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Biotech Science

Brain Controlled Computing a Reality 299

pchernyakov writes "Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems told attendees at the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation annual conference that a 25-year-old quadriplegic with wires run from 100 tiny sensors implanted in his brain and out to a computer can use his thoughts to control a computer well enough to operate a TV, open e-mail and play Pong with 70% accuracy."
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Brain Controlled Computing a Reality

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  • by DeezyChee ( 587489 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:36PM (#10517800) Homepage Journal
    *blink* *blink*
    • by networkBoy ( 774728 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:47PM (#10517938) Journal
      Do I have to be disabled to get this?

      I've long held that if someone were to come to me with the offer to wire up a fibre interface to my brain I would be one of the first in line to get wetware / hybrid / augmented computing / whatever installed in my head.

      • by Mysticalfruit ( 533341 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:55PM (#10518019) Homepage Journal
        I think I'd be a late adopter after all the kinks have been worked out of the wetware/software interface. You know, the terrible seizures, adware/spyware being uploaded into your ceriberal cortex so your driving along and suddenly you get a big popup right in your field of vision and you crash your car, etc.
        • Well, one of the largest problems is the granularity of the sensors. It only has a 70% effectiveness because the sensors are too big to read all the neural activity. So we need smaller sensors.
        • I think you'll agree that this [] is a less invasive and probably cheaper computer/brain interface. Oh yeah, for you Mac trivia junkies, IBVA's gear started Mac only =) They've branched out over the years though.
        • simply don't allow any interfacing that could upload information to your brain. keep the signals going in one direction while allowing a "buffer check" to keep information from overflowing i.e. Your arm can only exert so much pressure as defined by the "control chip" so it doesn't ruin itself. This could be applied to the brain sending info to the computer, just design the software so it reads what's going on, and by the next signal sent, it can determine that any previous signal was actually interpreted by
        • by figurewmeat ( 800120 ) on Thursday October 14, 2004 @12:47AM (#10520876)
          Working out the kinks is a critical step indeed. I interned at a bioengineering lab this summer, and a huge problem was just keeping channels active. The brain sloshes around inside the skull quite a bit, and to have a stiff electrode intrude on this can be problematic to say the least (if a jet pilot with an implant were to pull a few Gs I imagine some sort of self lobotomy).

          Next are immune reactions to foreign objects in the body. Coatings over the electrodes can help, but are not a guarantee.

          Finally, these electrode arrays are pretty large. Technology can improve this, but imagine invasive brain surgery every time you need to upgrade, or being stuck with the 1st generation mind-link ipod for life.

          I'm waiting for nanomachines to solve many of these problems. When (and if) I make it to grad school perhaps they'll have it set for me... or maybe I'll volunteer as I'm never going to fly a jet.
      • by sam_handelman ( 519767 ) <skh2003@columbia. e d u> on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:58PM (#10518064) Homepage Journal
        The joke is in reference to the expanded pilot episode of the original Star Trek. Turn in your membership card, former nerd #774728.

        There are always some wrinkles to be worked out of the first generation of any new technology.

        Getting the latest generation of graphics card and finding that it somehow interferes with playback of my old .viv movies is a nuisance.

        Getting the latest generation of cyberware and finding that it causes epileptic seizures in combination with the interference with my cordless phone? Rather more than a nuisance.

        All things considered, I'll let the parapelegics handle the alpha testing for all this stuff, thank you very much.
    • *blink* *blink*

      Like this! []
    • ...that a 25-year-old quadriplegic...

      My first thought... "so that's how you spell 'quadriplegic'."

      Quite scary that I am learning to spell on Slashdot! (it IS spelled right!)

      Now, according to today's news [], there won't be any quadriplegics, if we put the Johns in the oval office.

  • Hmm... (Score:4, Funny)

    by ZeroPost ( 792045 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:36PM (#10517808) Homepage
    Sounds like it's time to break out the tinfoil hat...
    • Re:Hmm... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Nos. ( 179609 )
      See I'm thinking, once we can get to the point where you can output text, I want to hook this up to some weird people while they're sleeping and leave a text editor open. We'll start the next -
    • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Funny)

      by KitFox ( 712780 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @06:11PM (#10518178)
      Dear ZeroPost,

      While we appreciate your interest in tinfoil hats to combat our new technology, we advise you not to try it. As indicated, this is hard-wired directly into your brain. Tinfoil hats have proven to be a problem for our mind control rays, since they are wireless, however the tinfoil has proven to be no match for a Makita to the frontal lobe.

      In closing, we recommend that you drop these silly ideas that tin or even aluminum foil will be any match for our hard-wired technology. Thank you.

