New brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are poised to increase
human productivity, advance entertainment and transform social
interactions. A potential catalyst for all the new media that’s
emerging right now, such devices could play a game-changing role in
the near to mid-term evolution of comm technology.
When I first read Emotiv’s announcement of a brain-wave
reading headset my reaction was lukewarm. But then, as my brain rattled off implication after
implication of this new comm device, it all sank in: “This is
telekinesis. And it’s nearly market-ready!”
Subsequently, a quick search through the Future Scanner for similar
material turned up
a helmet that allows Second Life users to navigate their avatar
simply by thinking about walking. Boom. Another BCI that’s nearly usable. And this one’s been around
for three months already.
controlling robotic arms, robots climbing
cars parking themselves clogging my attentional input valves,
it’s no wonder that BCI’s had evaded my
After a bit of reflection, I’ve come believe that these
technologies have the potential to truly revolutionize the way that
we play games, drive automobiles, learn in classrooms, surf
information and ultimately relate to other people—and not 20 years
from now, more like 5-10 years.
A product that in 2008 lets you control a video game by
adjusting your mental and emotional states is a big, big deal on
the macro timeline of innovations. It heralds the beginning of a
“The next major wave of technology innovation will change the
way humans interact with computers,” says Nam Do, co-founder and
CEO of Emotiv Systems. “As the massive
adoption of concepts such as social networking and virtual worlds
has proven, we are incorporating computer-based activities not only
into the way we work, learn, and communicate but also into the way
we relax, socialize and entertain ourselves.”
Nam Do may be selling his company’s system, but his message
resonates with me.
Imagine what the near-term successors to these early
BCI’s will mean for brain-to-brain
bandwidth. Together with virtual worlds, augmented reality, new
semantic technologies, (etc), they have the potential to “lube”
social network effects in a fashion that no human has ever
Sound the trumpets. Telekinetic interfaces have arrived and are
here to stay.
What potential near-term applications can you envision for
An oldie but a goodie.
Brain-pacemakers are being used to treat patients suffering from
severe depression and the potentials of the technology are being
expanded on. What happens when brain stimulation is safe and not
only reserved to people suffering from disorders?
“Brain pacemakers” are used to treat people who suffer from
epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, clinical depression and other
diseases. The pacemaker is a medical device that is implanted into
the brain to send electrical signals into the tissue.
For those of you who don’t know what they are the paragraph
above is the first sentence from the wikipedia article and as you
can see the treatment the technology provides is quite vast and
Lets look down the winding road a little bit and consider what a
world it would be like if these pacemakers become easy to implant
and remove self maintaining and powering. A nanobot for
stimulation?! what scientist would dare consider such a thing.
Well i found an article a while back in wired which had this to
Implant Achieves Female Orgasm
One woman undergoing treatment for back pain may have
discovered a cure for the thousands of woman frustrated by the
inability to achieve orgasm. While Dr. Stuart Meloy was putting an
electrode into the woman’s spine in an attempt to ease her chronic
pain, he not only reduced her back pain, but gave her an unexpected
– but delightful – side-effect. (cont.)
“She said, ‘You’re going to have to teach my husband how to
do that’,” Meloy, an anesthesiologist and pain specialist in
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said. The discovery is published in
Wednesday’s issue of New Scientist.
By Dick Pelletier
The mega-billion dollar Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)
recently developed a new state-of-the-art facility – Janelia Farm Research
Campus – to learn how brain cells store and process
Today, biologists can only observe a cell’s activity by
indirectly analyzing chemicals it produces in response to stimulus.
But what if you could take a picture of a brain cell at the very
moment it recorded a thought? HHMI
researchers believe this worthy goal can be achieved and they are
rounding up some of the top researchers in the world to make it
Janelia Farm will provide its world-class science team with near
unlimited funds in a mostly unsupervised environment. “The
Institute’s core belief is that scientists who demonstrate
creativity and imagination make lasting contributions to benefit
humanity when they are given flexible, long-term support and the
freedom to explore,” said former HHMI
President Thomas Cech.
Attempts to capture memories, personality, and feelings –
elements that describe the mind – are not new. Researchers have
successfully transplanted worm brains, and a proposal is underway
to implant a trained mouse brain into a new mouse to see if habits
and traits can be transferred. But the host body is destroyed in
these experiments. (cont.)
Researchers at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories have succeeded in partially translating brain activity in humans into images. "While the team for now has managed to reproduce only simple images from the brain, they said the technology could eventually be used to figure out dreams and other secrets inside people's minds." They honed the computer to each tested individual by showing them over 400 different images and recording how their brain reacted. While successful tests have been run so far, the images used in the tests have been fairly simple ones such as the word "neuron."
