Is the 'Avatar' concept really possible?
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Posted 11 February 2010 - 04:36 PM
Now the highest-grossing film ever, "Avatar," has captivated millions of viewers with its picturesque scenery, extraterrestrial battles, and nature-loving, blue-skinned aliens.
The premise of the film is that humans can enter the world of these 10-foot aliens, called the Na'vi, by way of half-human, half-Na'vi hybrids. A high-tech interfacing mechanism allows a human to remain inert while controlling one of these avatar hybrids just by thinking.
Not only does the human manipulate the avatar's movements and speech, but he or she also experiences life -- every sensation, feeling and emotion -- through the eyes of the hybrid, as if consciousness were transferred.
Scientists say we are many decades, even centuries, away from making this kind of sophisticated interaction possible, if it can be done at all. But the fundamentals of components required to create this complicated system of mind-controlled avatars are already in the works, and have useful applications in medicine.
"We're starting to understand the basic building blocks, but the biggest challenges will be emotion and thought -- how to make another organism think what you think, to feel what you feel -- because those networks are much more difficult to sort out," said Dr. Brian Litt, associate professor of neurology and bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania.
Moving remote objects by thinking
Although nothing as complex as manipulating a creature through thought has been done, scientists working on allowing handicapped people to move prosthetic limbs with their minds are making headway. This idea actually played a role in the movie: Protagonist Jake Sully was in a wheelchair in his human body, but could walk, run and jump as his avatar.
One demonstration has been shown by Miguel Nicolelis, a neuroscientist at Duke University, who is working on robotic leg braces. In 2008, his group got a monkey in North Carolina to mentally control the walking patterns of a robot in Japan.
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