Palmer Luckey Experimenting With VR Directly Into The Nervous System

by Ian Hamilton • September 22nd, 2017

Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey discussed his experiments with brain-computer interfaces at an adult VR event.

Luckey departed Oculus and Facebook earlier this year several months after an article in The Daily Beast ignited a firestorm of public opinion during the run up to one of the most divisive elections in American history. Since then he’s become more vocal on his Twitter account voicing frustration with “fake news” while also exploring a startup that, as Nick Wingfield at The NY Times reported, would construct a “virtual border wall.”

During this time he suggested he’s also exploring implantation of “experimental hardware.”

His latest comments on the subject could be heard around one hour into this NSFW video:

This is one of the things i’m experimenting with, is virtual reality implants that are able to do stimulation into the nervous system to provide a sense of touch and to allow you to move around in virtual reality without actually moving. But even if you do that I think that still we will wear HMDs because the optic nerve, the link from the eye to the brain, is so much information, so high bandwidth, that I don’t think implants are a better way to do it than very good HMDs.


What's your reaction?
  • Firestorm185

    Well, he does talk about SAO a lot…

  • giuliocc

    Clever people with dumb ideas. Humans are not like technology you can reboot of you f#ck it up. Perhaps working on HCI for the disabled would be a more intelligent investment in effort.. but it’s not “sexy”

    • Michael

      Well this would actually be very powerful for people with disabilities as it intercepts movements.

  • Sankhyo Halder

    I dislike Palmer’s politics, but he’s got a point. No need for for bulky headsets and external controllers if actual neural integration is feasible.

    If we can access the entire sensorium, including the balance control apparatus in our ears, motion sickness will be a thing of the past.

    • RFC_VR

      If I remember correctly, Eyeball has local processing cells in addition to optic nerve.

      Perhaps not easy to bypass, or could cause neurological problem when pushing VR direct to brain?

      • Sankhyo Halder

        Oh damn, I just realized that website is actually a creationist one. Fortunately, the information presented in the referenced paper is still accurate. My bad

      • Sankhyo Halder

        My first post is awaiting moderation because of the link, so I’ll paste the rest of the text here:

        You’re right! I had dimly heard of it, but now that you mention it, that’s a valid concern.

        I do think you could work around it in some ways, apparently those pathways do things like image compression, in the sense that they only send new updates when there’s a large change in the image received.

        Since we’re talking about direct nerve stimulation, which already requires some means of translating digital signals to neural transmissions, I guess we could have an analogue of those cells already processing the stream before we feed it to the brain. I don’t see a reason why that would prove infeasible, and it might even save on bandwidth like the natural solution does!

        • RFC_VR

          Retinal Ganglion Cell (RGC) type of neuron found in retinas

          Yes there should be a technical solution, but I wonder about neurological outcome with regular use – and would ‘reality’ become less ‘real’ when using eyeballs…

          • Sankhyo Halder

            I’m a med student if it makes a difference, and I’d say that neurological issues would *probably* not be that much of a concern.

            Brains are insanely adaptable, I mean, the beginning of BCI tech was just hooking up neurons to electrodes to see what happens. And it turns out that given enough input, the brain manages to make sense of it despite never having seen anything like it before.

            Case in point, there’s a device that simulates vision for the blind by acting as a sort of haptic feedback on the tongue, and tests showed that people learned to interpret those signals as visual input in almost no time. It’s such a convenient thing to have the brain itself do the tedious job of writing a cross compiler haha.

            That aside, I’m not entirely sure by what you mean about reality becoming less real when using eyeballs.

            Do you mean that normal vision will seem diminished in comparison? It’s possible, if the input our optic nerves receive is of a much higher quality than default vision, without chromatic aberration, less sensory noise, and who knows what else, that unaided sight might seem like taking off your glasses…

            But if the tongue can see with touch, I wouldn’t worry too much!

