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Biotech Medicine Science

The Blind Shall See Again, But When? 226

Posted by timothy
from the better-repaint-their-room dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Restoring hearing with cochlea implants that replace the inner ear with an electronic version has become standard procedure for many types of deafness. Now it looks like the same thing might happen for many types of blindness. With five national labs funded by the Department of Energy, this third-generation artificial retina promises to enable the blind to see again soon. Already it has been successful in over a dozen test patients, but at resolutions too low for doing much more than proving the concept. However, if the DoE can perfect this larger version of an artificial retina, then the company Second Sight promises to commercialize the implant, aiming for VGA resolution within the decade."
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The Blind Shall See Again, But When?

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  • Re:DoE? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lwsimon (724555) <lyndsy@lyndsysimon.com> on Friday February 19, 2010 @04:46PM (#31203822) Homepage Journal

    Agreed, this seems more like a Dept. of Defense issue.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 19, 2010 @04:46PM (#31203832)
    Ugh, i hate this deaf/blind "culture" crap. Stop trying to build a culture around a defect and pretend it makes you superior to other people. All this catering to people with defects drives me insane.
  • by lwsimon (724555) <lyndsy@lyndsysimon.com> on Friday February 19, 2010 @04:47PM (#31203838) Homepage Journal

    Flip that argument - who's up for preventing blacks from purchasing skin lightening or radical plastic surgery?

    See, kids, that's called a false dichotomy.

  • Re:DoE? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by courteaudotbiz (1191083) on Friday February 19, 2010 @04:52PM (#31203928) Homepage
    Yeah, but shouldn't they pass on their research work to another, more appropriate Department? Just asking...
  • Huh? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Chameleon Man (1304729) on Friday February 19, 2010 @04:53PM (#31203944)
    ...Wait, you're serious? Why would you prevent people from having the choice to hear or see just to keep your "culture" intact?

    I guess we should be upset with cars because they destroyed the horse-and-buggy culture.
  • by SOdhner (1619761) on Friday February 19, 2010 @04:53PM (#31203960) Homepage Journal
    I don't see it as cultural genocide because it's not really forced - nor is there any reason to artificially maintain a culture that is falling apart on its own. If less people are blind, there may be less blind culture, but it's not being attacked, really.


    It's certainly unfortunate for the people who can't be helped by advances such as this and then have less of a culture to work within, but that's no reason to stand in the way of new technologies. Eventually - hopefully - something like this will be available to everyone who is blind or deaf no matter the original cause. Even then there will be some that refuse the treatment, but that's their choice.


    Cultures change, and sometimes they go away. It happens.
  • URL Shorteners (Score:5, Insightful)

    by emkyooess (1551693) on Friday February 19, 2010 @05:21PM (#31204296)

    Can we not use bit.ly and other URL shorteners on /.? There's no need to. They're harmful, actually. Thanks!

  • by insufflate10mg (1711356) on Friday February 19, 2010 @05:35PM (#31204478)
    I believe the opposite; that the human brain would actually create a new color for the UV/IR bands... the person with the ability to see this color would describe it as being indescribable, the same way it is impossible for a human to accurately describe the colors we have now.
  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Friday February 19, 2010 @05:41PM (#31204574)

    1. This is the best cure we have so far
    2. They are deficient, they lack the ability to hear. Hate to hurt their feelings, but that is the truth. I am deficient in sight, so I use contacts.
    3. Not if they want to communicate with 99.9% of the world that uses sound to communicate instead of gestures.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 19, 2010 @05:50PM (#31204758)

    I believe the opposite; that the human brain would actually create a new color for the UV/IR bands... the person with the ability to see this color would describe it as being indescribable, the same way it is impossible for a human to accurately describe the colors we have now.

    Uh...how would you wire up the new signal to the brain, if not in the form the current rods and cones do?

    Regardless of the spectrum your artificial eyes can pick up, in the end they must with absolutely no way around it, translate those to inputs that we already receive. Therefore, your brain will not come up with no colors.

  • by pz (113803) on Friday February 19, 2010 @06:16PM (#31205088) Journal

    I work in Visual Prosthetics.

    Here's the thing with any sort of augmented vision: there's no way you can justify the risks of implantation when a fully external device that shows whatever mapped, morphed, or manipulated version of vision will work as well or better.

    If you have normal sight, or even nearly normal sight, then why have an implant that carries significant risk, will be large and potentially painful for some time to come, will require frequent recharging, will be expensive as getout, when you can put on a special pair of glasses with a heads-up-display that does more? Telescopic vision, IR, UV, macroscopic, x-ray, edge enhanced, color shifted, depth enhanced, whatever you can think of, it is easier to do it with a head-worn high-tech display that you can take off at will.

    In contrast, having an implant means -- for any kind of implant that is under current consideration -- fixed resolution, and, unless you're willing to undergo significant, expensive surgeries, many of the interface parameters will be technologically fixed. Yes, there's a lot you can do with reprogramming, but it's essentially impossible to change the stimulating electrodes and their drivers.

    Trust me, you do not want a visual prosthesis unless you need one. The normal visual system, enhanced with purely external devices, will always be better.

