Will the neural-electronic interface change the world?

In 2001, Cathal O’Philbin, a quadriplegic in London, using an experimental “Adaptive Brain Interface,” was able to learn to use his mind to move a cursor and cause letters to appear on a computer screen: “Arsenal Football Club.” This event received relatively little press at the time, but in this article in The New Leader, 8/1/01 – http://www.newamerica.net/index.cfm?pg=article&DocID=432 – Michael Lind speculates that this might be the most important technological advance since the splitting of the atom. See also this Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_computer_interface

If a brain-computer interface or neural-electronic interface were developed far beyond its present state of infancy – to a point allowing for two-way communication between the brain and the computer, both input and output – consider the possibilities (some discussed by Lind in his article, some explored in science fiction):

  1. Implanted bionic devices to eliminate the effects of Alzheimer’s and other mental disorders; to serve as artificial eyes for the blind and ears for the deaf; and many other applications.

  2. Powered exoskeletons, directly linked to the user’s nervous system, that would allow quadriplegics to move and walk; that could also be used for industrial purposes; and possibly powered suits of armor, giving soldiers near invulnerability plus superhuman strength. (In the latter case, the main limiting factor would be developing a portable power source – Iron Man can’t go into battle trailing a mile-long extension cord. See this CS thread: “What would MECHANICAL superstrength really be like?” – http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=279802) Lind points out that this might make genetic engineering irrelevant – what’s the point of spending years tweaking DNA to breed a super-strong person when you can plug an unmodified person into an exoskeleton with even greater strength?

  3. Industrial waldoes and robots, directly linked to the user’s nervous system. (I don’t know if this would offer a signifant advantage over existing teleoperations technology.)

  4. Direct communication between human minds and computers as such – eliminating the need for a mouse/keyboard/display-screen interface.

  5. Computer viruses getting into human minds through such linkages and causing undesireable psychological effects, as in Pat Cadigan’s Synnershttp://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1568581858/qid=1121293333/sr=8-1/ref=pd_bbs_ur_1/103-4922547-5545451?v=glance&s=books&n=507846.

  6. Virtual reality far more realistic than what you could ever get through goggles and headsets. Applications are obvious. Let us blush and pass on.

  7. Development of electronic equipment or software packages to regulate the brain activities of persons with psychological problems, replacing and possibly improving upon the psychotropic drugs now used for such purposes.

  8. Application of the same technology to stimulate the brain in ways analogous to a psychoactive drug, possibly leading to a wave of “wirehead” addiction and an underground market in illegal neural-stimulus software and equipment, as in Circuitry Manhttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099271/.

  9. Music made by the composer simply thinking the desired sounds and reproducing the music on speakers, without using the human voice or traditional instruments. Likewise, other art forms produced the same way. A whole movie might be produced from the director’s unaided imagination, without actors or a production crew.

  10. A form of personal “immortality” achieved by copying or uploading an individual personality and all its memories into an electronic storage medium (I don’t believe any computer now existing would have the storage capacity, but that may change).

  11. Mechanically assisted telepathy between human beings. Direct mind-to-mind communication, via a computer hookup. With all that implies:

a. Personal memories recorded (by the person experiencing them) and played back (by anyone) for recreational and/or educational purposes, as in Strange Dayshttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114558/. Find out what it’s like to be a person of the opposite sex!

b. Unprecedented opportunities for psychotherapy – a shrink would actually be able to know what the patient is thinking/feeling.

c. Telepathic linkages between lovers – either cementing the relationship or ending it immediately, depending.

d. Compulsory telepathic examinations or memory audits of suspects/detainees/witnesses/accountants/politicians/your possibly unfaithful spouse/you.

e. Super-fast education by downloading relevant blocks of memory from an expert in the field to the student.

f. Totalitarian governments controlling their subjects’ thoughts (or at least monitoring and limiting their actions) through neural implants.

g. Telepathic group-minds like the Borg Collective (for a more benign spin on this idea, see Spider Robinson’s Deathkillerhttp://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0671877224/qid=1121292590/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/103-4922547-5545451?v=glance&s=books&n=507846).

h. The emergence of new art forms based on mind-to-mind communication – e.g., symphonies of thoughts, emotions or memories.

i. Telepathic communication, not only with humans but with any other animal for which an interface could be developed.
Can you think of any others? And can you think of any reasons why some of this, or all of it, will never come to pass? And, if you don’t like any of this, can you think of any way to stop it?

