„Thanks to advances in our understanding of biology, scientists believe they can model a new generation of computers on how the brain actually works—the microscopic chemical interactions and electrical impulses that translate sensations into knowledge and knowledge into decisions and actions. It’s a successor to the old ideas about artificial intelligence, and a handful of companies have initiatives under way, among them IBM (IBM) and Numenta, a Silicon Valley startup.“
From: Business Week http://ping.fm/B3GEb
Photo: Bill Diodato, Scientific American
While people still have to gesture wildly in front of a giant computer display when they go with a human-machine interface á la Minority Report (see previous article), futurist Ray Kurzweil’s dream has been rather to jack directly into the brain (in order to upload it to the net to live forever, but that’s another story, called Singularity and all).
The Scientific American recently ran an article about the current research in neuro-technology regarding brain-machine interfaces. The first page is a little dragging, mentioning all the crazy ideas of science-fiction authors of the past 30 years, but the rest of the article is about current research programs like using the brain as an interface for prosthetics, steering through virtual worlds by mere thought or improving our memories with an artificial hippocampus. If you don’t have time skip to page 4 of the article. Full article on Scientific American: Jacking into the Brain – Is the Brain the Ultimate Computer Interface?
Although we appearently still don’t know jack about jacking into the brain and doing something really useful with it, there is the next best thing that you can order now (will be shipped to US addresses only by the end of the year for 299 US$): The EmotivEpoc headset taps your neurons from the outside and translates your intentions, facial expressions and emotions into commands for 3D games and virtual worlds. Their technology also lets you control a wheelchair just using mind control (video). Spooky, huh? And damn useful if it works. Here’s a video showing how it works with games.
Mac support is planned but scheduled for later – „the market conditions dictate that Windows comes first“ is what Jonathan Geracifrom the Emotiv team told me in July. But they offer an open API set for developers so the range of supported games and virtual 3D platforms should be impressive.
Read more about the sensor-laden headset or order it now if you are living in Obama land at the Emotiv Website. (No chance for the rest of the world without US address yet)
Your brain is quicker than you think. What’s wrong about that?
While I am all in favor of the studies showing the value of not overthinking a decision (because your brain knows better), I can’t subscribe to the “humans don’t have a free will” conclusion. The thesis that humans may don’t have a free will seems to engage people continiously to date. I am not a neuroscientist (although I studied Psychology for a time) and this might be a very stupid statement but I am going to make it anyway: whenever I read about the experiment which showed that our brain knows about 10 seconds before we consciously know what we are going to decide (and thus concluding that we don’t really have a free will), I think the subjects just thought that was the moment they claimed it was (when they chose to push a button). They just didn’t recall it correctly because it wasn’t conscious. The brain did (no surprise here, nothing “eerie” about it). Which is why I trust my gut (=brain) whenever making complex decisions after looking at the facts but I don’t trust anybody who thinks that his brain imaging technique and push-button experiments tell us anything about free will. Then again, I have a pretty good relationship with my brain since it’s me. But wait a minute – who is telling me all my thoughts? Uh, right.
“magicians and cognitive neuroscientists are getting at similar questions, but while neuroscientists have been looking at this for a few decades, magicians have been looking at this for centuries, millennia probably”
How magicians control your mind – The Boston Globe
It’s all about the way our brain perceives things and who knows better than magicians, who fool your perception professionally, how that works? This article is about the beginning collaboration of neuroscientists and magicians (no joke).
Making Up the Mind: How the Brain Creates Our Mental World (Chris Frith). Wunderbar geschriebenes Buch für alle, die sich mit Hirnforschung und Psychologie beschäftigen. Kompakt und für dieses Thema ungewöhnlich amüsant stellt der Pionier der bildgebenden Verfahren alle wichtigen Beispiele aus der Historie sowie neueste Erkenntnisse dar.