What are Brain – Computer interface devices really capable of ?
With mind-machine interface devices hitting the market (which are capable of astounding things that would have seemed like complete science fiction just 10 years ago) it’s hard not to wonder just what direction this technology might take. Some people fear some type of dystopian nightmare scenario where things like mind control and “thought crime” is real. While this is a valid concern, it’s really taking the best potential of the technology and attempting to creatively apply it in the most nefarious way. Simply put, we must not let our paranoid fantasies run wild; instilling unfounded fears and preventing the technology to be used for virtuous purposes is definitely not the direction we want to (collectively) take this.
For example, just imagine the potential applications for people with severe disabilities. Those who are paralyzed, suffering from ALS, or perhaps some other debilitating condition might finally be able to regain their sense of mobility. How is this possible you ask? Well, there’s already a project underway called TELESAR V, being conducted by Tachi Lab, which effectively allows a person to move and receive tactile data through a robot. The human subject is not only able to control the machine however, they are also able to receive sensory data (sensitivity to heat and touch, for example).
Basically, this technology would allow a person to live or work through their assigned “robotic avatar’, if you will. Imagine being able to deploy these types of human-controlled bots in dangerous situations (space missions, nuclear disasters, deep sea exploration, geological study of dangerous terrain, the list of potential applications is endless).
However, perhaps the most stunning use for this technology is in helping those who are severely paralyzed / immobilized to experience the world again in a natural way. This would apply to both assuming control over a robot as well as simply enabling a person to make full use of a computer, but only through the power of their mind. Going back to the “mind control” concept; if a breakthrough occurs in this realm, we might even see new approaches to treating neurological conditions and cognitive decline emerge. In other words, as researchers uncover more details about how the brain actually functions, perhaps they will be able to “reverse engineer” treatments for these types of conditions.
Aside from the potential medical and humanitarian applications for brain-computer interface technology, there is the notion of enhanced communication. That’s right; these types of devices might eventually lead to a new standard means of communicating taking hold, electronically-assisted telepathy. Essentially, you just “think” about what actions you want to take, or what your message is and your device would receive the data and respond accordingly. Imagine being able to “text” back and forth with a friend at an insane speed relying solely on commands coming straight from your brain, or perhaps having an audible conversation with someone else despite the fact that you’re not physically speaking.
Many experts and trend analysts are already predicting that this technology (if/when it ever becomes available on a consumer level) will eventually replace traditional voice command and control of devices. Soon we might find ourselves living in a futuristic society where people hardly speak at all.
On the realistic side of things, it is entirely feasible that this technology will create a new type of relationship between man and machine, however. The line between what is considered human consciousness and machine seems to be somewhat blurred (as we march toward the fabled “singularity” event). For instance, if this type of tech were to take hold, people would likely begin using their devices as if they were extensions of their own physical mind.
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While this might be a terrifying concept for some, for others, it might lead to truly incredible developments. Imagine a computing guru assuming control over an entire cloud network with all its resources, but using only the power of their mind for direction. Such an approach might allow this person to effectively enhance their overall intelligence or ability to understand complex problems. On the lighter side of things, an experienced IT professional who is adept at using this type of technology might even be able to perform their job (perhaps monitoring a very large network for functionality and security) using only the interface connection made between their mind and the network.
Regardless of how you might feel about mind – computer interface technology, you cannot deny that there are some incredible potential uses for it. Individuals with serious maladies and situations might gain a new lease on life; likewise, we might see our society develop into something truly otherworldly.