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Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Brain gadgets

In today's edition:

  1. The Mind-Controlled Cell Phone
  2. Brain Implants for the World's First Cyborg
  3. Army developing ‘synthetic telepathy’
Amazing new technologies. Just check what people are doing. For those of you that are scared of things reading your mind-don't. It won't happen at once and it will be as realistic as you want it. Just like internet-you can have dial-up, ADSL or LAN. Whatever suit your needs. So, don't worry. It's going to be all ok. And Big Brother is always watching anyway. Check the situation in UK. Then at least we should get the fun.

The Mind-Controlled Cell Phone

By Hiroki Yomogida / Source: Nikkei Business

NeuroSky Inc, a venture company based in San Jose, Calif, prototyped a system that reads brain waves with a sensor and uses them for mobile phone applications.

The company exhibited the system at CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment 2008, an exhibition running from Sept 10 to 12, 2008, in San Francisco, Calif. The headset-shaped system consists of a sensor to read brain waves, digital signal processing part and so forth. The sensor contacts with a point on user's forehead.

By reading brain waves such as a and ß waves, the system can roughly measure the degrees of brain's relaxation and concentration, NeuroSky said. The data of brain waves can be displayed on the screen of a mobile phone by using a visualizer or can be used to control the movement of a video game character.

The strength of NeuroSky lies in its sensor technologies for measuring brain waves and software algorithms that deduce the psychological states of users from the data collected. The company developed the new sensor technologies for commercial use based on those for medical use.

The digital signal processing part that measures brain waves is currently composed mainly of discrete parts. But, the company plans to integrate them into a chip (IC) in the near future, it said.

At the exhibition site, NeuroSky demonstrated its headset to operate a mobile phone. The company exhibited the same type of headset in the past. But, this time, it actually operated the headset for the first time. The headset was connected to Nokia Corp's handset via Bluetooth, and the data of the changes in user's brain waves was wirelessly transmitted.

The demonstrated applications include:

  • (1) an application to show the degree of brain's relaxation on the screen of a mobile phone by using a visualizer
  • (2) an application to show the degree of brain's tension in chronological order after a user solves about 10 arithmetical problems (addition, multiplication, etc) shown on the screen of a mobile phone
  • (3) a game application to move a video game character to an intended place as quickly as possible on the screen of a mobile phone. The more the degree of brain's concentration, the more quickly the character moves.

As for (1), when a user calms his or her mind on purpose, the curving lines drawn by the visualizer change to various colors. With regard to (2), if an appropriate application is developed, it will be possible to realize a brain training game in which the challenge level changes in real time in accordance with the degree of brain's tension. source

My comment:That's awesome. Application is the first step to creation. Or something like this. Imagine the usefulness of such device if it's combined with programs like i-doser that take you to different brain states. You can see on the screen whether you got where you wanted to go.

Brain Implants for the World's First Cyborg

By Pratima Harigunani / Source:

World's first ever Cyborg, Professor Kevin Warwick, Department of Cybernetics, University of Reading, is just six to eight years away from another implant, this time a brain implant.

This experiment would be in the area of bi-directional communication. Currently the investigation process is on for brain-computer links, in particular an implant into the brain, which acts bi-directionally.

As Warwick tells, "This probably will mean retraining neurons within the brain to alter their basic functioning. The main reason here would be for bi-directional communication. Clearly this is different to space projects. I believe it is far more important as it really changes what it means to be human."

In the year 1998, Professor Kevin Warwick and his team at the department of Cybernetics, University of Reading had underwent an operation to surgically implant a silicon chip transponder in his forearm that allowed a computer to monitor him as he moved through halls and offices of the Department of Cybernetics using a unique identifying signal emitted by the implanted chip and also allowed him to operate doors, lights, heaters and other computers without lifting a finger.

The second phase of the experiment Project Cyborg 2.0 got underway in March 2002 with an aim of studying how a new implant could send signals back and forth between Warwick's nervous system and a computer.

His team is presently busy with the rat brain project, a biological robot controlled by a blob of rat brain created by the scientists. The project is at an interesting turn as it moves on to study memories vis-à-vis brain.

"We are now about to investigate how memories manifest themselves in the brain – hopefully this will give us some leverage in dealing with Alzheimer's disease," shares Warwick.

The project entails a wheeled machine wirelessly linked to a bundle of neurons kept at body temperature in a sterile cabinet while signals from the "brain" allow the robot to steer left or right to avoid objects in its path.

