Thursday, February 08, 2007



As part of its
Future Week, The Science Channel showed a film about recent developments in manipulating physical objects by thinking.

The video was unusually informative about how the process works:

A fairly simple tap of electrical activity in the brain -- gathering electrical signals from, in some cases, as little as 16 different points around the scalp -- provides enough information to correlate specific changes in these signals to specific thoughts by the subject. A computer monitoring the brain waves then creates a physical action -- for example, moving a robot arm, selecting a letter, making a sound, or controlling a computer to play Pong -- when it recognizes the corresponding signal.

Even more remarkable is that when the subject sees or hears the results of their thoughts, they can adjust their thoughts to move the object more precisely. And they don't even have to be human to do that: a chimpanzee can manipulate its thoughts well enough to move a robot arm to grab food and put the food in its mouth. (Who says apes/monkeys can't use tools?)

The implications are spectacular for people with paralysis. Christopher Reeve would likely have been able to restore his mobility, using mechanical body parts, when this technology is further refined. The implications are also frightening (but I won't spell that out here). The film is fascinating!

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