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Controlling Computers With the Brain 253

Killam0n takes note of a story in CNN Money on progress in controlling computers via brainwaves. From an aspirin-sized implant a quadriplegic is now using to play computer games, the article extrapolates out to a near future in which we will all be wearing headband computers and IM'ing one another as if telepathically. "Two years ago, a quadriplegic man started playing video games using his brain as a controller. That may just sound like fun and games for the unfortunate, but really, it spells the beginning of a radical change in how we interact with computers — and business will never be the same. Someday, keyboards and computer mice will be remembered only as medieval-style torture devices for the wrists. All work — emails, spreadsheets, and Google searches — will be performed by mind control."
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Controlling Computers With the Brain

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  • by no_pets ( 881013 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @04:36PM (#19402811)
    Screw that! I'm not connecting my brain to the company network.
    • ...and for those who do, somebody better setup some clear definitions on where the corporate equipment ends and the privately owned "equipment" begins. Might bring new meaning to the phrase "the company owns my brain."

      Then again, we're just talking about controlling computers directly from the mind (i.e. no mechanical interfaces), not directly reading/writing information from the least not yet.

    • You need an agent. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by twitter ( 104583 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @04:52PM (#19403107) Homepage Journal

      Screw that! I'm not connecting my brain to the company network.

      Sooner or later, you won't have a choice. Things will have to be done and you won't be given another way to do it.

      What you will want then is a trusted agent between you and the network. If you did not worry about your computer being run by free software that you can trust, you should start now. Now more than ever, what's yours should stay yours.

      • Twitter, read "Reflections on Trusting Trust". Now. Free software doesn't provide full protection. Nothing does. In fact, we're all already brainwashed by humanity's very behavior. And we always have.
        • So What? (Score:3, Insightful)

          by twitter ( 104583 )

          Twitter, read "Reflections on Trusting Trust" [no link provided]. Now. Free software doesn't provide full protection.

          Thanks, I have read that [] before. So what? The point of free software is that you don't have to trust, you can see and verify for yourself. The learning compiler example is disturbing but not very. If you are really paranoid, you can start from scratch and toggle switches yourself. A less crazy method is to cross up distributions. Compile things from one distribution with another. Fi

          • by geekoid ( 135745 )
            Unless you write the compilers from scratch, and use it to compile itself, you can never fully trust the end result.

            • Unless you write the compilers from scratch, and use it to compile itself, you can never fully trust the end result.

              That's what I meant by "toggle switches" - litterally toggle machine code to make the compiler. It's a little over the top to think that the "cat" command could be compromised but there's only one way to be sure. Six decades later, you would have something that you and no one else can trust.

              I'll stick with GNU.

        • by dlthomas ( 762960 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @06:09PM (#19404187)
          Trusting trust, with respect to compilers, was solved a while ago. Provided you have the source for one compiler, compile it on two unrelated compilers. This gives you two binaries which are very probably bitwise different, but should be functionally identical if no one is doing anything fishy. Compile the original source with each of these. The same source through (functionally) the same compiler should produce bitwise identical results. This is easy to verify. If they are the same, then either *both* original compilers have been tampered with *in the same way*, or the result is a true compilation of the source. If that's not thorough enough for you, pick further unrelated compilers, and more of them. You can get the probability of tampering down vanishingly small. Note that it doesn't matter how old/obscure/slow/pessimizing the compilers in question are, as long as they correctly support the language.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FlyByPC ( 841016 )
      Meh. It depends on the interface. I'd use an EEG-style system, which noninvasively reads electrical impulses. I'll be damned if I'll let them implant anything, though. Even LASIK is still way too radical for me.

      As far as effectiveness -- and it replacing a keyboard and mouse? Talk to me about bandwidth. Can I fly a plane (Flight Sim) better with mind control? Well, maybe. Can I type up a report faster and with fewer errors than using my Model M []? Perhaps someday.

      I think the bottom line is that they are m
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cayenne8 ( 626475 )
        " I'll be damned if I'll let them implant anything, though. Even LASIK is still way too radical for me."

        Well, I'm hesitant to have LASIK, 'cause I notice that pretty much all the doctors performing the procedure are all wearing glasses.

        • by FlyByPC ( 841016 )

          Well, I'm hesitant to have LASIK, 'cause I notice that pretty much all the doctors performing the procedure are all wearing glasses.

          Maybe it's the story about the town with two barbers...

