I think, therefore I Tweet

Edward Willett @ 20-04-2009

460px-EEG_32_electrodes WIRED reports on what “may be a modern equivalent of Alexander Graham Bell’s ‘Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.’:

Early on the afternoon of April 1, Adam Wilson posted a message to Twitter. But instead of using his hands to type, the University of Wisconsin biomedical engineer used his brain.  “USING EEG TO SEND TWEET,” he thought.

The research, which could provide a new means of communication for people locked in their own skulls by paralysis or other problems, is built on the BCI2000, a software tool pioneered by Justin Williams, head of the University of Wisconsin’s Neural Interfaces lab, and Wadsworth Center neural injury specialist Gerwin Schalk, which translates thought-induced changes in a scalp’s electrical fields to control an on-screen cursor.

Although it’s in wide use in labs, notes WIRED, “its communications applications have been largely restricted to messages appearing on a nearby screen. “

“A lot of these have been scientific exercises, geared to writing things out but not really doing anything with it,” said Williams. “We wanted to say, that’s not how a person would want to communicate, especially with the advent of online communications.”

Williams notes that emailing is relatively difficult and inefficient for someone using a brain-computer interface. Twitter, by contrast, “is very serendipitous. It handles all the things that we’ve been struggling to make easy for a patient to do. It puts messages where people can find them. Let the world know how you’re doing, what you’re thinking, and they’ll find you. And that’s perfect for these patients and their families.”

So brain-computer interfaces are already here for limited uses (Wilson and Williams will next install the program in the homes of 10 people already outfitted  with trial versions of the BCI2000). In the future, more advanced brain-computer interfaces could help people control prostheses, powered exoskeletons, humanoid robots

Well, what would you do if you could control a computer with your thoughts?

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

[tags]brain, computers, disabled, Twitter[/tags]


Is Twitter a threat to morality and ethics?

Edward Willett @ 15-04-2009

Texting Are Twitter and other rapid-fire forms of media eating away at our moral and ethical cores?

Possibly, say the authors of a new study from a University of Southern California neuroscience group led by Antonio Damasio, director of USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute. (Via EurekAlert.)

In the study (being published next week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition), the researchers used real-life stories to induce admiration for virtue or skill, or compassion for physical or social pain, in 13 volunteers (verifying the emotions through pre- and post-imaging interviews).

They found, using brain imaging, that while humans can respond in fractions of seconds to signs of physical pain in others, awakening admiration and compassion take much longer: six to eight seconds to fully respond to the stories of virtue or social pain, in the case of the study.

So, what does that say about the emotional cost of relying on a rapid stream of short news bits pouring into the brain through online feeds or Twitter?

Lead author Mary Helen Immordino-Yang puts it this way:

“If things are happening too fast, you may not ever fully experience emotions about other people’s psychological states and that would have implications for your morality,” Immordino- Yang said.

She worries that

fast-paced digital media tools may direct some heavy users away from traditional avenues for learning about humanity, such as engagement with literature or face-to-face social interactions.

Immordino-Yang did not blame digital media. “It’s not about what tools you have, it’s about how you use those tools,” she said.

(USC media scholar Manuel) Castells said he was less concerned about online social spaces, some of which can provide opportunities for reflection, than about “fast-moving television or virtual games.”

“In a media culture in which violence and suffering becomes an endless show, be it in fiction or in infotainment, indifference to the vision of human suffering gradually sets in,” he said.

Damasio agreed: “What I’m more worried about is what is happening in the (abrupt) juxtapositions that you find, for example, in the news.

“When it comes to emotion, because these systems are inherently slow, perhaps all we can say is, not so fast.”

How do you feel about that?

Take your time.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]Twitter,social media, computers, communication, ethics, morality[/tags]


Outsourcing prayer as a hardware routine

Paul Raven @ 23-03-2009

This is something straight out of a Philip K Dick story… or maybe a Douglas Adams novel. Worried that your hectic lifestyle doesn’t leave enough time for prayer? Concerned that your panoply of Earthly duties might detract from your devotionals? Never fear – the good people of Information Age Prayer have got your back:

Information Age Prayer is a subscription service utilizing a computer with text-to-speech capability to incant your prayers each day. It gives you the satisfaction of knowing that your prayers will always be said even if you wake up late, or forget.

We use state of the art text to speech synthesizers to voice each prayer at a volume and speed equivalent to typical person praying. Each prayer is voiced individually, with the name of the subscriber displayed on screen.

Somewhere there is a room full of computers* that sounds like a chorus of Stephen Hawkings reciting the Beatitude… which is a pretty weird thought for a Monday morning. Or any morning, come to think of it. And hey, just in case you were thinking that Information Age Prayer was some sort of cop-out or shortcut:

At Information Age Prayer we think our service should be used like a prayer supplement, to extend and strengthen a subscriber’s connection with God. Traditional prayer is an integral part of this connection and should never be forgone, even after signing up.

I think my brain is broken. More coffee is needed… [via Pharyngula]

[ * – The more I think about this room-full of chanting computers, the more I suspect that it may not actually exist. ]


Thought-controlled wheelchair developed in Italy

Edward Willett @ 08-03-2009

The Thinker Researchers led by Matteo Matteucci at Milan’s Polytechnical Institute say they’ve developed a wheelchair that obeys mental signals sent to a computer. (Via PhysOrg.)

The user is connected to a computer with electrodes on his or her scalp, and sends a signal by concentrating for a few seconds on the name of the desired destination — kitchen, bedroom, bathroom — displayed on a screen.

The computer then guides the wheelchair to the selected room using a preset programme.

“We don’t read minds, but the brain signal that is sent,” Matteucci said.

The chair is equipped with two laser beams that can detect obstacles.

The researchers think the wheelchair could be available commercially within five to 10 years, and claim it would only cost 10 percent more than a standard motorized wheelchair. They’re also working on getting the chair to operate outside using GPS.

They also note that other researchers around the world are working on similar projects, and suggests that a research consortium should be set up to coordinate the work and find the best approach for these kinds of brain-computer interfaces.

(What I really wanted for the image to illustrate this was Rodin’s sculpture, above, sitting in a wheelchair, but alas, it was beyond my Photoshopping skills.)

(Image: Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]computers,technology,brain,handicapped[/tags]


The future of online news from 1981

Tom James @ 20-02-2009

There is something wonderful about this 1981 newscast on the future of newspapers delivered via personal computers:

Interesting how things turn out.

[via The New York Times]


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