More mind-controlled motion: the Ratmobile

Paul Raven @ 06-10-2010

An opportunity arises to indulge in a bit of Gen-X/Y media nostalgia! UK-based readers of a similar age to myself may well remember this Ratmobile [context for the baffled*; image ganked from the TV-AM nostalgia archives]:

Roland Rat and his Ratmobile

Now, simultaneously compare and contrast the above with Monday’s mention of mind-controlled wheelchairs and this little cyborg rodent fella [image ganked from Hack-A-Day, who got it from this IEEE Spectrum article]:

Rat with brain-controlled cybercart upgrades

Awesome. Extremely creepy, and very much of its time, but still awesome.

[ * I was a huge Roland Rat fan, to the extent of pestering my mother for an at-the-time very out-of-fashion denim jacket in order that I might emulate his effortless cool. So, yes, I’ve always made rather odd fashion choices. Selah. ]

Thought-controlled vehicles looking less like sf every day

Paul Raven @ 04-10-2010

The appropriately-named Science Not Fiction blog at Discover shares a video of a thought-controlled wheelchair developed by Japan’s Riken technology agency; thought-control for wheelchairs isn’t a completely new development (at least not in terms of the accelerating technology curve), but the response time of this one – 125 milliseconds – apparently knocks previous implementations into the proverbial cocked hat.

Great stuff, and a proof-of-concept for many other applications. While I in no way want to underplay the importance of mobility assistance for the victims of accidents or genetic bodily impairments, my inner thirteen year old is enthusiatically chanting Mind-controlled go-karting! Mind-controlled go-karting!

Straw poll: if you could choose one machine or device that you use every day – with the exception of your computer or smartphone – to be mind-controlled, which one would it be?

No plans for a GoogleImplant, says Eric Schmidt

Paul Raven @ 04-10-2010

Eric Schmidt is becoming one of those guaranteed link-bait interviewees for big media venues; unlike a lot of corporate bigwigs, Google’s CEO isn’t afraid to speak his mind. This interview at The Atlantic [via SlashDot, FuturePundit and others] is packed full of pluckable gems, though nothing quite so controversial as his recent musings on unGooglable childhoods.

First up, your “no shit, Sherlock” quote of the day:

“The average American doesn’t realize how much of the laws are written by lobbyists” to protect incumbent interests, Google CEO Eric Schmidt told Atlantic editor James Bennet at the Washington Ideas Forum. “It’s shocking how the system actually works.”

Naturally, Schmidt and company see that flaw as a business opportunity:

“Washington is an incumbent protection machine,” Schmidt said. “Technology is fundamentally disruptive.” Mobile phones and personal technology, for example, could be used to record the bills that members of Congress actually read and then determine what stimulus funds were successfully spent.

Later in the same interview,  there’s something of a minor disappointment for bleeding-edge early-adopter Google enthusiasts: there are no plans on the table for a hardwired Google brain implant.

When Bennet asked about the possibility of a Google “implant,” Schmidt invoked what the company calls the “creepy line.”

“Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it,” he said. Google implants, he added, probably crosses that line.

The Atlantic‘s Derek Thompson, doubtless with a keen eye for irony, follows that revelation with this panopticon-esque nugget:

… Schmidt envisions a future where we embrace a larger role for machines and technology. “With your permission you give us more information about you, about your friends, and we can improve the quality of our searches,” he said. “We don’t need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”

I’m not sure you see the “creepy line” as being in quite the same place as many of the general public, Mister Schmidt. 🙂

(PS – I’d totally beta test that implant idea for you.)

Neural interfaces: the state of the market

Paul Raven @ 22-07-2010

Back in May we dipped into a heavy H+ Magazine article to find out about the cutting edge of neural interface research, the theoretical boundary-pushing stuff. While it’s fun to know where things are (or might be) going, like all good cyberpunks we’re much more interested in what we can realistically get our hands on right now; the things the street could be busily finding its own uses for. So head on over to this short piece at ReadWriteWeb, which is a neat list of six real products with basic neurointerface abilities, just waiting to be hacked or repurposed for something awesome [via TechnOccult].

Actually, the latter two are research devices rather than commercially available gizmos, but even so, those proofs-of-concept will need to be monetized at some point, AMIRITE? And of the real products on offer, I think this is my favourite:

[T]he Emotive EPOC neuroheadset […] features 14 saline-based sensors and a gyroscope. Primarily marketed to gamers, the device also helps people with disabilities regain control of their lives. Included with the device is the EmoKey, which is a lightweight application running in your computer’s background. It allows you to map out thought-controlled keystrokes. This headset is the preferred device of the Dartmouth Mobile Sensing Group, which created a brain-to-mobile interface that allows you to call your friends by thinking about them.

If any smart hacker types in the audience would like to kludge one of these things up so I can do all my blogging and editorial work without having to move my arms, drop me a line so we can discuss funding, OK?

Neural interfaces: the state of the art

Paul Raven @ 28-05-2010

Some heavy but fascinating reading over at h+ Magazine, in the form of James Kent’s round-up of where we are with technologies for interfacing the human brain with technological hardware, and where we’re going with it. The big take-away point for me is that the more fidelity you want from the interface, the more invasive the interface needs to be, though that might change as the technology advances.

And here’s your slice of sf-nal thinking from the conclusion:

While the primary purpose of neural interface research is putatively therapeutic, the functional potentials and ethical concerns of neural porting are problems looming in the future. Right now these are hypothetical concerns, but if a single-access embedded neurode procedure could be perfected and automated and performed at a local clinic in two hours for around a thousand dollars, and it was covered by insurance, the temptation for cosmetic and personal use of such a procedure becomes clear. Neural interfaces can be abused, obviously, and can be hacked into to enslave and torture minds, or drive people intentionally insane, or turn them into sleeper assassins or mindless consumers. Security is an inherent problem of any extensible exo-cortical system that must be addressed early in the engineering and testing stages, or anyone with an exo-cortical input would be ripe for exploitation. Sensory discrimination is an ongoing problem in any media environment, so individual channel selection, manual override, and the ability to shut down device input should be an integral part of any embedded system.

Probably not a system you want Microsoft writing the OS for, then…

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