Wired is running a story with amazing cyberpunk “wow factor.” Implanted visual cortex stimulation, complete with “percutaneous pedestal”; a metal jack installed directly into the skull. Where can I get a night vision enhancement module for this with HUD and distance finder?” I’ve posted a previous story about Dobelle and his work on bionic eyes, but this one has more details: one frame per second, $100,000.

This goes on all morning, and it’s nothing new. For almost 50 years, scientists have known that electrical stimulation of the visual cortex causes blind subjects to perceive small points of light known as phosphenes. The tests they’re running aim to determine the “map” of the patient’s phosphenes. When electrical current zaps into the brain, the lights don’t appear only in one spot. They are spread out across space, in what artificial-vision researchers call the “starry-night effect.”

Dobelle is marshaling these dots like pixels on a screen. “We’re building the patient’s map, layer by layer,” he explains. “The first layer was individual phosphenes. The next layer is multiples. We need to know where his phosphenes appear in relation to each other so a video feed can be translated in a way that makes sense to his mind.”