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Brain-Machine Interfaces — the Sorcerer Era

brain-machine interfaces are applied to patients with cognitive or physical disabilities


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Andy Mandrell

3 years ago | 8 min read

With the implementation and commercial integration of brain-machine interfaces in society, the impossible will soon become possible — prepare to call yourself a wizard.

Image via pixabay

As discussed in my previous post, the integration of computers in our human brains may very well become a reality in the near or distant future.

If that wasn’t enough to convince you that this technology is already being debated and worked on (check out Neuralink and NextMind), then let’s take an intuitive, historical approach. The history of communication between humans started with the origin of speech in some 500,000 B.C.

About 30,000 years ago, the invention of symbols revolutionized communication. About 20,000 years ago, the first petroglyphs were created, and not too long after ideograms and pictograms followed. It then took a few more thousand years for written language to become a reality.

Fast forward to only a few centuries ago, and next came electricity, the telegraph, and phonograph. Very soon after came the telephone and mobile phones — you can now stay connected almost 24/7 with any person in the world by simply using your thumbs.

These developments show that communication has been increasingly improving in all areas — accessibility, ease of use, reliability, and efficiency.

How can we improve even more? Hands-free and speech-free communication — brain-to-brain communication. It seems almost inevitable.

For the rest of this article, grab a glass of water and tune in that imagination.

Ultimately, one can only fantasize about the electrifying potential our lives would improve wearing one of these brain-machine interfaces.

Eventually, as with mobile phones, the technology would become so incorporated into our lives that it would seem almost as an extension of our human body.

Something important that most people do not realize is that everyone is already, in essence, a cyborg.

Our mobile phones are constantly in our hands, and computers within reach, that they seem like part of our body and selfhood. How would our communication improve? At a technical level:

  • The speed of communication would magnify. In order to transmit a thought to another human, one has to compress that thought into something interpretable, then compress and reorganize it into language, then translate it through a medium of their choice (speech, written language, texting). Skip all of this by directly sharing thoughts, brain-to-brain.
  • The bandwidth of communication would increase. Instead of wasting time communicating thoughts and ideas using words and pictures, directly share thoughts and paint the whole picture at once.
  • The accuracy of communication would be excellent. A classic accuracy obstacle to current communication is a language barrier. Forget learning another complex language, and struggling to perfect its intricacies, just share your thoughts or idea. Also, with the use of a brain-machine interface, you may be able to actually ‘put yourself in the other person’s shoes.’

Currently, brain-machine interfaces are applied to patients with cognitive or physical disabilities. Here are a few examples of how it can be used:

  • A patient who paralyzed themselves waist down could leverage a brain-machine interface to send stimuli to defective body parts to finally be able to walk again. Just as babies learn how to move their fingers, physically disabled patients can relearn how to reactivate damaged body parts.
  • An elderly woman with dementia may be able to repair her neurological degeneration, enhancing her memory to remember her grandchildren. Likewise patients with neurological disorders would have access to neurological enhancements, or even stimulation for neurological regeneration in order to improve their thinking capacity. This is especially pertinent to older people that frequently experience neurological degeneration.
  • A traumatic experience that gives the subject Post-Dramatic-Stress-Disorder may be able to magically forget the experience by using a brain-machine interface to rewire neurological function or shield certain memories.

But, as mentioned in the previous article, future usage of brain-machine interfaces will not extend solely to cognitive or physically disabled people.

Just as the first computers were designed to calculate artillery firing tables, they turned out to be generally useful for an innumerable amount of tasks and desires. Here is where the impossible become possible.

Control physical objects with your mind:

Image via pixabay

First things first — as brain-machine interfaces become a societal norm, many, if not all, devices we currently use may someday connect to the interface.

Here are some simple scenarios of brain-machine interface use:

  • You wake up in the morning with your alarm blaring ‘WAKE UP!’ You tell the clock to turn off in a split second — with your mind. Shoot… it’s still dark out. Think for the lights to turn on, the heater to start warming up the house, and the coffee pot to heat up to a desired temperature — go ahead and think for the shower to turn on before you hop in. You get a healthy breakfast in, and you send out your emails (mindfully) while drinking your coffee. Time for work — tell the interface to lock the doors and turn the lights off. Walk out the door and you’re on the way to work.
  • You’re now driving to work, but something captivating steals your attention. You are about to crash into another car — use your thoughts to change direction in a split-second. You just avoided a car crash with your thoughts, avoiding the processing time it requires to translate thoughts of danger into physical actions.
  • Don’t operate a dangerous machine (i.e, a wood cutter) with your hands, operate it directly with your mind. The safety implications of mind-to-action technology are magnificent.
  • Terrible at playing the guitar? Play it with your mind. Musical creation is not solely determined by ideas — it requires the mind-body connection to turn thoughts into sounds. Anyone could be their own artist, and creativity would be incredibly enhanced with a brain-machine interface.

