Monday, February 20, 2012

Tuning in on the Brain's 'Voice'

"Science decodes 'internal voices'
Jason Palmer, Science and technology reporter, BBC News (January 31, 2012)

"Researchers have demonstrated a striking method to reconstruct words, based on the brain waves of patients thinking of those words.

"The technique reported in PLoS Biology relies on gathering electrical signals directly from patients' brains.

"Based on signals from listening patients, a computer model was used to reconstruct the sounds of words that patients were thinking of.

"The method may in future help comatose and locked-in patients communicate...."

So far, this sounds great. The fascinations of 'pure science' aside, this research could help folks whose brains are in good working order - but who have problems with connections to their bodies.

'What Could Possibly Go Wrong?'

"...Several approaches have in recent years suggested that scientists are closing in on methods to tap into our very thoughts; the current study achieved its result by implanting electrodes directly into a part of participants' brains.

"In a 2011 study, participants with electrodes in direct brain contact were able to move a cursor on a screen by simply thinking of vowel sounds.

"A technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging to track blood flow in the brain has shown promise for identifying which words or ideas someone may be thinking about...."

Okay, so let's assume that someone works out a way for a machine to focus on someone's brain, and display what they're thinking: at least give a real-time list of words they're thinking. What could possibly go wrong?

How about Big Brother using a supercomputer to keep track of citizens' thoughts, except the supercomputer develops a mind of its own and takes over the world? Think "1984" meets "The Terminator" on its way to "The Matrix."

It's 'good enough for a movie.' Quite a few, actually.In the Lemming's opinion, someone's going to find a way to misuse this new technology. That's nothing new. Folks have misused technologies from fire to fax machines. Technology's not the problem: it's the people using it, and that's almost another topic.

It's the Lemming's opinion that if this 'brain reading' technology becomes practical: the benefits will outweigh the problems. Also, that someone will be convinced that this newfangled gadget means the end of civilization as we know it.

That cantankerous Luddite will probably be right: and the Lemming thinks we'll all benefit by the change.

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Brigid said...

Missing a possessive: "help folks who brains are in good working order"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

P.S. Would it display all the words someone thinks in the order they're thought? Because I can almost guarantee that my brain would be putting out a near constant stream of weird, half-formed sentences and repeated phrases with little to no obvious connection to each other.

Not to mention broadcasting my username and password every time I log into a website.

Brian Gill said...


Right now, I think it's anyone's guess about exactly how these gizmos would work. You're probably not the only one whose internal processes aren't strictly linear - and the business about username and password is something that'll keep security and privacy folks busy. My opinion.

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