Turning the Mind into a Joystick

September 18th, 2011 by Kel Smith | Filed under Cognitive, Innovation, Niche Construction, Virtual Reality

How we’ll able to direct a computer with our thoughts using an ECoG (electrocorticographic) implant.

How we’ll able to direct a computer with our thoughts using an ECoG (electrocorticographic) implant. Illustration by Tom Giesler of The New York Times Magazine.

Today’s New York Times Magazine contains an article about a pioneering new technology that provides users a new way to interact with computers: through their thoughts rather than their eyes or fingers.

Technology and innovation labs are investigating ways to use electrocorticographic (ECoG) implants in the brain to augment damaged tissue that causes seizures in people with epilepsy. One such lab in the Wadsworth Center, outside of Albany, NY, is researching whether such an implant can help patients control video game elements on a screen by merely imagining them happening. In this instance, a thought becomes a software command.

Although something out of science fiction, such technology is much closer to reality than we might currently believe. Cochlear implants already assist with hearing functionality, and deep-brain stimulation is being used to treat Parkinson’s disease. The ECoG is of interest because it does not pierce brain tissue and operates by sensing neural activity on the top of the blood-brain barrier. Some scientists believe that surgeons will embrace this technology as a means of better understanding the neurological effects of spinal chord injury, ALS and various motor disorders.

I have written before about the non-invasive benefits of electroencephalography (EEG) as a diagnostic tool to help people better acclimate to post-surgical therapies. At Dartmouth College, researchers are creating an iPhone connected to an EEG headset by gluing sensors to the patient’s scalp. These sensors detect the patterns of neurons though a tangled maze of Medusa-like cords and wires. However primitive the execution, isn’t all prototyping in the spirit of exploration and discovery?

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