How inane an article. Like finding a pen in a cave and concluding that Neanderthal man could write. :smack: :wally :wally

Telepathic linkages between lovers DURING SEX so everybody gets to feel what everybody is feeling!

I actually predicted this in my novel Karg, written several years ago. Wouldn’t surprise me to find out that others have come before me, though. So to speak. I also advanced the idea that such linkages pretty much put an end to rape, sexism and racism, since once you experience another person’s mind directly, it becomes hard to think they’re not human like you.

Sony has already been granted a patent for a ‘brain controller’

The Rise of The Machines is already happening. Your only recourse is to join the neoLuddite Resistance Army (NRA), before the Lizard Army takes over.

You Have Been Warned!

Typical Arsenal - they’re even tapping up quadriplegics these days in the hope that they’ll become bionic uberfootballers.

Some of BG’s list is possible, especially the bionic motor function angle or simply bypassing the basilar membrane and going straight to the auditory nerve (although how different it this from wearing mini headphones, really?.

Most of it, however, involves memory recognition on the part of the device: I think of a tree, the device recognises “tree”, and sends that I’m thinking of a tree. The fundamental brick wall of a problem this runs into is encryption. My memory and thoughts are effectively encrypted by my entire past history of sensory input, from childhood.

Imagine that we just the CPU of a silicon computer in an alien spaceship and switch it on. We can see all this activity in the chips and RAM, and we assume that it stores photos or sounds (or “averages” of many photos linked to sounds, like the “average” tree in my memory and the linked sound “t-r-e-e”), and that this activity is sorting and accessing them in some way, but we cannot actually tell what the computer is “thinking”. We would have had to be present when the tree images initially entered the digital camera lens and saw the memory configuration which those images caused. We weren’t, so that information is as inaccessible to us as the messages from the Enigma machine before it was broken using known German message inputs.

So yes, I’d love some bionic implants, please. But telepathy? What the heck are you thinking?! :slight_smile:

Several potential routes around that one.

  1. There could be a sort of “analog to digital” conversion whereby the brain wave activity in one mind is captured as analog data, encoded and transmitted digitally, and then rebroadcast in the “telepaths” mind.

  2. Unless you subscribe to “ghost in the machine” theory, thought processes are the result of concrete state changes in the brain. The neural interface could encode those changes in the sender’s brain, send them to the receiver’s brain, where they’re reproduced, appearing to us to be “thoughts.” Just as the strings of numbers that are encoded in a jpeg image are sent to a computer monitor, where they alter color patterns on that monitor that we interpret as “Naughty Nuns in Reverse Osmosis Bondage.”

Prolly other possibilities. No one is saying this tech is available now, or that it must inevitably lead to the possibilties outlined … just that the potential is there.

I am a spiritual person and know the brain doesn’t produce consciousness, it is consciousness that controls the brain, yet I can understand how some interaction between brain and conputer could take place.

However, I will take a wait and see attitude. In my lifetime I have heard many, many claims by science that never happened. So don’t get too excited until you see it. I am still wondering if stem cells will amount to any real healing.

One more I should’ve included in the OP:

  1. New forms of torture, enabling the interrogators to inflict the perception of any kind of extreme pain on the subject without causing perceptible physical injury. E.g., the secret police could select an expendable subject, slowly torture him/her to death, record the experience, then play it back (over and over and over) for the benefit of other subjects who, for whatever reason, might have to be shown in public later with unmarked bodies. Or, why get so fancy? Just directly stimulate the brain’s pain-perception regions.

The things we’re discussing don’t require the existence of any “concsiousness” inherent in the electronic data stream – only that the effect be close enough to reproduce the subjective perception of consciousness. E.g., your thoughts and feelings during a given time period are recorded, and I can play them back and experience those moments exactly (or almost exactly) as if I were you. Doesn’t require any blurring of the boundaries, if such exist, between your mind/consciousness/soul, my m/c/s, and the machine’s mindless/soulless workings.