      Your Future Thought Control Overlords

  • I, for one (Score:3, Funny)

    by unassimilatible ( 225662 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:37PM (#10517820) Journal
    welcome our new wired quadriplegic overlords.

  • Porn (Score:5, Funny)

    by athakur999 ( 44340 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:37PM (#10517825) Journal
    So this means I can surf with NO hands on the keyboard? Think of the possibilities.

    • Re:Porn (Score:5, Funny)

      by retro128 ( 318602 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:50PM (#10517969)
      That's the whole problem isn't it? Now I don't know if all the porn popups I'm getting are being caused by my new neural interface or spyware.
    • You jest, but I think this will be what brings this kind of mainstream. I mean, lets say the neural interface is well designed and functional enough that you just slip a little cap on and it can read your commands.

      Some of the easiest commands to implement will be to scroll a webpage, move the cursor, click the link, and then possibly implement some basic browser functions such as opening a new tab, going forward, or going backwards.

      The INSTANT they make a plugin that can do this, I guarantee everybody with

    • Yes, think of the possibilities for pranks :-p

      Wire it up to a dog or something, and I'm sure you'd not exactly like what you'd be seeing ;-)

      On the other hand, if you do... I pity the people you live with.
    • yeah (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anubis350 ( 772791 )
      now I can drink coffee, get my work done, and masturbate while browsing for porn

      ahhhhh, watching the karma burn
    • Think of the possibilities

      I'd much rather NOT think of a Slashdotter doing that. But I understand some people are into that sort of thing...

    • Re:Porn (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Ann O'Nymous-Coward ( 460094 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @06:57PM (#10518609)
      You can do that now, you know.

      Yes, you can.

      It's called sex.

      Put the keyboard and mouse down, back away from the computer...
    • So this means I can surf with NO hands on the keyboard? Think of the possibilities.

      Yeah! ...

      No, can't think of any...
  • Great! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by freeze128 ( 544774 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:38PM (#10517829)
    Now connect it to a robot, and have a virtual human.
  • Really? (Score:4, Funny)

    by SansTinfoilHat ( 759207 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:38PM (#10517835)
    and play Pong with 70% accuracy

    Damn, I can't even play Pong with 70% accuracy.
  • by retro128 ( 318602 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:38PM (#10517844)
    Can this [] be much farther behind?
    • by koa ( 95614 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:50PM (#10517971)
      It is interesting, however because even though your reference was most likely meant to be humerous. I would submit that something like this would be somewhat akin to the birth of flight or even similar in many ways to SpaceShipOne in the pioneering first steps toward commercial spaceflight.

      Quite possibly even an eventual route to the elusive "fountain of youth" once machines can be manufactured to mimic human bodies. Because if you think of it- a human body is nothing more than a fantasticaly complex machine.

      • Wonder why evil geniuses in many SF books have a setup similar to what you just described? Is it some primal fear of man/machine combo being exploited?
      • Because if you think of it- a human body is nothing more than a fantasticaly complex machine.

        In fact, if you really think about it, the most important problem associated with aging is not the loss of physical faculties. I'd say we've got most of the physical [as opposed to mental] diseases more or less beat, if you project from life expectancy and health data, within the next few decades, humans [at least in the developed world] will routinely cross 100-120 yrs in a physically fit state.

        Neural degene
        • [...] and more significantly, neurons have a steady rate of death, and zero regeneration.

          That's not strictly speaking true - while it was long held that the neurons you have at twenty are all you are going to get, it's been discovered that we do in fact continue to grow more neurons over time. At least, in some parts of the brain. Whether or not neurogenesis occurs in the neocortex of adult primate brains is still a matter of dispute.

          Still in the end, it appears to be a losing battle.

          In the meantime, if y

      • Quite possibly even an eventual route to the elusive "fountain of youth" once machines can be manufactured to mimic human bodies. Because if you think of it- a human body is nothing more than a fantasticaly complex machine.

        Actualy, I believe the "Cyberpunk" genre had it right, no matter how cliché and despised the term "cyberpunk" may be. One day, we'll voluntarily swap human parts for bio-mechanical ones. We'll crave these higher quality eyes, the stronger arms, the faster legs and the more reliabl
    • Screw that. I'm waiting for Richard Nixon's head in a jar to be given a 50-foot-tall robotic body. That would, if nothing else make politics interesting.
  • The Headaches (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tholomyes ( 610627 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:42PM (#10517873) Homepage
    Will this make the headaches better or worse?
  • How about.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HBI ( 604924 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:43PM (#10517890) Journal
    wiring it up to an electric wheelchair?