Anyone who saw the movie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within has to remember how the main character was able to record her dreams for later viewing. And, true to fashion, the images were somewhat cluttered and fuzzy, an excellent representation of where the technology might be in 20 years (due to the erratic nature of dreams and the speed at which they occur, we may never be able to record a dream like we see it sleeping). And while it may lead to reading minds entirely, the "secrets" the team refers to, this technology is universally wanted by gadget-hounds everywhere. Controlling things with the mind will always be the end goal for all of these BCIs.
Jan 2020 – Today Steve Jobs announced the spinout of a new
company, MYEYES, a most unusual
announcement at his annual keynote. Mr. Jobs took this very unusual
step due to his belief that the new software programming approach
represented by MYEYES technology will
revolutionize the treatment of many sensory impairments.
MYEYES will release its first product on
1 July 2020 after it completes a fast track certification process
with the US Government’s Health and Biotech Laboratory.
Some history will help you understand the magnitude of this
Historically most sensory impairments such as failing eye sight
or hearing lose has been treated in one of two ways. Mechanical
augmentation, both external(eye glasses, hearing aids etc) or
internal(surgical repair or implants) and biologically with
pharmaceuticals and recently dna driven repairs. MYEYES represents a third approach that has been in
the works for the last 20 years, reprogramming the brain to modify
signal inputs received from sensory organs by the brain.
By Dick Pelletier
Cognitive computing (computers that process information the same
way a brain does) has been a dream for 50 years. Artificial
intelligence, fuzzy logic, and neural networks have all experienced
some success, but machines still cannot recognize pictures or
understand languages as well as humans do.
Despite the many false starts however, forward-thinkers like Dr.
James Albus, at the National Institute of Standards and Technology,
believe cognitive computing research is at the tipping point,
similar to where nuclear physics was in 1905. The following
projects underway now describe the progress of this new
‘Smart’ cars: Auto makers are now investing heavily in
collision-warning systems and vehicles that drive themselves;
DOT officials believe that robotic
vehicles with safety warnings will likely save more lives than
airbags and seatbelts combined.
Future military: DOD planners predict
that by 2015, auto-fly drones and other computer-driven systems
could remove most soldiers from battlefield dangers.
Modeling the brain: Scientists at the Blue Brain project, a
collaboration of IBM and the Swiss
government; can zoom inside a single cell and examine exactly how
each neuron fires. This research will help repair damaged brains
today, and in the future could allow robots to mimic human
Allstate, the second-largest insurance provider in the US, recently sent out video games to 100,000 of their clients aged 50 to 75. “The set of five games, together called InSight and made by Posit Science, are designed to improve the mental acuity of older drivers.” Allstate expects to see fewer accidents among the group receiving the video games than from those who did not.
Allstate professes that “ten hours of game play turns the clock back 10 years in terms of memory, useful field of view, processing visual information, and general cognitive functions.”
The idea of training the brain to perform better is something that has been studied for centuries. Think of it as putting your brain through its own workout routine – it needs to do lifts, squats, push-ups and of course cardio. This is most commonly in the form of games.
So will we be seeing more and more brain training in the future?
I recently blogged and vlogged about Medtronic starting a clinical trial where deep brain stimulation (DBS) would be applied to the ventral striatum (part of the human reward circuit) to treat depression in up to 200 patients. Then the article on CNNmoney that I was basing this on disappeared and I worried that the whole thing might have been a mistake or a hoax. But the article has resurfaced on the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, and I finally got around to digging up Medtronic's original press release from 19 Feb 2009, which confirms that they are conducting a clinical trial of DBS as a treatment for depression.
But more than that. It turns out that the entire implant procedure that they're using isn't new at all - it's the same procedure they use to treat OCD (recently FDA approved for up to 4000 patients). The implant is called Reclaim and (quoting the press release) "the anatomical target in the brain is the.. ventral striatum.. which is a central node in the neural circuits believed to regulate mood and anxiety". So it seems DBS implants have been placed in the human reward circuit since the OCD trials started, many years ago. This is good news because it means we're even better at putting DBS implants in the human reward circuit than I thought we were. Basically, DBS applied to the ventral striatum (VS) didn't just alleviate the behavioural tics of OCD patients but also improved their mood. Studies like Schlaepfer et al 2008 (3 patients) and Malone et al 2009 (15 patients), which I thought were ground-breaking, merely confirmed that DBS applied to the VS improves the mood of severely depressed patients as well.
