Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

'Mind over matter' no longer science fiction

By Aussiegirl

Nothing is said in this article, which rightly speaks about the marvelous gift such a "mind reader" can be to disabled people, about the possibility that some day this technology could advance to the stage where a machine could be developed that could read the minds of all it came in contact with -- with all the malevolent uses that such a machine could be put to.

'Mind over matter' no longer science fiction

Sitting stone still under a skull cap fitted with a couple dozen electrodes, American scientist Peter Brunner stares at a laptop computer. Without so much as moving a nostril hair, he suddenly begins to compose a message -- letter by letter -- on a giant screen overhead.

"B-O-N-J-O-U-R" he writes with the power of his mind, much to the amazement of the largely French audience of scientists and curious onlookers gathered at the four-day European Research and Innovation Exhibition in Paris, which opened Thursday.

Brunner and two colleagues from the state-financed Wadsworth Center in Albany, New York were demonstrating a "brain computer interface (BCI)," an astounding technology which digitalizes brain signals emitted as electrical impulses -- picked up by the electrodes -- to convey intent.

While no spoons were bent, this was definitely mind over matter.

Without recourse to nerves or muscles, BCI "can provide communication and control to people who are totally paralyzed" and unable to unable to speak or move, explains researcher Theresa Sellers, also from Wadsworth. [....]

Scientists have been experimenting with ways to translate thought directly into action for nearly two decades, but BCI has only recently begun to move out of the laboratory and into the daily lives of those trapped inside bodies that no longer respond to their will.

Possible applications extend beyond the written word into physical movement -- it is only a matter of time, Sellers says, before the same technology is used to operate motorized wheel chairs. "We can do already. But it is a complex problem, and for now it would be unsafe," she says. [....]

The Wadsworth system, one of several that detects electroencephalographic (EEG) activity, is based on an algorithm that analyzes the brain waves and identifies peaks in activity that correspond to particular mental efforts.

As Dr. Brunner concentrates on the "B" of "bonjour" in a keyboard-like grid of letters and symbols taking up half the screen, a computer randomly highlights lines of characters in rapid succession.

Each time the row -- vertical or horizontal -- containing the letter "B" is illuminated, Brunner's brain emits a slightly stronger signal. It takes the computer about 15 seconds to figure out what letter he is looking at. The system is doubly adaptive, with both the software and the person using it becoming more efficient over time.

"It may not sound very practical, but for someone who is paralyzed it can make all the difference in the world," says Sellers. [....]


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