Of course, WRT to #10 – uploading a human personality into a computer – I guess your worldview implies that there still would be an essential difference between that copy and the original human being’s personality – even if I could communicate with both original person and the copy via a computer interface without being able to find any difference between them. (Standard Turing test.) In some sense, the copy would not be “conscious,” however closely it could mimic the behavior and thought of a conscious being.

As long as it was a simple brain connection I could agree it might happen. But since the personality (consciousness) lives separately from the brain no recording will ever be made of it. So there will be no copies of anyone’s personality. Give it a minute’s thought. If you could copy a person how much media would it take? Tons of media. And how long to play it back? A lifetime.

These are the sort of fantasies that give science a bad name.

Oh, yes, there are millions of people over thousands of years that have experienced themselves out of their bodies. There is research showing evidence, and much, much controlled scientific data showing evidence this is true.

Finally, if you haven’t experienced it don’t knock it, you don’t know what you are talking about.

Shows a big lack of imagination IMHO, IIRC there was a recent report on pet scans or CRT’s that showed that it is possible to find when someone is lying, future brain interfaces can make torture a part of the uncivilized past.

:dubious: And how do you know that? Either part of the statement?

And you actually think states (or power-wielding parties in general) will give up on torture just because it’s unnecessary? :stuck_out_tongue:

Hey lekatt, have you ever run a PET scan? Have you ever run an EEG? Have you ever done an in situ hybridization? Then don’t insult (or “knock” as the cool kids say) science by suggesting that the evidence for an out-of-body experience has any sort of supernatural origin.

I’m sure this journal article (abstract only, sorry, more information available on request) has been thrown at you before, but apparently I just love a good solid wall to beat my head against.

:dubious: “Haven’t experienced” what?

In response to the OP, I think the fact that we have both input devices (PET, fMRI, EEG, MEG) and output devices (drugs and electrodes) that can be applied to nervous tissue makes the transmission of a physical state from brain to brain at least theoretically possible. The temporal and spatial resolution of such an attempt may never be good enough, and two brains may always be sufficiently different so as to make the subjective experiences completely incongruous, but it’s an interesting thought experiment nonetheless.

I agree with those who say that Lind is perhaps a little overly excited about this development. I don’t think we need to fully understand consciousness to reap the benefits of a computer/neuron interface. I’m not up to date on consciousness research, but from reading secondary or tertiary sources, it seems that very little progress has been made.

Perhaps the best thing to do in the short term is build on the more mundane applications we have already developed.

:confused: There’s such a thing?

Sure. People try. Francis Crick, the dude who co-discovered DNA’s double helix structure, spent the end of his life working on it. Here’s a little review article of his I dug up. I believe Koch (the co-author) has continued the research and feels that the key to the whole thing is unravelling visual consciousness.

I don’t know how much headway can be made through traditional neurological techniques. I’m particularly interested in IBM’s “Blue Brain” project. They hope to construct a computer simulation of the human brain. Turing, eat your heart out.

But the “brainwave activity” is not the memories themselves: that’s like saying that we could communicate files between computers by transmitting the sound of the cooling fan. The difference in the brain activity when I think of a tree to when I think of, say, Chippendale furniture, is not detectable in any systematic way, let alone decryptable as “thinking about a tree”.

By my username you will guess I do indeed dismiss that ghost just as Ryle did, but “state changes in the brain” is itself a rather oversimplistic view of what “thought” is. Like I say, there are all kinds of changes in the brain which occur when we “think”, just as there are all kinds of changes in a computer when it computes. Given that there is no protocol whereby specific brain changes are linked to specific thoughts (unlike in a silicon computer, in which we know which things are irrelevant, like the fan sound), I don’t think we’ll ever be able to tell what someone else is thinking unless they tell us. If they did, I suppose some small headway might be made by “training” the device with known inputs so that it might recognise, say, “long thin object thoughts”, but I don’t reckon that it will ever distinguish, say, a tree from a pencil.

All your argument amounts to “we don’t have a way to solve these problems with present tech.” I agree with that. If you go on to say, “therefore we can never solve these problems” or “therefore it will be in the very distant future that we can even begin to solve these problems” I don’t agree. If you look at the difference between 1900 and 2000 in terms of technology, and consider that the rate of technological change is a lot faster now than it was 100 years ago, and also consider hat it’s going to get even faster over the next hundred years, there are damn few problems that don’t look solvable in the next century or so.