Wetware Rising

Subjectively, analog representations of reality, such as an LP of music played on a record player, are considered to be “warm” by purists, as opposed to the “cold” digital playback of MP3 and other audio codices. In all things digital, reality is translated into binary code using only 1 and 0 (or off and on). The Digital Revolution has obviously succeeded beyond all expectations because the massive amount of 1’s and 0’s used creates such a fine-scale representation of reality that human senses cannot tell the difference. The best audio technology today is now almost undistinguishable by humans from analog formats. The digital Ultra High Definition video currently in laboratories is reportedly so effective at representing reality that human viewers feel motion sickness.

One current drawback of digital technology to create artificial retinas and other sensory replacements is the enormous amounts of data required to emulate reality. Current artificial visual systems require dedicated computer systems and result in only a visible grid of white and black areas that represent open areas and boundaries. While this technology is a huge step forward for the blind, the full-color, widescreen, three-dimensional representation of the world enjoyed by most sighted people seems a long shot.

Enter analog technology. Analog technology detects the continuum of data between two set points bounded only by its capabilities. For example, the human biological eye is an analog device that can perceive the degrees of color wavelengths bounded by the visible light slice of the electromagnetic spectrum. New audio technology from Akustica embeds a membrane-based device on a microchip. Meanwhile, researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine have developed a microchip with a chemical delivery system for the same neurotransmitters that the biological eye uses to transmit visual data into the brain for processing. This merging of analog mechanical devices with electronics is called Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) technology.

The Analog and Digital Revolutions currently underway are merging into “wetware” (the perceived “wetness” of biological systems combined with the “dry” logic of digital hardware and software).

Published by

Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet. His first published poem, "Roadside Freak Show," arrives on August 21, 2017 in Impossible Archetype.  His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey. Richard is also the Downlink Lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team at the University of Arizona. He monitors images of the Martian surface taken by the HiRISE camera located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars and helps ensure they process successfully and are validated for quick release to the science community and public. Once upon a time, Richard wrote and edited the science and technology news and commentary website Frontier Channel, hosted the RADIO Frontier Channel podcast, and organized transhumanist clubs. Follow Richard on his website (richardleis.com), on Goodreads (richardleis), Twitter (@richardleisjr), and Facebook (richardleisjr).