Storage

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As mentioned previously, our ability to store information has profound effects on the way we learn, achieve, and progress. Here are some examples on how:

  • While you are dosing off for a nap, work on that article you’ve been meaning to start. As soon as you fall asleep, all of your edits and updates are saved in a similar fashion to what Google Drive does — all on the cloud.
  • Our brains are limited by an ability to store information. Want to learn multiple subjects, but discouraged by the amount of information you have to memorize and learn? Record it through the cloud and interlace it in your interface. You want to access that information and skills developed later down the line — tap into the interface, and have it replace irrelevant information and skills with those you want in real time. With time and grit, anyone can be the Polymath.
  • This is where it gets scary. In the previous example, storage was delegated to a single person. But what if society could collectively store then share its experiences and knowledge? Everyone has access (if not to everything, certainly a lot). A collectively built, cleaned, and improved brain.

Safety:

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The safety implications of this technology are mind-blowing. Here are a few basic examples:

  • Your car broke down in the middle of Arizona in late August. The temperature is pushing past 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Your mobile phone is dead, you have no water, and it’s likely that no other people will drive by for a long time. Use your interface to dial emergency help and save yourself.
  • Quarry workers just experienced an accident. One of the workers accidentally dropped a heavy granite rock on one of their legs and can’t reach their radio — he can send an emergency message to his co-workers with his location and condition.
  • It’s dark one night and you trip on that unpaved sidewalk, knocking yourself unconscious with no obvious way of calling for help — the interface is tracking your neurological condition and triggers an alert to local authorities. You live to see another day.

Mind-to-mind communication:

Image via pixabay

Mind-to-mind communication — in other words, telepathy. The ability to share thoughts and ideas directly between people seems impossible.

Brain-machine interfaces makes this a reality, unleashing a massive improvement in the way we converse, collaborate, and work towards achieving common goals. If progress moves like a turtle, it could now move like a cheetah.

  • Explaining a difficult concept to someone just got that much easier. When one engages in a conversation about abstract or conceptual ideas, it is often difficult to turn those thoughts into words interpretable by the other party. Share complex ideas and thoughts directly without the intricacies and difficulty of translating them into language.
  • Group meetings would look a lot different. ‘Brainstorming’ would have a new, and more intuitive meaning. People would be able to more efficiently and accurately share problems, ideas, and solutions. Better collaboration, more innovation — progress.
  • You’re in a pandemic — law enforcement requires that you stay at home and not see anyone. No problem — connect to the cloud with your loved ones and have normal conversations.
  • You’re with your friends. They hate when you text and tell you to stop being on your phone. Can’t text anymore? Send a message or thought to someone with your mind. Have a full-on conversation without the burden of typing out words or aggravating someone for ‘always being on your phone.’

Sensory and emotional communication:

Image via pixabay

This type of communication is often one of the most difficult. One may say they know what you are feeling in some moment, but they usually can’t directly experience it.

If things seemed uneasy before, you’re in for a ride.

What are some examples of how brain-machine interfaces could revolutionize this type of communication?

  • You don’t have time to go to the beach with your friends because you have to finish that project. You do have time for a 30-minute break, so you tap into your buddy’s sensory inputs to live vicariously through her. You can smell the salt of the waves crashing, feel the warm sand, and hear the relaxing music playing. A new way to have a ‘beach day’.
  • Massive protests break out across the nation. Protestors are demanding for equal rights between all ethnicities — although you are historically known to exist within the privileged group, you can tap into the senses of those broken and anguished to grasp the perspectives of those in need. A new world intensified with empathy.
  • Missed that concert you were hoping to attend? Maybe you can still buy digital tickets to immerse yourself in the actual experience — access to the sounds, feel of the crowd, visualizations, and more.
  • Pay to virtually sit court-side at a Lakers vs. Celtics game. Watch Lebron James drain a 3-point shot over Jayson Tatum.
  • Remember that Black Mirror episode of the doctor that has access to directly experience his patients’ symptoms, in which he can easily diagnose a patient’s problem granted he can experience the symptoms himself? Yup.

I think you catch the drift. The list of possibilities and potential is inconceivable.

Why is this important?

Brain-machine interfaces bridge the gap between human intelligence and machine intelligence. As artificial intelligence increasingly becomes integrated into society, it seems fairly natural that we may eventually merge into one cyborg and use technology to our advantage.

So, why not integrate the technology directly into our brains? The historical development of communication methods and technologies makes it clear that the next step is brain-to-brain communication — and we may experience its superpowers in the near future.

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