BA for computer thought

HARDWARE

Spare a thought

It was only a matter of time before the computer would be able to pick up your thoughts and react to them. Never content with the status quo, scientists are always on the lookout for new and easier ways to make contact with computers; after all, a computer is just a vague approximation of the human brain. For people with handicaps that will not allow them to use a conventional mouse or keyboard, the thought transmitter is the obvious solution.

Computers are not yet intelligent enough to think this up for themselves, they still have to use software that has been designed by humans, and will only do what this software tells them. Our brains are a mass of tiny, interconnected cells which are, in turn, connected to the rest of the body through the nervous system. Every time we want to move a muscle a burst of electricity is produced in the brain, which transmits the information to the muscle, making it move.

Dr Andrew Junker, an American electrical engineer and neuro-physiologist has spent over twenty five years developing machines controlled by the mind. Now, working with Christian Berg of Cyberlink Mind Systems of Ohio, the breakthrough has been made and the idea has been brought to fruition. Software has been designed that is controlled by the electrical signals produced in the brain. By wearing a special headband containing electrical sensors, a person can teach the computer to perform different functions that are normally performed by moving the mouse manually. The electrical impulses, created by moving the eyes and the muscles in different parts of the face, are amplified and digitised then translated, by the software, into functions that control the computer.

At the moment twelve different brain-body frequencies, nicknamed “brainfingers ” are able to be detected by the sensors. Dr Junker demonstrated one of the uses of the technology by steering his boat without using his hands. The Disabilities Trust in the UK are now testing the system and hope that, in time, it will alleviate many of the problems associated with lack of mobility.

There are already programs that can be used to modulate music through a computer, providing a valuable aid in music therapy. Playing a video game becomes a reality for someone unable to use their hands, as well as the ability to navigate a computer application, a web browser or a hands free typewriter.

It is hoped to be able to use the software to work a computer to help disabled people to perform household tasks, such as turning on lights, closing the curtains and many other tasks that able bodied people take for granted.

The time when the computer can control our thoughts is not here yet, but how long will it be before someone creates a computer that can think for itself ? © GMH

Where will it all lead ? Keep reading.

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