    Any visual implant that is currently under discussion

  • by Estanislao Martínez (203477) on Friday February 19, 2010 @06:41PM (#31205408) Homepage

    Here's the difference between you and me: you insist on telling deaf children "the truth" about their "deficiency," outcomes be damned, whereas I really am interested in getting the best possible outcomes for them. So, to address your three points:

    1. "Best cure" by what measure? Ability to interpret and produce spoken language? Why is that the best measure of the outcome of deaf children treatment, as opposed to, say, high school graduation rates or standardized test scores (using written language tests)? Have you considered that by focusing on "fixing" deaf people so they can hear, you may miss the big picture?
    2. Do you think we would have good outcomes with deaf people if all of our treatment adopted your macho posturing about "just telling those weak deluded people the hard truth"? Do you realize that this type of treatment is uncomfortably similar to how domestic abusers treat their victims?
    3. Would you rather have us spend many man-years training a deaf child to understand spoken English with significant effort and difficulty, or rather to spend extra time using sign language to teach them written English, literature, math, history, science, etc.? Which do you think would make a deaf child happier and more productive: (a) struggling for years to learn to talk and hear without ever being able to do what hearing people do effortlessly, (b) getting an education comparable to what hearing children get?

    Note that I was careful enough not to simply come out against cochlear implants; I would not be surprised at all if there is some balance that can be worked out between sign language education and implants that produced better results than education alone.

    But my point is quite simply that the goal shouldn't be to "cure" deaf children; the goal should be to allow them to become healthy and productive adults. This definitely requires them to be able to manage interactions with the hearing world, and cochlear implants could very well help in that regard, but focusing too much on them just loses sight of the big picture.

    I'm going to stress one final thing: learning the native language(s) is one of the crucial parts of child cognitive development. One of the biggest risks of early-age deafness is that a deaf child may fail to learn any real language, and thus will have retarded cognitive development. This is why sign language education is so important: deaf children learn to sign as easily as hearing children learn to talk, and native learning of any language is much better for cognitive development than incomplete learning of spoken language. Again, big picture: is it better to have intellectually normal deaf signers, or intellectually challenged orally-educated deaf people?

  • by poopdeville (841677) on Friday February 19, 2010 @07:41PM (#31206020)

    Regardless of the spectrum your artificial eyes can pick up, in the end they must with absolutely no way around it, translate those to inputs that we already receive. Therefore, your brain will not come up with no colors.

    Nope, you are entirely wrong.

  • Tricky (Score:0, Insightful)

    by tjstork (137384) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (ykswordnab.ddot)> on Friday February 19, 2010 @09:09PM (#31206698) Homepage Journal

    If the DOE (tax dollars) is funding the research, why the hell would the technology produced then become commercialized (capitalized) by a private

    Well, building an eye implant in the lab is one thing, and the taxpayer pays for that. Putting it out into the field, borrowing all the money and getting investment bankers to pony up for production costs, sales and marketing, all of the insurances required for the inevitable lawsuits, the technical support, tracking, doctor training and all that manufacturing required to get the eye from a factory floor into someone's head, that's what the private sector does.

    So it is ultimately a cost sharing arrangement. What is foobar in this case is that the private sector in the USA is extremely risk averse these days. In essence, the US taxpayer is footing the bill of coming up with products for corporations to product and market.

    Outside of that, in order to get an entirely new product out there, you have to be a solo inventor. The mad scientist is apropro, because only mad scientists take risks that other people just wouldn't take.

    That's pretty much why you see old companies where the founders have either sold off or died always lobbying for R&D tax credits or gov't aid to labs, because they just want to pick and choose from products that already exist, not, have to take the risk of creating new ones. Some Joe Schmoe who worked his way up from accounting would never have the credibility to bring a new product to market, but, a visionary founder like a Steve Jobs, or, Bill Gates, could say, yeah, I'll bet the company on that, because they've done it already and made it work. It may seem obvious to everyone now, but, just look at why Windows had so little competition - Wall Street in those days was like "why do you need graphics on a business computer". Microsoft just funded the whole thing out of its own pocket (and granted, it could do that because of the DOS monopoly), but, it was the only way something like a Windows, or, for that matter, a Macintosh, could ever get built. You could have never have gone to a banker and say you needed 100M for a GUI based operating shell. You'd have to have a business case, cost studies, market analysis, all of that stuff, whereas, someone with their own company and own guts and glory could say, "Make it like Mac, because its cool", like Bill Gates did.

    Even now you can see how Microsoft is turning into a rent seeking pile of shit that's lost a lot of the rough and tumble stuff that made same so entertaining when Bill was at the helm. They listen to their enterprise customers more, for sure, but they don't really lead any more, and any innovation that comes up inside of them just gets drowned out in infighting.

  • by BananaBender (958326) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @03:43AM (#31208510)
    Well, just dumping the extended color data onto the brain might not be enough. When a child learns to see, its brain already has the basic visual perception algorithms hard-coded, e.g. there are brain structure for color detection, edge detection, motion detection etc. Those structures are built from the DNA, the genetic material, so the brain does not start learning from scratch.
    Only those structures allow a child to pick up seeing as fast as it does (the process of learning to see in humans is necessary because of our ability for 3D vision. Depth perception depends on the distance between your left and your right eye; the hard-coded perception algorithms don't know this distance beforehand, so people have to learn seeing after being born. Animals without 3D vision are far more quickly able to see).
    Anyway, there are no brain structures for the extended color data, so how would a brain learn the new input?

FORTRAN is a good example of a language which is easier to parse using ad hoc techniques. -- D. Gries [What's good about it? Ed.]

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