Get right up close to Dmitry Itskov and sniff all you like — you will not pick up even the faintest hint of crazy. He is soft-spoken and a bit shy, but expansive once he gets talking, and endearingly mild-mannered. He never seems ruffled, no matter what question you ask. Even if you ask the obvious one, which he has encountered more than a few times since 2011, when he started “this project,” as he sometimes calls it.
Namely: Are you insane?
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The road to avatars
Random stops along the way to joining humans and machines.
1784: First known use of the word “avatar,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. From Sanskrit, it refers to a Hindu deity in human form.
1924: Hans Berger begins the history of brain-computer interfaces by developing EEG, which measures electrical activity in the brain.
1958: In Sweden, Arne Larsson becomes the first person to receive a surgically implanted pacemaker.
1961: The first cochlear implant, called a bionic ear. It marks the first time a machine is able “to restore a human sense,” as The New York Times puts it.
1987: “Max Headroom,” about a fictional avatar, makes its debut on ABC. In the story line, Max was created by downloading the memories of a TV reporter into a computer.
1992: “Snow Crash,” a Neal Stephenson novel, helps popularize avatars. “If you’re ugly,” he writes, “you can make your avatar beautiful.”
1997: Researchers at Emory University teach a stroke victim to use electrodes implanted in his brain, and sensors taped to his body, to move a cursor and spell words with his thoughts.
2003: Linden Lab starts Second Life, an online world that allows users to create avatars that can interact with other avatars.
2008: At Duke University, a monkey implanted with a brain-computer interface controls a robot on a treadmill in Japan.
2011: Dmitry Itskov starts the 2045 Initiative.
2012: At the University of Pittsburgh, a quadriplegic woman, Jan Scheuermann, eats a chocolate bar attached to a robotic arm controlled by implants in her brain.
2013: The MIT Technology Review reports that Samsung is working on a tablet computer that can be controlled by your mind.