Monday, December 06, 2004

Thinking Cap

Here's a pretty amazing story:

Four people were able to control a computer using their thoughts and an electrode-studded "thinking cap," U.S. researchers reported on Monday.

While experiments have allowed a monkey to control a computer with its thoughts, electrodes were implanted into the animal's brain. This experiment...required no surgery and no implants.

One hardly knows what to say. This is one of those scientific breakthroughs that I find both exhilarating and terrifying.


Phila said...

Haven't read anything specific, NI. My supposition is that like a lot of breakthrough technology, this originated in some classified form of science and we're seeing a lagged "trickle-down" effect. I'm thinking especially of Jose Delgado's experiments in the 1950s and 1960s, as detailed in his book "Physical Control of the Mind." He was doing some incredible stuff back then - hooking bulls up to remote-control devices, among other things - but we haven't heard much about advances in that technology in the intervening years.

What bothers me, basically, is that the difference between a microphone and a speaker is a matter of the circuit it's hooked to, rather than of basic structure. With that in mind, I wonder to what extent, if any, this device can be made to work as a transmitter rather than a receiver, turning electrical impulses into thoughts or movements, or even just sensations.

Of course, the things you mentioned are real possibilities too.

Phila said...

Yeah, it's pretty bad alright. That's life, huh?

Phila said...

Yeah, Delgado's work was with motor impulses. He'd let a bull charge him, then press a button at the last moment and send it off to one side.

I wasn't necessarily thinking of thought control, so much as a more refined form of motor control that'd be driven by someone else's thinking. You wouldn't take over the subject's consciousness; perhaps you'd merely suppress it...maybe even beforehand.

Personally, I'd be amazed if we didn't have the ability to broadcast into the brain on some level. If we don't, it surely can't be far off! I know that the HAARP project people think it could be used to broadcast information and even images directly into people's heads, but I have absolutely no opinion on that. I'm always willing to believe in the intent, but I tend to be more skeptical about the technology...or in some cases, the utility.

Lest I sound like a "Luddite" (ha!), I should add that for people with disabilities, this technology really is great news. It's very exciting stuff.

Phila said...

Couldn't agree more about our paltry knowledge of mind. I suspect we'll get a fine grasp of creating gross effects, and ignore the minutiae (at our peril, natch). Some of this stuff is based on a really outdated mechanical notion of fixed locality, which is certainly not the whole story of cognition.

The HAARP paranoia is being spread by conspiracy types, not (I don't think) by HAARP theorists themselves. There is some stuff in a Pentagon (?) paper about controlling the weather, but I don't remember them specifically talking about crowd control through mass hallucination (or whatever). No idea how fields would affect bystanders, though one virtue of the technology is supposed to be pinpoint accuracy. I'm really not up on it. Interesting subject, though! Lots of weird claims and counterclaims flying around, but I'm just not qualified to sort it out.

Sounds like we pretty much agree, overall. I'm less worried about a perfected thought-control device than about some crude approximation, or even just the process of research itself. Failed attempts can be as bad as, or worse than, successful ones!