          You want to choose the barber with the bad haircut, since the other one cut his hair, right? Maybe the good LASIK doctors wear glasses.

          ...but I'm still sticking with glasses, thankyouverymuch.
    • Screw that! I'm not connecting my brain to the company network.

      Oh come on chummer! It ain't that bad unless you tamper with the company's Black ICE!
    • by cyberianpan ( 975767 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @05:24PM (#19403643)
      As is many people, especially those engaging on /. connect in a bit to much. Daily we've x personal emails, y phone conversations & z page impressions & these numbers are all getting higher. Our attention spans break down from 40 --> 30 --> ... 5 mins in such environments as is.

      Being persistently connected at a cognitive level might be dangerous -
      we will start processing informational subliminally if over-loaded & yes for example this could lead to brainwashing...

      certainly tiring ...

      it would force us to structure our days better & jack out entirely even during work just to escape the buzzing, but not all will- if we've information / net addicts with the crude i/o devices of today what will come in 20 years ?
  • Really? (Score:5, Funny)

    by east coast ( 590680 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @04:36PM (#19402817)
    Someday, keyboards and computer mice will be remembered only as medieval-style torture devices for the wrists. All work -- emails, spreadsheets, and Google searches -- will be performed by mind control.

    You lazy bastards.
    • All work -- emails, spreadsheets, and Google searches -- will be performed by mind control

      they're already performed by mind control... of your fingers!

      computer use is the fine art of taking data stored in a chemical analog format (your brain) transferring it to an electronic digital format (your computer) via a mechanical method (typing).

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Don't think of it as lazy. Think of it as freeing up a second hand to reach for the Kleenex.
  • by Half-pint HAL ( 718102 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @04:37PM (#19402831)
    Mind-controlled computers will last until all trained computer operators have been sacked for sending rude emails to the boss. Worst part? They won't even know they've done it.
    • by Radon360 ( 951529 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @04:51PM (#19403103)

      Great, so now we can look forward to people unwittingly sending flaming or sexually harrassing emails in their sleep and not know it until they get called on it the next day.

      What buzzword should develop for this phenomena?



      • If we can determine what people are thinking, we can certainly determine whether they're in a fully conscious state while they're doing it. With proper precautions, I don't think that's an issue.
        • "If we can determine what people are thinking..."

          What a scary ass concept THAT is!!

          At the very least...I've heard it put forth, that if women could REALLY know what men were thinking....they'd be running screaming for the hills.

          • by geekoid ( 135745 )
            "I think most women would say "Why didn't you tell me you wanted that?"

            I have an acquaintance who works with couples breaking up. Very often the man will have hooked up with a different women to do something kinky, and their soon to be ex-wife says "Why didn't you ask me to do that with you?"

            That lesson changes my bedroom life forever.
            • Maybe, on the other hand, she's saying that AFTER she becomes aware that the consequence of not doing that was his infidelity. Would she have agreed to it if she'd been ask before knowing the inevitable result? The problem with trying to take lessons from what couples say as they break up is that both parties are trying to justify (even if only to themselves) why the other party is the unreasonable one and the cause of the breakup.
        • by PhxBlue ( 562201 )

          If I wanted people to determine what I'm thinking in the first place, I'd fscking say it.

      • by SeaFox ( 739806 )
        Hence, a need for a new invention...

        The tinfoil nightcap!
      • TCMP []. Once again, reality imitates xkcd.
  • by smithbp ( 1002301 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @04:42PM (#19402907)
    This article is date July 24, 2006...I might be wrong, but this would make it a bit outdated and probably not worthy of being on the frontpage of /.
  • by steveo777 ( 183629 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @04:42PM (#19402911) Homepage Journal
    This is where we get into big trouble. At one point or another, everyone wants a phone that can listen in to the other line a few seconds after the call is ended. Just to hear what the jack ass on the other line really thinks. With thoughts 'controlling' your keyboards these kinds of things will happen. With this kind of stuff around, we'll be accidentally IMing the wrong thought at the wrong time to the wrong person.

    The next step will be mind-controlled Gundam-style robots for everyone. What's this world coming to?!

