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BMI Monkey Business

BrainIf you’ve been reading this blog awhile, you’ll know I have a fascination with brain-machine interfaces.  Both Toyota and Honda have developed thought controlled devices and there are a number of products on the market that can control your computer.  I believe “thought” controlled computers will be the future (maybe 2020?) because it will free our hands from doing augmented vision sign language. 

The New York Times reports recent advances in the BMI.  Previously, all BMI devices translated brain activity normally used for other manual functions (like lifting or moving an arm) into the signal for the new activity.  The researchers in this study have shown that monkeys could learn completely new activities without piggy-backing the motion on top of another, previously used brain activity. 

In other words, just like we learn to ride a bike or play guitar, our brains could be taught to perform completely new tasks related to controlling a computer.  This would allow people to control the computer while doing other tasks (otherwise the two activities might get confused.) 

This type of advance would allow for more advanced functions than just mouse movement.   Could we learn to “type” with our minds?  Instead of picking a letter from a list (mouse clicking), we could just will the letter into existance.  The research indicates this would be possible. 

Of couse, the more immediate benefit of these types of BMIs is help for those with disabilities, but it’s possible we could use the same technology to enhance everyone’s connection to the augmented world.