It would not use brain implants or other surgery. The patent has few details, describing only a device that would fire pulses of ultrasound at the head to modify the firing patterns of neurons in targeted parts of the brain.

The aim, it says, is to create “sensory experiences”, ranging from moving images to tastes and sounds.

New Scientist says in its Saturday issue that it was denied an interview with the unnamed inventor, who is based at a Sony office in San Diego, California.

Elizabeth Boukis, the Sony Electronics spokeswoman, said that the work was a “prophetic invention” and no experiments at all had been performed on it. “It was based on an inspiration that this may someday be the direction that technology will take us,” she told the magazine.

Independent experts said that they did not dismiss the idea out of hand, although they also expressed concern about the proposed method’s long-term safety.

So far, the only non-invasive way for manipulating the brain is crude. A technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation uses magnetic fields to induce currents in brain tissue, thus stimulating brain cells. Magnetic fields cannot be finely focused on small groups of brain cells, but ultrasound pulses could be. As a character in an entirely unrelated sci-fi film film once said: “May the force be with you.”

# Smell-O-Vision was initiated in 1960 by Mike Todd Jr, husband of Elizabeth Taylor. Smells were pumped through pipes leading to individual cinema seats, cued by a signal on the film. Only one film, Scent of a Mystery, was made in Smell-O-Vision and Todd lost his investment

# Sensurround was born in 1975 for Earthquake and used intense waves of sound to augment screen action. The process never caught on because it disturbed audiences watching other films in multi-screen cinemas

# 3-D vision involved cinemagoers watching through coloured glasses to resolve images, shot using a special process, into three dimensions

# VistaVision relied on filming essential action in the middle horizontal band of view so that cinemas could project films on to different screen sizes

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