This Mind-reading Headset Gives You Superpowers

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This Mind-reading Headset Gives You Superpowers
April 6, 2018
A new mind-reading device means people can silently type on their computer just with their thoughts - and it's accurate 90 per cent of the time. Arnav Kapur, a researcher at the MIT Media Lab, demonstrates the AlterEgo device 

 

- Headset silently interprets what users are thinking, giving them 'superpowers'

- When people think about verbalising something, the brain sends signals

- Device has sensors that pick up seven key areas along the cheek, jaw and chin

- Other companies, such as Neuralink, are developing computer-brain interfaces

 

A new mind-reading device means people can silently type on their computer using nothing but thoughts - and it's accurate 90 per cent of the time.

 

Instead of communicating with smart devices by saying 'Ok Google' or 'Hey Siri', the headset silently interprets what users are thinking, giving them 'superpowers', researchers say.

 

When people think about verbalising something, the brain sends signals to facial muscles - even if nothing is said aloud.

 

The device has sensors that pick up seven key areas along the cheek, jaw and chin that can recognise words and can even talk back once it has processed them.

 

Other companies, such as Elon Musk's Neuralink, are also developing 'Matrix' style computer-brain interfaces to give people advanced mental abilities. 

 

Currently the 'AlterEgo' device, which was created by researchers from MIT Media Lab, can recognise digits 0 to 9 and has a vocabulary of around 100 words.

 

'It gives you superpowers,' graduate student Arnav Kapur, who created the device with Pattie Maes told the New Scientist.

 

The system consists of a wearable device and an associated computing system which is directly linked to a program that can query Google.

 

Electrodes in the device pick up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face which are triggered when users say words 'in their head'.

 

The signals are fed to a machine-learning system that has been trained to correlate particular signals with particular words.

The device also includes a pair of bone-conduction headphones, which transmit vibrations through the bones of the face to the inner ear. 

 

These headphones do not obstruct the ear canal so users can still hear information without their conversations being interrupted.

 

'The motivation for this was to build an IA device — an intelligence-augmentation device,' said Mr Kapur.

 

'Our idea was: Could we have a computing platform that's more internal, that melds human and machine in some ways and that feels like an internal extension of our own cognition?'

The device also includes a pair of bone-conduction headphones, which transmit vibrations through the bones of the face to the inner ear

 

This silent-computing system means users can communicate with Google without being detected by any one else. 

 

To start with, researchers found which part of the face was the source of the most reliable neuromuscular signals.

 

They did this by asking people to subvocalise the same series of words four times with 16 different electrodes at different facial locations each time.

 

They found signals from seven particular locations were consistently able to distinguish subvocalised words.

 

Using this information, MIT researchers created a prototype that wraps around the back of the neck like a telephone handset.

 

It touches the face in seven locations either side of the mouth and along the jaw.

 

They then collected data on a few computational tasks with limited vocabularies - around 20 words each.

 

One was arithmetic and the other was used in a chess game. The prototype device could complete these tasks with 90 per cent accuracy.

 

In one experiment researchers used the system to report the opponents' moves in a chess game. In response the device gave recommended responses.

 

Brain and memory preservation has been explored at length by futurists, scientists and science fiction junkies alike. 

 

Many say it falls under the category of 'transhumanism.'  

 

Transhumanism is the belief that the human body can evolve beyond its current form with the help of scientists and technology.  

 

The practice of mind uploading has been promoted by many people, including Ray Kurzweil, Google's director of engineering, believes we will be able to upload our entire brains to computers by 2045.

 

Similar technologies have been depicted in science fiction dramas, ranging from Netflix's Altered Carbon, to the popular series Black Mirror.  

 

Another prominent futurist, Dr Michio Kaku, believes virtual reality can be used to keep our loved ones' personalities and memories alive even after they die. 

Scientists and futurists have different theories about how we might be able to preserve the human brain, ranging from uploading our memories to a computer to Nectome's high-tech embalming process, which can keep it intact for thousands of years

 

'Imagine being able to speak to your loved one after they die, but it is possible if their personality has been downloaded onto a computer as an avatar,' he explained. 

 

These ideas haven't been met without criticism, however. 

 

McGill University Neuroscientist Michael Hendricks told MIT that these technologies are a 'joke.'

 

'I hope future people are appalled that in the 21st century, the richest and most comfortable people in history spent their money and resources trying to live forever on the backs of their descendants. I mean, it’s a joke, right? They are cartoon bad guys,” Hendricks said. 

 

Meanwhile, neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis said recently that such technologies would be virtually impossible. 

 

'The brain is not computable and no engineering can reproduce it,' he said. 

 

'You can have all the computer chips in the world and you won't create a consciousness,' he added. 

 

'We basically can't live without our cellphones, our digital devices,' said Dr Maes, a professor of media arts and sciences.

 

'But at the moment, the use of those devices is very disruptive. 

 

'If I want to look something up that's relevant to a conversation I'm having, I have to find my phone and type in the passcode and open an app and type in some search keyword, and the whole thing requires that I completely shift attention from my environment and the people that I'm with to the phone itself', she said.

 

With this device, users can still benefit from such a device but in a way that lets them remain in the present, she said. 

 

Researchers described their device in a paper presented at the Association for Computing Machinery's ACM Intelligent User Interface conference.

 

'We're in the middle of collecting data, and the results look nice,' Mr Kapur said.

 

'I think we'll achieve full conversation some day.'

 

These are not the only researchers looking to develop mind-reading devices.  

 

Other companies, such as Elon Musk's Neuralink, are also developing 'Matrix' style computer-brain interfaces to give people advanced mental abilities.

Other companies, such as Elon Musk's Neuralink, are also developing 'Matrix' style computer-brain interfaces to give people advanced mental abilities. It was revealed last month that Musk  (pictured) might already be testing his Neuralink mind-reading device on animals

 

It was revealed last month that Musk might already be testing his Neuralink mind-reading device on animals.

 

Devices being developed by the firm are designed to give people advanced mental abilities, which Musk says will let humanity keep up with future 'god-like' AI systems.

 

City planning documents submitted by the company reveal plans for 'a small operating room for in vivo testing, and a small room to house rodents.'

 

It is not known what the tests involved, whether they actually took place, or if they are on-going, as Neuralink has refused to comment on the matter.

 

Unlike his prominent work with Tesla, SpaceX and Hyperloop, Musk has been unusually quiet about Neuralink.

 

Very little is known about the exact nature of the work being undertaken by the firm, beyond the fact it is attempting to develop 'ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers'.

 

Some suspect this may be to avoid discussing the animal testing that will be necessary to bring the firm's products to market.

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