Marshall Brain, founder of How Stuff Works, gave a presentation on how robots can easily eliminate half the workforce of the United States fairly soon.
He said that by 2042 there will be $500 desktop computers with computing power equal to the human brain. We can then put this into a robot which will have the power to do jobs that millions of people hold today. Robots can easily take over education, transportation, construction and retail jobs.
Walmart alone has over 1.2 million employees, performing easy jobs. If robots take the jobs, “a million jobs at Walmart will evaporate.”
But what about the job market?
6.5 million in construction will be gone. 16.4 million in manufacturing will be gone. Retail/wholesale will lose 20 million jobs. Drivers will lose 3 million jobs. Education to lose 2 million.
“Half the jobs in the economy right now we can see robots taking over.”
He ended with the question displayed “What if 50-million people became unemployed?” He then said “there is no doubt these jobs will be gone fairly soon.” We have to start modifying our economy to deal with the mass unemployed.
The Army recently awarded a team of UC Irvine researchers a $4 million dollar grant to study the foundations of synthetic telepathy, a new practice that monitors brain patterns and mental images via a central computer which then deciphers the information, transforming it into actual machine-readable data. In other words, your thoughts would be captured and translated by the computer which, much like Twitter, would then distribute them to others you’re wishing to contact.
The practical implications of this technology, when fully operational, are amazing, as are the military applications. When it comes to war, one of the few constants throughout the centuries, be it in Roman times or even today, is the lack of quick and reliable communication. Effectively deployed synthetic telepathy would basically eliminate the inefficiencies of communication in the field. Any army in possession of this kind of technology would enjoy a tremendous advantage.
Commanders in the field would be able to look at a map, decide which units should be deployed where, what their function would be, and instantaneously send messages to relevant sub-commanders or even individual soldiers with their orders. Instant responses from teams in the field reporting locations of mine fields, mobilizing enemy forces, or potential weak positioning points would afford any commander equipped to receive and process this information in real-time such a strategic advantage that opposing them would seem almost futile.
Cross-posted from www.unlearning101.com
Last week, a colleague of mine at Future Blogger, Alvis Brigis, suggested that the coming reign of online video broadcasting as the "most ubiquitous and accessible form of communication" may be short-lived. In its stead, he suggested that brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) may replaced it.
To many people the idea of brain-to-computer or even brain-to-brain communication might seem a little "out there." I disagree and think that Alvis is on the right track. As evidence, I submit this recent article on the U.S. Army’s plans to invest in a "Thought Helmut" for voiceless communication. And lest anyone think that voiceless communication is some far-off, fuzzy, futuristic technology just check out this amazing video demonstrating an early prototype of this technology.
Until I can read your thoughts directly, I’d be interested in reading your reactions to this possibility and how you think it may necessitate that we unlearn some things—such as, perhaps, how we communicate in the future.
The baby boomers are getting older. Their pensions and healthcare will exert an enormous strain on European, north American, East Asian and Australian economies over the next few decades. Advances in medicine and medical technology continue to reduce blood-pressures, patch up hearts, extract cancers and extend life expectancy worldwide, but the brain, it turns out, does not yield to traditional methods, and effective treatments for cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s remain elusive. In the US, the annual cost of care for sufferers of Alzheimer’s is expected to exceed the total current healthcare budget ($1 trillion) as 10 million baby boomers develop the disease (Nixon et al, 2008 , Alzheimer’s Association, 2008).
There is, however, one highly effective preventive treatment: heavy physical exercise cuts one’s risk of stroke and neurodegenerative disease in half (Medina, 2008). Heavy, regular physical exercise improves blood supply to the brain, eliminates free radicals and stimulates the generation of new neurons. In the coming decades, 500 billion dollars or more could thus be saved each year in the US alone if every baby boomer exercised daily. The problem of course is that exercise is difficult and people are sedentary, so sedentary in fact that we are faced with a looming obesity epidemic that compounds the problem of age-related cognitive decline. And there’s no way of using modern medicine to improve people’s motivation to engage in physical exercise, right?
Wrong. A technique called rewarding brain stimulation has for decades allowed researchers to motivate rats to run (Burgess et al, 1991), lift weights (Garner et al, 1991) and learn other behaviours (Hermer-Vasquez et al, 2005).
Here’s how it might work in people: A person needing help to exercise would go to a hospital or a private clinic to be fitted with a deep brain stimulation implant capable of activating his reward system (the dopamine system).