Tag Archives: mind

Brain achieves motor memory with a prosthetic device

braindevelopMore progress has been made in the field of artificial telekinesis by researchers at University of California, who have shown that the brains of macacque monkeys can learn how to manipulate a prosthetic through thought alone:

…macaque monkeys using brain signals learned how to move a computer cursor to various targets. What the researchers learned was that the brain could develop a mental map of a solution to achieve the task with high proficiency, and that it adhered to that neural pattern without deviation, much like a driver sticks to a given route commuting to work.

“The profound part of our study is that this is all happening with something that is not part of one’s own body. We have demonstrated that the brain is able to form a motor memory to control a disembodied device in a way that mirrors how it controls its own body. That has never been shown before.”

This is an exciting development. Developing the means to control prosthetics as if they were part of your own body would improve the lives of paraplegics, and even offer the possibility of extending baseline human abilities.

[from Physorg, via KurzweilAI][image from Physorg]

Lunchtime doubly so

hourglassA powerfully engaging essay on the nature of mind and the perception of time over on Edge by David M. Eagleman:

Try this exercise: Put this book down [or just stop reading the screen] and go look in a mirror. Now move your eyes back and forth, so that you’re looking at your left eye, then at your right eye, then at your left eye again. When your eyes shift from one position to the other, they take time to move and land on the other location. But here’s the kicker: you never see your eyes move. What is happening to the time gaps during which your eyes are moving? Why do you feel as though there is no break in time while you’re changing your eye position? (Remember that it’s easy to detect someone else’s eyes moving, so the answer cannot be that eye movements are too fast to see.)

Not only does our perception of time vary under different conditions, different sensory inputs do not slow down to the same subjective time:

Duration distortions are not the same as a unified time slowing down, as it does in movies. Like vision, time perception is underpinned by a collaboration of separate neural mechanisms that usually work in concert but can be teased apart under the right circumstances.

This is a fascinating and SF-mineworthy area of research.

[image from bogenfreund on flickr]

The mind re-maps the body: learning to live with your cybernetic centaur legs

Good news for wannabe cyborgs and transhumans! New Scientist reports on another manifestation of plasticity in the human mind; it turns out that tool use results in a remapping of the mind’s perception of the body, which in turn suggests that adapting to artificial prosthetics or cyborg bolt-ons is within the capability of our baseline brains.

The brain maintains a physical map of the body, with different areas in charge of different body parts. Researchers have suggested that when we use tools, our brains incorporate them into this map.

To test the idea, Alessandro Farné of the University of Claude Bernard in Lyon, France, and colleagues attached a mechanical grabber to the arms of 14 volunteers. The modified subjects then used the grabber to pick up out-of-reach objects.

Shortly afterwards, the volunteers perceived touches on their elbow and fingertip as further apart than they really were, and took longer to point to or grasp objects with their hand than prior to using the tool.

The explanation, say the team, is that their brains had adjusted the brain areas that normally control the arm to account for the tool and not yet adjusted back to normal.

“This is the first evidence that tool use alters the body [map],” says Farné.

Farné says the same kind of brain “plasticity” might be involved in regaining control of a transplanted hand or a prosthetic limb when the original has been lost. The brain might also readily incorporate cyborg additions – a cyborg arm or other body part – into its body schema, says Farné, “and possibly new body parts differing in shape and/or number, for example four arms.”

So, good news should you decide that you want to become a permanent cyber-centaur by wearing these things:

Your new designer brain

neuroneA fascinating article in New Scientist on neural prosthesese and the possibility of a new source of inequality: between those who can afford to pay for technological mental enhancements and those who cannot:

People without enhancement could come to see themselves as failures, have lower self-esteem or even be discriminated against by those whose brains have been enhanced, Birnbacher says. He stops short of saying that enhancement could “split” the human race, pointing out that society already tolerates huge inequity in access to existing enhancement tools such as books and education.

The perception that some people are giving themselves an unfair advantage over everyone else by “enhancing” their brains would be socially divisive, says John Dupré at the University of Exeter, UK. “Anyone can read to their kids or play them music, but put a piece of software in their heads, and that’s seen as unfair,” he says. As Dupré sees it, the possibility of two completely different human species eventually developing is “a legitimate worry”.

But the news is not all bad, with the observation that the human brain is becoming ever more plastic and capable of adaptation:

Today, our minds are even more fluid and open to enhancement due to what Merlin Donald of Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, calls “superplasticity”, the ability of each mind to plug into the minds and experiences of countless others through culture or technology. “I’m not saying it’s a ‘group mind’, as each mind is sealed,” he says. “But cognition can be distributed, embedded in a huge cultural system, and technology has produced a huge multiplier effect.”

It is interesting to speculate what the long-term consequences of dense technological interconnectedness will be on the human condition. Even assuming actual precise neuroengineering proves difficult, neural prosthesese offer a world of opportunity.

[via KurzweilAI][image from n1/the larch on flickr]

Of two minds

brain-simulationAn old science fictional argument: to what extent is it correct to characterise the human mind as a digital computer? According to this insightful article [via Charles Stross] many AI researchers have been making an error in their belief that the human mind can be thought of as a computer:

The fact that the mind is a machine just as much as anything else in the universe is a machine tells us nothing interesting about the mind.

If the strong AI project is to be redefined as the task of duplicating the mind at a very low level, it may indeed prove possible—but the result will be something far short of the original goal of AI.

In other news:

A detailed simulation of a small region of a brain built molecule by molecule has been constructed and has recreated experimental results from real brains.

The “Blue Brain” has been put in a virtual body, and observing it gives the first indications of the molecular and neural basis of thought and memory.

Is there a meaningful distinction between the traditional view of a strong AI and a molecular-level simulation of a human mind?

[image and article from the BBC]