Mind Reading to Furries: Turning Thought into Action

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NPR has a good story this morning, Mind Reading: Technology Turns Thought Into Action.

An old technology is providing new insights into the human brain.

The technology is called electrocorticography, or ECoG, and it uses electrodes placed on the surface of the brain to detect electrical signals coming from the brain itself.

Doctors have been using ECoG since the 1950s to figure out which area of the brain is causing seizures in people with severe epilepsy. But in the past decade, scientists have shown that when connected to a computer running special software, ECoG also can be used to control robotic arms, study how the brain produces speech and even decode thoughts.

In one recent experiment, researchers were able to use ECoG to determine the word a person was imagining.

So,yes, you get bionic arms and virtual hands, listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall album, and the differences between actual and imagined speech, all wrapped up in one article. Plus some good video onsite too!

“One of the surprising initial findings coming out of that research was that actual and imagined speech (are) very, very different,” [Gerwin] Schalk says.

When your brain wants you to say a word out loud, it produces two sets of signals. One has to do with moving the muscles controlling the mouth and vocal tract. The second set involves signals in the brain’s auditory system.

But when a person simply thinks of a word instead of saying it, there are no muscle signals — just the activity in the parts of the brain involved in listening.

“And that seems to suggest that what imagined speech actually really is, it’s more like internally listening to your own voice,” Schalk says.

So, he says, it should be possible use ECoG to eavesdrop on that inner voice and decode what we’re thinking.

Schalk says he hasn’t quite done that yet. But he’s close. In one experiment, he says, the ECoG system tried to recognize several dozen unspoken words in the minds of volunteers. It was right about half the time.

But why go all NPR on this mind-reading technology? Serious and sober, a measured piece… Why not see the real potential in being able to detect electronic signals from the brain? Yes, consumer technology! And not just any consumer technology, but one to enhance cosplay and furry fandom.

NeuroWear, a Japanese company, has invented Necomimi, a pair of wearable cat ears that react to your thoughts – or so they claim. Here’s a snippet from the Japanese product description, modified from Scott Beale’s translation:

We have created new human organs that use brain wave sensors.

“Necomimi” is the new communication tool that augments humans’ body and ability.

This cat’s ear shaped machine utilizes brain waves and express your state of mind before you start talking.

Just put on “necomimi” and if you are concentrating this cat’s ear shaped machine will rise.

When you are relaxed, your new ears lie down.

But the video itself is too funny. Here it is, in all its glory:

Link to NPR’s Mind Reading: Technology Turns Thought Into Action

Link to brain-computer interface researcher Gerwin Schalk’s Wadsworth Institute page and his personal website

NPR also links to videos that are part of the American Museum of Natural History’s exhibit, Brain: The Inside Story, which is an exhibit at the NYC museum open now through August 15th

And hat-tip to Re/Creating Tampa for the Necomimi Cat-ears

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