    • i believe most of these mind-controlled-computer devices kind of work the way you move parts of your body, not the way you think. so you feel like you're moving your arm, but the nerves are connected to a computer.

      to accidentally IM someone would be like accidentally punching them. it happens, but i wouldnt lose sleep over it.
    • With thoughts 'controlling' your keyboards these kinds of things will happen

      Ya, just like sometimes my thoughts controlling my foot make me kick my mom in the face. The article mentions he was able to hold a conversation with the researchers while still controlling the device, which makes me think it doesn't require full concentration. It seems less like reading your mind and more like your mind telling it what to do; as in, you can still think random things, none of which will matter, until you go throug

    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @05:41PM (#19403881) Journal
      lapsus exist in the real world, you have to control your mind for these not to happen. I think the same is really easy to do once you can have a feedback to know what exactly is "heard". Right now it seems frightening because you don't know how it works, but once you have tried it and created a communication model in your brain, I think you will be fully able to retain "thought-saying" "jackass" while still thinking it
    • If done properly, I assume it would be like talking. If you can keep your mouth shut and not say the wrong thing at the wrong time, it should be possible to have similar control over a brain-IM interface.
  • by chatgris ( 735079 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @04:42PM (#19402923) Homepage
    Until we find out what kind of torture this imparts on the BRAIN.

    Personally, I'd take the risks from straining my wrists due to mechanical motion over implanting a chip (along with unknown stressors) in my brain any day. If I'm going to potentionally cause harm to one part of my body, it'll be my wrists over my brain.

    I'm not a luddite, really! But my brain is just too vital to me to start tossing implants into it.
    • Yeah, but you have the use of your wrists you insensitive clod. :p
      If I were quad or even paraplegic, I'd personally be willing to risk a couple of short circuits in the grey matter if it meant an enhanced quality of life.
    • It is going to suck pretty bad anyway. I can type without thinking about individual letters.... I doubt these interfaces will 'see' words, and thinking about each letter will be a slow process.
    • Apparently at some early stage of development brain cells haven't totally differentiated themselves to specific tasks and seem to be developing around their environment. If we implanted even a binary switch at that stage the brain could learn to manipulate and interpret it. The hard part isn't the brain, it's communicating with the brain.

      From a couple earlier articles I read the ways they are doing this currently are through general brain state readings (Electromagnetic general conditions in certain areas
  • by arthurpaliden ( 939626 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @04:44PM (#19402953)
    No more brainless computer users.
  • by ribuck ( 943217 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @04:46PM (#19402993) Homepage
    This reminds me of the futuristic story "Manna" [] by Marshall Brain (the founder of

    In the story, computers progressively dehumanise work in the interests of efficiency (imagine Amazon's Mturk applied to McDonalds). When things get really bad, the protagonist is lucky enough to be rescued and taken to Australia where an alternative future project has produced what seems at first glance to be paradise (but is it really?).

    Anyway, the human-computer interface in the Australia project is an implant that replaces the top three vertebrae.

    The story is not a masterpiece, but it's an enjoyable and thought-provoking read.
  • by Conspiracy_Of_Doves ( 236787 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @04:46PM (#19403001)
    "You mean you have to use you hands? That's like a baby's toy!"
  • Powerful brains (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jeff Hornby ( 211519 ) <jthornby@[ ] ['sym' in gap]> on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @04:49PM (#19403049) Homepage
    But what if my brain isn't powerful enough to control a computer?
  • by ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @04:53PM (#19403137) Homepage
    "Documents to be submitted to the document control center (DCC) must first be approved by the ISO committee, which meets every Tuesday, or Wednesday during a holiday. Submissions must be received before 9AM on Tuesday, preferably by email. Quickly he grabbed Laura and, while holding her tightly, looked deep into her eyes. Her heaving breasts rose and fell in a quickening pace as his hands caressed her hair. His deep, muscular, voice whispered, "Darling, I must have you now!". Documents that have been rejected must be corrected by the author and be approved by a supervisor before resubmitting to the DCC"

  • Dream bigger (Score:5, Informative)

    by Metasquares ( 555685 ) <> on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @04:54PM (#19403145) Homepage
    This is called BCI (Brain-Computer Interface) technology, and it's a fairly hot topic in HCI these days. I think people are dreaming too low-level, though: there are some things, like composing music, that are far easier to do mentally than physically. These are the things people should be getting excited about (after we perfect curing the disabled with it), not moving mice across the screen and telepathically IMing people, both of which have reasonably natural interfaces already.
  • Limbic. Spam.

