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Biotech Technology

Device Reads Messages From Surface of the Brain 156

Al writes "Technology Review has a story about a start-up company that has developed a more-accurate and less-invasive way to read a patient's thoughts. Neurolutions, based in St Louis, has developed a small implanted device that translates signals recorded from the surface of the brain into computer commands. The device, which is less invasive than implants and more accurate than scalp electrodes, uses a grid of electrodes placed directly on the surface of the brain to monitor electrical activity. This technology is currently used to find the origin of seizures in patients with uncontrolled epilepsy before surgery. But the company says it could also help paralyzed patients control a computer and perhaps prosthetic limbs using their thoughts. Tests involving more than 20 patients have shown that people can quickly learn to move a cursor on a computer screen using their brain activity."
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Device Reads Messages From Surface of the Brain

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  • by Co0Ps ( 1539395 ) on Wednesday June 03, 2009 @07:15PM (#28203323)
    Non invasive brain interfaces is nothing new. Here's a video of a HL2 mod where you're using your mind to pick up objects and throw them at other players []. The question is if the mind reading is accurate enough to actually control a mouse pointer efficiently or reliably start macros (voice recognition style).
  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Wednesday June 03, 2009 @07:17PM (#28203357) Homepage Journal

    It's hardly "non-invasive".. they have to open your skull to implant it.

  • How much... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Wednesday June 03, 2009 @07:20PM (#28203399)
    How much longer till we can figure out how our brain "codes" things then exploit it for our own benefit? Just think about it, custom-made drugs to make it seem like you are flying, fighting a dragon, more epic than any video game imaginable, all while being perfectly controlled with little to no side effects. Or take a pill and have the entire library of congress memorized. I wonder how much longer this will take.
  • old...again... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 03, 2009 @07:34PM (#28203577)

    Old. Google up "Brain gate". Hell, even has had articles on this.

    And it is a bit misleading to say that moving a cursor accross a computer screen is the equivanlent to reading someones thoughts.

  • Re:How much... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 03, 2009 @08:20PM (#28204071)

    Or slip a pill on that hot blond girl's drink and activate her brain implants to think I am a mix of James Bond+Sean Connery+Denzel Washington+Brad Pitt, and that she MUST do anything to copulate with me RIGHT AWAY... Or better than a pill: get some malicious (no pun intended) code through an open bluetooth or WiFi connection port on her brain implant's communication interface and make her get obsessed with me... endless possibilities...

  • "Less Invasive"? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Wednesday June 03, 2009 @08:39PM (#28204217) Journal

    Laying an electrocorticogram array (that's what they're using -- it's not new) on the surface of the brain requires removing a section of the scalp, skull and dura mater. There's nothing about it that's not invasive as well as dangerous. Single cortical or deep electrodes can be put in through very small drilled holes. The former requires a full neurosurgical suite/team. The latter can be done in a clinic visit if localization isn't critical, or else in a CT or MR scanner with no more invasive electrode technology than the clinic version. The draw back to implanted electrodes is that inserting them into proximity of the neurons of interest can cause them to die off immediately, and will cause them to die off eventually.

    Both are unnecessary for the application. In 1994 a researcher working at Radford University with Karl Pribram developed an EEG analysis program that could recognize various shapes, sizes and colors (various combinations thereof) of objects both seen and only internally visualized, with a 95% accuracy. Such accuracy among the many permutations of possible signals could very easily translate into control signals sent to another device. Fully designed but not built around this technology was such a control device intended to run an 8 stepper motor robotic arm using a standard parallel printer port. Since it rests on the scalp, an EEG electrode such as we used here is not invasive in the least. Well, the sticky glue electrode paste necessary to keep the electrode on and conducting for several hours tend to pull out hair, but that's annoying and slightly painful, but not invasive.

  • Re:How much... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FiloEleven ( 602040 ) on Wednesday June 03, 2009 @09:30PM (#28204625)

    The way the brain works makes such experiences nearly impossible to encode and certainly impossible with drugs, as another poster pointed out. If we take "drugs" to include "nanomachines targeting the brain and disguised as a pill" then we enter the realm of the merely highly improbable. The machines would have to collectively be smart enough to override signals from and to the body while simultaneously generating the desired experience.

    Another possibility would be a single device at the top of the spinal column and networked with lots of processing power, like a wireless Matrix or the Vertebrane system [] from Manna. This too requires advanced nanotech to implant, as it must splice every nerve in the spinal column plus the optic and aural nerves, and so is also highly improbable to occur at all, and certainly not for nearly a hundred years unless the Singularity frea--er, folks are right.

    Given all that, the experiences you speak of (flying, fighting a dragon) could happen, but doing the "I know kung-fu!" thing is impossible due to the nature of consciousness. If you want to learn something, you're going to have to spend the time to learn it. Reshaping synapse connections and brainwave patterns to implant memories requires godlike knowledge of the individual's brain state and history. Let's not forget that we are messy meat machines (if machines we are) whose sense of self and memory is only infinitesimally less mysterious now as it has always been. Faking an external world and letting the brain experience it, hard as it is, is orders of magnitude simpler than fabricating a past experience, especially an intellectual one such as memorizing the LOC, out of whole cloth.

    Sorry I'm such a party pooper =(

"The following is not for the weak of heart or Fundamentalists." -- Dave Barry