    Wireless, perhaps?

    Robotic arm on said wheelchair?

    Seems they aren't plumbing the feasible current possibilities yet, and i'm not even talking about artificial legs and arms. Yet.
    • I figure it would be best to test out the interactions in the relatively controlled environment of a computer, rather than sending the subject out in an electric wheelchair with a robotic arm and uncertainty of performance levels.
      • True, but I think we've already seen the possibilities of artificial eyes run by electrodes directly implanted into the brain, for instance, and that a couple years ago. Seems like practical application of this technology is going to be another 10 years away by the speed of things, and it's sad because if it works now, it could benefit
        • As you note, the progress does seem pretty slow. I have to wonder if all of these researchers are recreating the wheel with these projects. Maybe there are obvious drawbacks to each of the methods used so far and the researchers are looking for more efficient or effective or safer methods.
          • Re:How about.... (Score:4, Informative)

            by HBI ( 604924 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @06:03PM (#10518109) Journal
            I keep thinking that a 'human bus connector' would be a good idea, once you've identified the areas of the brain most conducive to electrode implantation for control purposes, you create a standard connector and tolerances for the controls. Identify motion axes that can be trained. Create a computer that hooks into the bus connector (mounted in the most logical place, perhaps behind the neck?) and allows the user to train using the motion axes in a therapy environment, then move them up to the vehicle that can provide mobility, a grasping hand and communications.

            The advantages of this would be that as new hardware is invented, the brain electrodes wouldn't need to be re-implanted and the new hardware could simply take advantage of the existing control interface.

            It's been a dream to regrow spinal cords. This provides a technological end run that while not 100% desirable, gives them a far more mobile and productive existence than would otherwise be possible.
      • by shaka999 ( 335100 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @06:33PM (#10518383)
        I think we all know the dangers of hooking up robotic octopus arms without proper failsafes in place.
    • If it's 70 percent accurate in playing pong (70% for just up and down) I would not put in too strong a robot arm, and make pretty sure that the wheelchair cannot run into a lake or something.

      These people have enough on their mind without their wheelchair going berserk. And I would put at least 256 bit WEB encryption on the wireless connection as well, otherwise it may become a rogue access point (har har.)
  • Michael Crichton's "The Terminal Man"

    Eventually this guy will go nuts and start commanding things to kill people :P
  • Back in '98 I remember reading an article about one of the guys working on these research teams and made a headband that enabled him to type ~30 words/min. What happened to that device?
  • Now all they need to do is figure out how to keep the brain alive after the body is ready to die and we can be essentially immortal! It's got to be way easier to extend the life span of just one organ when you don't have to worry about keeping the rest of your body alive, right?

    I hope that isn't the "slippery slope" they're talking about not going down.
    • Go watch Ghost in the Shell :)
    • Re:Sweet! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by pla ( 258480 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @06:17PM (#10518228) Journal
      It's got to be way easier to extend the life span of just one organ when you don't have to worry about keeping the rest of your body alive, right?

      Well, for any other organ, yes.

      For the brain?

      Sadly, although humans usually die of some other critical organ (ie, heart) failing, our brains still steadily deteriorate as we age.

      By about age 150, we'd all have the mental capacity of broccoli. Now, you might think, "sure, 150 beats beats 80", but consider the bigger problem - Immortal 150+ year old broccoli-controlled mech suits running around your local farmers' market. Do we really want that, for a gain of a few extra years?

      I think not.
  • yikes! (Score:5, Funny)

    by mrpuffypants ( 444598 ) * <`mrpuffypants' `at' `'> on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:47PM (#10517928)
    open e-mail


    sigh. kinda makes you wish that email had never even come around...

    (Jordan, if you see this...GET BACK TO WORK! =]
    • Re:yikes! (Score:3, Funny)

      by josh3736 ( 745265 )
      (Jordan, if you see this...GET BACK TO WORK! =]

      Actually, I just installed BO2K on your machine.

      Please stop wasting company time on Solitaire and Slashdot, then I'll get back to work.


    • Re:yikes! (Score:2, Informative)

      But on the other side...some quadruplegic men are able pleasure women. It requires a number of intact nerve strings and the hormones do the rest. Howewer, they are not able to "feel" the act. And the woman has to do all the "work".
  • by Andorion ( 526481 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:47PM (#10517932)
    I'm more interested in using brain-implanted computers to shift the communication paradigm - imagine being able to instantly and wirelessly communicate with anyone, the increased bandwidth and throughput from regular spoken or written word would be phenomenal.
    • the increased bandwidth and throughput from regular spoken or written word would be phenomenal.

