In my day job, I run a research laboratory that is dedicated to understanding and eventually preventing or treating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS; Lou Gehrig's disease). This fatal disease, like so many others, has no effective treatment. People become trapped in their bodies because the cells that tell their muscles to move (motor neurons) die. Unlike other neurodegenerative diseases, there is generally little to no loss of cognitive function so the people afflicted by ALS know what is happening to them but they lose their ability to speak, move, swallow and eventually breathe. The augmentative communication devices to allow people who are paralyzed to communicate effectively and easily are difficult to adapt to people with ALS whose disease progresses rapidly (diagnosis to death is often just 2 to 5 years).
But just imagine if people could simply think to move a mouse cursor or an artificial limb. The possibilities that could open for people with movement disorders like ALS, paraplegias, or muscular dystrophies are simply amazing. I saw a article today where paralyzed patients were doing just that. In the article, by John Otrompke in Health IT World News, paralyzed patients could perform tasks and manipulate a mechanical hand through direct computer hook-ups. Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems, Inc is one of the companies developing this type of technology. As with all technology development, the possibilities for abuse abound (i.e. what guarantees that the link from brain out to computer or device is a one-way connection). However, imagine a world, where the paralyzed can become independent through the power of their own thoughts with a little help from technology. I love this.