Similar experiments about developing robots with living brains made from cultured cells are underway with other scientists across the world too like the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, US and the SymbioticA Fish And Chips project or the 'whiskered' rat robot project on touch technology by at multinational BIOTACT project, with research teams like Weizmann Institute of Science's Neurobiology Department.

Professor Kevin Warwick who pioneered the merging of biology and robotics by conducting the first "cyborg" experiments on him is upbeat about this one. "The rat brain project is presently extremely successful – we are able to grow a brain of 100,000 brain cells and we have it driving a robot around". source

My comment:Oh. Nice. It's so interesting I cannot say a word. I mean, the guys implanted himself with a chip! That's how progress happens. And the living brain for a robot is also nice, even if somewhat creepy.

Army developing ‘synthetic telepathy’

By Eric Bland
updated 10:52 a.m. ET Oct. 13, 2008

Vocal cords were overrated anyway. A new Army grant aims to create email or voice mail and send it by thought alone. No need to type an e-mail, dial a phone or even speak a word.

Known as synthetic telepathy, the technology is based on reading electrical activity in the brain using an electroencephalograph, or EEG. Similar technology is being marketed as a way to control video games by thought.

"I think that this will eventually become just another way of communicating," said Mike D'Zmura, from the University of California, Irvine and the lead scientist on the project.

The idea of communicating by thought alone is not a new one. In the 1960s, a researcher strapped an EEG to his head and, with some training, could stop and start his brain's alpha waves to compose Morse code messages.

The Army grant to researchers at University of California, Irvine, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Maryland has two objectives. The first is to compose a message using, as D'Zmura puts it, "that little voice in your head."

The second part is to send that message to a particular individual or object (like a radio), also just with the power of thought. Once the message reaches the recipient, it could be read as text or as a voice mail.

While the money may come from the Army and its first use could be for covert operations, D'Zmura thinks that thought-based communication will find more use in the civilian realm.

EEG-based gaming devices are large and fairly conspicuous, but D'Zmura thinks that eventually they could be incorporated into a baseball hat or a hood.

Another use for such a system is for patients with Lou Gehrig's disease, or ALS. As the disease progresses, patients have fully functional brains but slowly lose control over their muscles. Synthetic telepathy could be a way for these patients to communicate.

Commercial EEG headsets already exist that allow wearers to manipulate virtual objects by thought alone, noted Sajda, but thinking "move rock" is easier than, say, "Have everyone meet at Starbucks at 5:30."

One difficulty in composing specific messages is fundamental — EEGs are not very specific. They can only locate a signal to within about one to two centimeters. That's a large distance in the brain. In the brain's auditory cortex, for example, two centimeters is the difference between low notes and high notes, D'Zmura said.

Placing electrodes between the skull and the brain would offer more precise readings, but it is expensive and requires invasive surgery.

To work around this problem, the scientists need to gain a much better understanding of what words and phrases light up what brain sections. To create a detailed map of the brain scientists will also use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG).

Each technology has its own strengths and weaknesses. EEGs detect brain activity only on the outer bulges of the brain's folds. MEGs read brain activity on the inner folds but are too large to put on your head. FMRIs detect brain activity more accurately than either but are heavy and expensive.

Of all three technologies EEG is the one currently cheap enough, light enough and fast enough for a mass market device.

The map generated by all three technologies will help the computer guess which word of phrase a person means when a part of the brain is lights up on the EEG. The idea is similar to how dictation software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking uses context to help determine which word you said.

Mapping the brain's response to most of the English language is a large task, and D'Zmura says that it will be 15-20 years before thought-based communication is reality. Sajda, who is on sabbatical in Japan to research using EEGs to scan images rapidly, sounded skeptical but excited.

"There are technical hurdles that need to be ovecome first, but then again, 20 years ago people would have thought that the two of us talking to each other half a world away over Skype (and Internet-based phone service) was crazy," said Sajda.

To those who might be nervous about thought-based communication turning into a sci-fi comedy of errors, D'Zmura says not to worry. Mind-message composition would take specific conscious thoughts and training to develop them. The device would also have a on/off switch.

© 2008 Discovery Channel source
My comment:I think that's rather far in the future, at least in that direction they chose. For me the break-trough won't come from EEG but rather from a new type of device that boost the signal from the brain and a better mapping of the brain itself, probably. However, if the army fund it, then it's probably closer than we think.

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