Cool as brains are, historically, they’ve tended to be pretty worthless without a body. Not so anymore thanks to a new generation of mind-control applications that allow people to fly a tiny helicopter, smash a watermelon, even type very, very slowly using nothing but their three pounds of gray matter (and some peripherals).
Okay, so we’re not quite talking Yoda-level telekinesis yet. But even these seemingly minor accomplishments are significant “because they represent the first steps toward a new way of interacting” with physical objects, says Riccardo Girardi, creative director at digital production company B-Reel, which created a mind-control device of its own (see slide show above).
In the last few years, brain-scanning technology once reserved for medical use has started becoming commercially available. The resulting devices can power a range of gadgets, from toys to video games to prosthetic limbs. Mostly they operate by detecting brain activity then translating it into useful electrical or digital signals.
For scientifically creative types, these breakthroughs represent a fertile new playground. Dr. Bettina Sorger, a psychology and neuroscience researcher at Universiteit Maastricht in the Netherlands, says the possibilities are staggering. “You could be driving a car and an electrode detects even earlier than you that you are tired and sends a signal,” she said. And while much of her work in this area currently focuses on enabling people with disabilities, “in a few years you may even be able to improve cognitive abilities like concentration in perfectly healthy people.”
Still, the technology has a long way to go. Most mind-reading devices today are still pretty weak and hence are limited in what they can power. “What we receive is only a very big, big, big guess of what’s really happening in our brain,” said Girardi of the current devices. But the day is coming when “every person, without any specific previous training, will be able to interact naturally with machines, feeling that no extra effort beyond just thinking is necessary.”
“I am both scared and fascinated about this prospect,” he said. So are we, Riccardo. So are we.
Click through the slide show above for a roundup of the latest in mind-control, from exploding watermelons to cockroach rescue teams.
[Image: vasabii via Shutterstock]