Technology with attitude

Brain-Computer Interaction Needs Better Sensors and Signal Analysis

Computerworld published an interesting article today about the evolution of Neurotechnology which is close to the point where humans will be able to communicate with computers through thought, allowing us to navigate the web just by thinking what we want.

According to Computerworld,  a research scientist at the Wadsworth Center NYS, Gerwin Schalk suggests that there may soon come a time when people no longer have to touch a keyboard or a mouse, or even speak a command, in order to perform a computer function. Instead, a person can think of a command and the computer will respond.

“What I’m here to tell you is that this is not science fiction. This is an emerging reality,” Schalk said.

Schalk said a slow interface is a problem for human-computer interaction. Humans are forced to translate what they are thinking into digital commands that computers can understand.

Neurotechnology, a $145 billion market that is growing at 9% annually, has already achieved key milestones in man-computer symbiosis.

Researchers are working with the brain’s alpha waves — neural oscillations in the frequency range of 8 and 12 Hz — to create rich syntactic representations that can be used to communicate directly with computers, Schalk said.

Interview with Gerwin Schalk about BCI researches. The video was taken by Dr. Brendan Z. Allison during BCI2011 Conference in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Schalk presented attendees a video showing how test subjects can control computer games through the use of electrodes attached to the surface of their brains. The test subjects were already wired for treatment of illnesses such as epilepsy. In one demonstration in the video, a patient used thoughts to shoot monsters in Doom. The patient used a joystick to move the gun back and forth but used his thoughts to cause the gun the shoot — accurately.

Gerwin Schalk, BCI Research Scientist

Another demonstration showed in how scientists can track in real time which part of the brain reacts to physical movement, from sticking a tongue out to trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube puzzle.

Such technology could allow users to command a computer without touching it.

The two major obstacles to making real-time, thought-controlled computers a reality are mainly engineering problems, said Schalk. Scientists need to create better sensors to detect alpha waves and better ways to identify the brain’s signals (it’s language), he added.

“In the end, it will just take time and money to fix them,” he said. “Direct computer interaction with the brain has the potential to become a general purpose technology … at the same scale at information technology, computing and the telephone.”

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