I think, therefore it moves

I haven’t watched 60 Minutes in years now, but Lifehacker has a link to the story below from last week on controlling computers with thought and I was blown away. I’ve known there was research going on in this direction, but some of what they show here is amazing. Using just surface-level sensors one device can sense the brain pattern of “recognition”, allowing people to type or select words based as they are flashed onto a computer screen. The interface for that is pretty cool – I expected from the description a series of letters shown one at a time but instead there is a huge grid of every letter, number, and symbol you might want and they are highlighted on and off very quickly in quick succession. When they get to what is possible if you actually embed sensors in someone’s brain, we start to see monkeys controlling robot arms to feed themselves and people being able to drive mechanical wheelchairs with just their thoughts. It’s a very well done story – worth watching!

60 Minutes: Brain Power
The Lifehacker entry about the video speculated that while this is being used now to help people who are paralyzed, this technology would eventually reach a point where this was our standard interface with our computer. Clearly there would need to be significant changes – it seems that right now the ability to move objects with thought is accomplished by attempting to move your own arms and the brain interpreting those signals – the monkey has to have his arms restrained for this to work. It is unclear how this would work if you could move your arms. Is visualizing the motions sufficient or are the actual mental activities that take place when you legitimately attempt to move required? It also seems clear that people will be more willing to consider brain implants when it gives them back a lost ability to communicate and interact with the world than the would be simply to streamline their interactions with their computer.

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