After an accident in 2006, Dennis DeGray became paralyzed from the collarbones down. Eager to participate in experimental research in the area of brain-computer interfaces, DeGray has electrode arrays embedded in his cortex, and is one of a few dozen people in the world who can control various forms of technology with his thoughts.

If the neurons in DeGray’s skull were like notes on a piano, then his distinct intentions were analogous to unique musical compositions. An attempt to lift his hand would coincide with one neural melody, for example, while trying to move his hand to the right would correspond to another. As the decoder learned to identify the movements DeGray intended, it sent commands to move the cursor in the corresponding direction.

If brain-computer interfaces fulfill their promise, perhaps the most profound consequence will be this: Our species could transcend those constraints, bypassing the body through a new melding of mind and machine.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.