    (with deep respects to Charles Strauss)
  • by Jeek Elemental ( 976426 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @04:56PM (#19403199)
    brain not found think "space" to continue
    • No no, it'd be "think any thing" to continue, and for the first time literally thinking "any thing" will actually work! We'll have to come up with a new quintessential n00b joke.
  • The latest version of Microsoft Windows implanted in our brains via an Implant. Talk about blue screen of death!
  • Lt. Barclay []?
  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @04:58PM (#19403221)
    Given the amazing plasticity of the young brain, the time to do this is when the kid is really really young. Ideally, a child might most effectively learn to mentally control a cursor/computer interface about the same time they learn to control their fingers and toes. At that age it really will make controlling a computer as effortless as walking or talking.

    The time will come when children that didn't get "Baby's First Brain Mouse" in their first few months of life will be at a scholastic disadvantage to those that did.
  • by grasshoppa ( 657393 ) <skennedy&tpno-co,org> on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @04:59PM (#19403243) Homepage
    I am writing porn this from a computer boobs of the future, sex based on the mind control hot chicks input techniques described teen oral here.

    Since coffee this boobs technology was first sugar implemented, I have hamsters been unable midgets to hold a single job.
    • by Avatar8 ( 748465 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @05:24PM (#19403653)

      I don't know of anyone with the discipline to keep a single focused thought in their head for more than one minute. That's how our brains work. We take input from multiple sources, perform all manner of manipulation on it, add our own inner voice and it's rather a cacophony in there.

      Imagine walking down the street of the future wearing one of these headband computers. You're dictating a memo for work, IM'ing your significant other andupdating your grocery list. Just then an attractive man/woman walks by. Not only do all the above functions stop momentarily, but fantasy kicks in and you imagine that person naked. Your headband takes this as a command to open Photoshop, capture an image of the person, alter it to match your mental image and immediately insert it into your document, send it to your SO and updates your grocery list to buy melons or sausage.

      Filtering will be a key hurdle in this technology.

    • What're the hamsters for?
  • I'll stick to my IBM model M-5 made in 1992 thanks.

    The M-5 is the one with the built-in trackball [] for those of you not keeping track.
  • by zooblethorpe ( 686757 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @05:04PM (#19403343)

    "All work -- emails, spreadsheets, and Google searches -- will be performed by mind control."

    Hell, it already is -- somehow my boss's very whims turn into tasks for me to perform. No real difference here... :-P

  • Tell you brain to tell your hands to interface with your computer!
  • I was playing with the idea of controlling my computer with my brain, but ended up a little dizzy and exhausted.

    When I navigate with the mouse and type with a keyboard, I do so without much thinking. However, try to look around a page, look at the word and think "click" every time you want to click something. It is actually kind of difficult, because you don't want to think your actions as much as you want to just click with a mouse button. And what if you play an fps game? Thinking that you have to turn
  • by Orclover ( 228413 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @05:19PM (#19403555)
    Serriously where the hell is it? I'ts 07 and I dont have a flying car, monkey buttler or datajack to plug my head directly into a computer! WTF man? In a few years I am going to turn 40, if I cant take "cybering" to a whole new level or braindump into halo 5 with full virtual sensory control then why the hell are we even bothering with new technology. We are waaay the hell behind in this crap from where we should be. Hell by 2020 I need to be able to ditch my meat corpse permenantly and become a ghost in a datastream somewhere enjoying all the world wide web until a wayward asteroid ends the party for the whole planet.

    I got a schedule here people!
  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @05:20PM (#19403567)
    "The only drawback with these computers is you have to think in Russian." See? Much funnier reference. :)

    And on-topic, there's some totally amazing shit going down in cybernetics these days. onic_man.htm []

    This guy here has thought-controlled limbs. The nerves that controlled his arms have been rewired into muscles in his pecs and the arm reads the twitches there and turns that into motion. []

    Limbs can now be attached directly to the skeleton.

    Artificial muscles (sorry btech fans, they aren't called myomar) []

    Advanced bionic hand []

    Article featuring Claudia Mitchell as well as Jesse Sullivan, both real-life cyborgs,23739,2 0457094-8362,00.html []

    We're really making some fantastic advances in this field. The major future hurtles will be better feedback from the limb, getting it to run on blood glucose so a separate power supply is not needed, and making the whole affair less bulky and more natural. The ideal goal here would be a limb that would pass for perfectly natural, both for the observer and the amputee.
  • the article extrapolates out to a near future in which we will all be wearing headband computers and IM'ing one another as if telepathically
    This to going to totally mush the edges of my tinfoil hat!
  • uh Sure... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by makoffee ( 145275 )
    That all sounds great but can you imagine trying to tech support that? "You say you can't get to your email? Have you tried thinking about it?" In reality the learning curve of your average desktop user may never allow this.

