On Fringe

The Fringes of Neurotechnology

By Brendan Allison

“I think it’s time for some intracranial penetration.”

—WALTER BISHOP, “THE GHOST NETWORK” (1-3)

“The brain is a computer . . . It’s an organic computer; it can be hijacked like any other.”

—WALTER BISHOP, “OF HUMAN ACTION” (2-7)

Fans of Fringe won’t be surprised to hear that neurotechnology, an increasingly popular research field at the intersection of technology and the brain, has also become quite a popular topic in today’s sci-fi. The mysteries of the human brain and its relation to technology have provided some of the show’s most memorable moments, from the retrieval of Walter’s surgically stolen memories to Peter, Walter, and William Bell’s journey through Olivia’s brain. However, while we can all recognize when something involves the brain and technology, the term “neurotechnology” can actually prove pretty tricky to define.

There are many different definitions out there, but I’ll use the definition from the University of Frieburg, a well-established research group. Their definition divides neurotechnology into two types of technologies:

(I) technical and computational tools that measure and analyze chemical and electrical signals in the nervous system, be it the brain or nerves in the limbs. These may be used to identify the properties of nervous activity, understand how the brain works, diagnose pathological conditions, or control external devices (neuroprostheses, ‘‘brain machine interfaces’’).

(II) technical tools to interact with the nervous system to change its activity, for example to restore sensory input such as with cochlear implants to restore hearing or deep brain stimulation to stop tremor and treat other pathological conditions.1

In short, part  …

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