          • RFC_VR

            Thanks for the information…it’s an interesting area of study.

            The brain has adaptability through plasticity and can be exercised like any muscle especially important as we age.

            Yes I wonder if the quality of BMI stimulus is so persuasive that real life could seem diminished?

          • Sankhyo Halder

            Sadly enough, we don’t even need BMI to get to that point.

            There’s a very interesting concept in psychology called superstimuli. I think a good example would be the current obesity epidemic, fast food today is rich in fats, proteins, and salt to an extent not seen in the ancestral diet of humans. So our old instincts to crave them overpower our conscious awareness that green leafy vegetables are actually better for us.

            An even more relevant example would be video games, they have a loop of effort and reward that is much tighter, faster, and more obvious than most ancestral activities, and go quite a few people real life seems boring to the infinite possibilities of video game worlds… Pornography is another example, capable of decreasing the desire for real sex in a large number of people.

            Of course, this may or may not be a bad thing, what makes something less ‘real’ after all? It’s an issue that boils down to your philosophical stance I would say.

            I personally love video games, fast food, and porn, and you bet I would jack myself in to a BMI if I could. Hopefully I’ll manage to retain enough self control to use the last like the rest, without compromising my values in the long term. I guess I’ll have to see for myself haha

          • RFC_VR

            We are living in ‘magical times’ no doubt, despite the horrors shown on 24 hour news channels.

            The first time I used VR in ’91(Virtuality), it opened my eyes to the possibility of the future, but it wasn’t convincing enough yet.

            The second time I used VR in ’16 (Vive Pre) it opened my mind because the technology had just about become capable enough to present a believable virtual reality.

            I walked home after a 20 minute demo, undergoing a feeling of “displacement” a good number of people have reported this phenomenon.

            It’s been reported that even short length of time in high quality VR has a fundamental and beneficial effect on parts of the brain?

            I went back the next day and bought a Vive and GTX1070 😘

            This ‘disconnect’ has been well explored in Cronenberg’s awesome ‘eXistenZ’ movie, where layers of reality are explored with uncertain consequences. I’ve only experienced this again after long VR sessions both on Vive and Daydream.

            It shows immense potential, whether hmd or bmi

          • Sankhyo Halder

            Wow, I wish I had actually experienced VR worth the name!

            The closest I ever got was a Samsung vr headset, which is about as effective as watching a movie on a old CRT TV through a screen door.

            This is despite following the latest gen since Oculus Dk 1, I wanted a headset so badly I went ahead and bought a GTX 970 just for it…

            But living in a third world country means that the damn things didn’t launch until over a year from global release, and at a 100% markup on the normal price. I wasn’t ready to pay a thousand dollars above the six hundred of my GPU, so I guess I’m stuck waiting for it to get cheaper.

            It’s heartening to see that the current generation can induce ‘presence’, if they can already do that, I live in hope that the second and third gen headsets will be worth the wait. And of course BMIs!

            I don’t have any recollection of VR directly being useful for the brain, but video games as a whole have been shown to improve multitasking, visual acuity and motor skills. I guess making them more realistic can only lead to improvements in the already numerous benefits!

          • RFC_VR

            Yeah I’ve been lucky to own 2 Vive, have extensively used Oculus Rift+Touch, psvr, gear vr and currently have pixel XL/daydream as a stop gap until 2nd generation PC VR.

            Had some “roomscale plus” experiment running during early 2017, largest room 9m diagonal gap across base station. Absolutely mind blowing stuff with unreal presence especially full control over lighting, air conditioning.


  • REP

    Palmer is full of shit. There is no bandwidth requirement to transfer information from your brain to a device.

    • Dev.

      He’s talking the other way around. Transferring information from the world to the optic nerves.

    • Michael

      What? He said that trying to handle the eyes is just pointless when we could just strap an expensive HMD to our face and use the neural implant for all else.

  • Tenka

    Where do I sign up?