      The difficulty in keeping secrets or private thoughts would also be phenomenal. Imagine you're neuro-chatting with your girlfriend, and she asks "Does my new skirt make my ass look fat?" Immediately your brain thinks "Why, yes" and this is transmitted to your girlfriend before you can self-censor your thoughts.

      I would never "plug in" to such a device because I don't have the mental control to avoid thinking a

    • With my luck Emacs keystrokes will be so embedded in my psyche that by the time they do get something like this my thought patterns will look something like this:

      M-x gnus m C-n What's up?

      On the plus side, Emacs makes a pretty good front end for all of my digital communicatons right now.

  • by syrinje ( 781614 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:48PM (#10517946)
    This combination of medical science and computer technology is long overdue in its use in improving the quality of life of people afflicted with different kinds of motor function degradation.

    One possible reason why such advances seem to take longer than for the pacific tectonic plate to move a mile is the hemlock cup with its swill of politics, corporate greed, litigation and religion. Between them, they throw up enough obstacles in the path of medical advancement - sometimes justifiable on ethical grounds - but mostly to advance to their own selfish power plays.

    Makes one wonder though what the side-effects would be though - would the procedure be safe for someone like Stephen Hawkins? Would the hundreds of electrodes somehow kill something off making time travel impossible? (oh! wait - he already reneged on that ....). But seriously, some study into the invasiveness quotient of this would surely be welcome.

    As a parting thought - is any one else surprised that Pong made it to the top 3 list of things to do?! whatever happened to pr0n!?

    Obligatory sign-off - its futile - you will be assimilated.

  • Just let me know when they can do this without cracking my head open.
  • by StateOfTheUnion ( 762194 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:56PM (#10518035) Homepage
    can use his thoughts to control a computer well enough to operate a TV, open e-mail and play Pong with 70% accuracy

    The quote really sounds impressive the way they wrote it, but it seems like the patient is using only three degrees of freedom in their control.

    Use the mind to make the paddle go up . . . use the mind to make the paddle go down . . .

    Use the mind to make the channel go up . . . Use the mind to make the channel go down. Use the mind to switch to volume and repeat . . .

    Use the mind to select next email . . . Use the mind to open the email . . . Use the mind to close the email.

    I count three degrees of freedom . . . This is no different than the guy that was wired up to use his mind to scroll through and select letters to write emails. It sounds good when one says he can play pong, check email and and control a TV, but the truth is that I think that using the mind to control with three degrees of freedom has been done before. This just sounds better because they framed the control in terms of some common tasks.

    • by sploo22 ( 748838 ) <> on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @06:23PM (#10518289)
      Do we need any more than 3 degrees of freedom? How about mouse X, mouse Y, and clicking? It works fine for Mac users.
    • First of all, he could have achieved all of those with only 1-degree of freedom (plus time). Pong is one degree, obviously. Channel up and down is one, then holding up or holding down could be volume, etc etc.... Anyway, "degrees of freedom" is not a measure of the power of the interface with the brain. There are many more parameters. For example, take a single degree of freedom. There is resolution on this degree of freedom (if its speed, how many different speeds can he control). There is the respo
  • so I can play pong against him online?
  • What the fuck have I been using to accomplish tapping on these damn keys?

  • by Brigadier ( 12956 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:58PM (#10518066)

    this is what makes the brain so powerful. it builds itself as needs be. The neurons that form pathways to move yrou hands, can just as easily learn to manage other body parts. I remember my sister who is a research scientist showing pictures of nuerons before and after trials. where they would paralyze a rat in a certain area then the rat woudl learn to walk with it's limited capacity. then looking on the nueeron pathways that formed in responce to learning the new task was incredible.
  • by aardwolf64 ( 160070 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @05:59PM (#10518073) Homepage
    can use his thoughts to control a computer well enough to operate a TV, open e-mail and play Pong with 70% accuracy

    I can do the first two easily enough, but he's got me beat on the 70% Pong rate...
  • And I thought it was only a movie. This is too scary to be true.

    I can't even image what kind of "thoughts" you'd have to think to get a mouse pointer to move. How do you learn to send the right signals?

  • I'm actually using this system right now to type this comment. It works really wellOH MY GOD LOOK AT THE HOOTERS ON THAT NEW SECRETARY OH OH DONT SUBMIT
  • I've told her on numerous occasions.. "look, I don't care if I end up as just a brain in a jar with thousands of wires coming out of it, I WANT TO LIVE FOREVER!" Besides, with the CCD retinas out now that inject data directly into the optic nerve, it'll be just a matter of time before vision can be completely maintained for the sighted. We could end up in labs, just rows and rows of brains in jars, all wired up and experiencing artificial vision and life experiences presented by some massive computer system
  • I'll bring the pitchforks if someone else can commit to the torches.
  • by KitFox ( 712780 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @06:19PM (#10518247)
    If you consider that effectively all human input into a computer is brain-controlled. It's just a matter of what transmission method is being used. In normal cases, such as most of us here, the transmission medium is (simplified): Brain to fingers to keyboard to computer.