    At best I see something like this working just about as well as current voice recognition software.

    • by dodobh ( 65811 )
      Think of it as evolution in action. If you want food, you need to order it via the mind interface. If you are too stupid, you die.
  • by kalirion ( 728907 ) on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @05:50PM (#19403987)
    Hey Bob, whatever you do, don't think about reformatting the hard drive and being sure that you want to do it!
  • One of the profs at my school who works on neural prostheses for para/quadriplegics, has pointed out that this technology could very well be overkill. He showed us a video of someone with neural implants controlling a computer compared to someone using one of those mouses mounted on someones head who can use eye blinks as mouse clicks. The neural implants were far slower and couldn't produce smooth motions at all (the man was trying to sketch something with mspaint) whereas with a head mounted mouse the u
    • by Jott42 ( 702470 )
      True. For ordinary computer control there is not that much to gain for most patients, especially as a computer mouse essentially is a 2 DOF device, plus the click. But if we look at harder things, such as controlling limbs with multiple degrees of freedom (an arm, without the fingers and palm, has 7 to start with) at the same time, or restoring hearing and vision, we need to interact directly with the nervous system. Which is exactly what is done today, when we restore hearing with cochlear implants. These
  • Pretty soon, we'll have direct to brain spam and adware. Be careful and don't install an implant that runs Windows or you will be shut down when WGA can't phone home to Redmond...
  • Technology advances always arrive late...

    I hope it is not the case for the great Prof. Hawkins... people like him might benefit from this...
  • When the technology exists to build sensors into headgear that is not uncomfortable to wear and is quick and easy to don and remove, I can see this sort of thing becoming very mainstream.

    I'm not that worried about what this would do to the brain because it is an input device, not an output device (although that may be up and coming... and you can bet anything that the first commercial application for it will be porn).

  • Monsters from the Id (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) * on Tuesday June 05, 2007 @08:52PM (#19405609) Journal
    The plot of Forbidden Planet -- possibly the best SF movie to ever come out of the 50's -- had in the Planet of the Krell (first major Rotoscope production too iirc) the concept that the original inhabitants had destroyed themselves after they'd learned to control their planet's engines by their minds alone. "Monsters from the Id" complained Dr. Morbius; their innermost desires controlled the engines of destruction, bypassing the conscious censors.

    Another point of view is the decadent society of Moorcock's "Dancers at the End of Time" where mind control of engines of construction and destruction led to a global ennui where all forward motion of society had ceased.

    The very best of these in terms of simple imagery is I believe Alan Dean Foster's short story "With Friends Like These..." which still sends shivers down my back, and is possibly the only modern-era short story to match the best of the Golden Era SF for star quality.

    So what will it all lead to, sports? Will we build something amazing, huge and new with these mind-driven machines, or will we simply amuse ourselves to death?

  • There are a choice few people out there working on the NEXT next wave: computers that operate directly through power of mind, without even any biological-based sensors. Check out Interchange Lab [] and look into the research published by PEAR on quantum random event generators.
  • Someday, keyboards and computer mice will be remembered only as medieval-style torture devices for the wrists. All work -- emails, spreadsheets, and Google searches -- will be performed by mind control.

    What is hyperbole?

    I win!

    Oh good lordy that was some mighty fine hyperbole. We'll run computers with our minds the same day I hop in my flying car, buzz up to the floating city in the clouds, eat my lunch (in pill form) served to me by bipedal servant robot with an AI indistinguishable from a human then get
  • The AquaThought Mindset [] is a 16 channel eeg with scsi output. Would make for some fine neurofeedback immersive noodling.
  • Someday, keyboards and computer mice will be remembered only as medieval-style torture devices for the wrists. All work -- emails, spreadsheets, and Google searches -- will be performed by mind control.

    Every time I read naive extrapolations like that, I'm reminded of a painting I once saw - I'm not sure anymore who did it, but it was done when steam engines were first invented, and it showed the artist's vision of the future, where everything was being done with steam - driving, flying, even walking (!

"So why don't you make like a tree, and get outta here." -- Biff in "Back to the Future"