Leuthardt works on computer interfaces that can communicate with the brain and help restore function to people with different types of disabilities — accident victims, stroke patients, those with Alzheimer's. He works to help these patients control things with nothing but their thoughts. Through this research, he has already demonstrated that the brain can send out signals that are understandable to computers: He once had a patient whose brain was connected to electrodes play a game of Space Invaders by thinking about his moves. Leuthardt reasons that if our brains can send signals out to a computer, there's no reason a computer can't send signals in.

"Imagine you're completely connected to the Internet. If you want to talk to a person you just think about it. You literally exchange thoughts and information, literally at the blink of an eye — actually faster than the blink of an eye," he says.

Whether that takes the form of an implanted chip or more advanced forms of wearable technology, Leuthardt predicts that once it's possible to stream information into and out of our brains, everyone will be clamoring for the technology.

Schlafly's Dan Kopman
Theo Welling
Schlafly's Dan Kopman

"Imagine this — you have two lawyers. One lawyer has an implant that will give him more rapid access to information. You know that other lawyer is going to get that implant, too," he says.

A downloadable brain will have lots of legal and ethical ramifications as well: Will implants be allowed in school? Will law enforcement need a warrant for our minds? What if criminals can hack us and make us do things — are we responsible for our actions?

Here's another question: Where is all this amazing and simultaneously morally fraught technology going to come from? From St. Louis, according to Leuthardt.

"This city could be the new Silicon Valley for neuroprosthetics or Silicon Valley for neurotech — we have that capability in terms of we are some of the leaders in developing the technology," he says. "It could be what makes this city in the next generation of corporations and industry. We have at least the potential, if the city gets it right, to really be the leaders in that."
—Jessica Lussenhop

The Future of the River
Shibu Jose is known to his colleagues as the guy with the rose-colored glasses, although green is probably a more accurate shade. He's a professor with the University of Missouri's College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and its Center for Agroforestry, and he has a plan for making the area around the Missouri and Mississippi rivers into the largest clean-energy economy in the nation.

Jose's vision is to turn the Missouri and Mississippi river-bottom areas into cropland for a variety of plants that could be made into sustainable biofuels (known as "advanced biofuels"). Currently, the land is either floodplain or marginally productive cropland used mainly for corn and soybeans. Jose wants to plant the river bottoms with sustainable biomass feedstock — plants such as sorghum, switchgrass, poplars and willows.

In order to process this river-bottom biomass, he proposes creating a network of small-scale rural refineries throughout the area. This processed material would then travel, via the river, to larger hubs where it would be made into fuel. Because of its location in the center of the country, the Mississippi and Missouri river cooridor could serve as the hub of this advanced biofuel production, shipping the fuel out to the coasts and placing us in the center of a green-energy revolution. We could create a Midwestern "Persian Gulf of advanced biofuels," Jose says.

Dan Burkhardt, owner of Bethlehem Valley Vineyards and founder of the conservation organization Magnificent Missouri, sees the potential in Jose's plan.

"Conservationists don't do well when they ask farmers to let their productive land sit there as a wildlife habitat or green space," he says. "Farmers need to make a living, and if this is a way for them to grow an alternative crop that is better for the environment, reduces the use of pesticides and helps with soil erosion, it's a net gain."

Most of the crops Jose proposes planting are perennials and hold the soil in place. Because they do not need to be replanted yearly, they reduce soil disturbance and the accompanying sediment in rivers and streams. Jose believes the idea could actually clean up our water bodies. And he's optimistic that the time will come when the world uses 100 percent biofuels.

"Why not?" he says. "It took nature millions of years to convert biomass into petroleum. We have the technology today to convert biomass to petroleum in a matter of seconds."
—Cheryl Baehr

The Future of Sex
When we spoke to neurosurgeon and science-fiction author Dr. Eric Leuthardt about computer implants in the brain that could be invented right here in St. Louis, he told us accessing the Internet could be a little bit like stepping into virtual reality. Experiences could be "as downloadable as iTunes."

Naturally, our juvenile minds jumped straight to pornography.

"As neuroprosthestics becomes the next console people use to see and feel things virtually, they will naturally pursue experiences that they could otherwise not do," he wrote us in a followup e-mail. "Some people will choose skydiving, others will choose driving a racecar and then there will be the rest of the human population that will...er...uh...choose something a little more risqué."

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