    The big thing about this is that now they are working to take out the fingers and keyboard part, and make it "Brain to Computer."

    Honestly, I see a few frightening issues, though. For example, I can walk up to my computer on a dry day, sit down, grab the mouse, and send a static shock through the USB port, effectively freezing the USB capability. Now, what happens if somebody is using this wonderful new technology, and gets a static shock straight to the brain? Or, for even more fun, if there is no isolation circuit in the input system, what happens if the power supply to the computer blows and applies a comfortable DC voltage directly to your brain?

    The entire "In" part is what bugs me. "In his skull", "In his brain"... It makes it seem more exciting, but honestly, IMHO it opens up so many more possible problems. Just the fact that you need to get brain surgery to just START to use this thing is enough as it is. If it were non-invasive, I'd be a lot more impressed.

  • Computer Potatoes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by metalligoth ( 672285 ) <> on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @06:20PM (#10518261)

    I worry about the opposite of this situation... People wired to control their computers that cease to use their muscles for anything else. You think couch potatoes are bad? Just imagine someone hard wired to the Net 24/7.

    We already are at the point where we can give the blind 25 pixel vision. directly through the brain. Just wait until that increases to 1024 x 768, and you can bring in other, erm, sensations as well. Welcome to the new couch potato. They won't go anywhere!

  • seriously, rather sad irony that a breakthrough like that comes to our attention two days after Christopher Reeves passed away.
  • Using a slightly-modified version of Dasher [], the patient would almost be able to use every function of a computer. The article states he can play pong fairly well, so it should not be a big leap to be able to use Dasher for text input. It's great to see this technology advancing this far so fast; just imagine 10 or 20 years in the future utilizing thousands of sensors and vastly more powerful computers.
  • Pong! (Score:4, Funny)

    by MavEtJu ( 241979 ) <slashdot.mavetju@org> on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @06:48PM (#10518547) Homepage
    play Pong with 70% accuracy.

    Call me when he can play Doom with 99% accuracy and I will volunteer!
  • Ethics Question (Score:2, Interesting)

    by joNDoty ( 774185 )
    The article briefly touches on morality as a possible deterrent for this technology. Does anyone here have a problem with the ethics of interfacing directly with a human brain?
    Personally, I don't see the ethical dilemma. Even if things progressed to the point of "improving" on the human body, does anyone see this as an ethical no-no? I'd like to hear your reasons.
  • by Kakurenbo Shogun ( 64436 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @07:05PM (#10518676) Homepage
    He was typing along happy as a clam, with 100% accuracy for 21 characters, and then the 30% error rate popped up and out came "rm -Rf /". Oh well, no more pong.
  • In 1983 all you needed to do is slap down $100 and buy a MindLink from Atari and start playing Pong! []

    Look ma, no hands! With Atari's new Mindlink controller, your hands are free to eat, knit, file your nails or whatever, while you play computer games. The infrared sensors wrap around your forehead with Velcro straps and plug into the MindLink transmitter, which plugs into the Atari Computer, VCS or 7800 game system. It doesn't really read your mind, but it

  • by theolein ( 316044 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2004 @07:13PM (#10518743) Journal
    When can the rest of us adjust the trodes and jack in?
  • Steven Hawkins (Score:2, Interesting)

    by OneArmedMan ( 606657 )
    I know its not going to happen any time soon, but would something like this be, useful in helping people with the same physical problems as Steven Hawking, as well ??

    Would be good to see the Mighty MC Hawking busting some moves from a Robotic Exo-Skeleton =)
  • I think I'll use my first cybermodules to upgrade PSI and PSI pull...

    *remote System Shock 2 reference fo rthose unsure*
  • This is nothing really new. Dr. Phil Kennedy was the first to successfully implant a person at Emory University in 1999. He has done five more implants and two lasted over two years. Go here for more details [] His company is working on the third generation version. Neural Signals []
  • According to some basic probability, his games should last 1/.3 or 3.3333 hits on average. I don't see this guy topping any scoreboards...
  • So maybe this, a HUD, and Croquet [] OS would provide a quadriplegic a very tangible sense of freedom from his/her physical constraints.

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.