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OUTSOURCING OUR BODIES

04.04.2012

The brain is who we are.  It holds our personality, our emotion, our perspectives, and the logic that distinguishes us from all other life on our planet.  Yet the brain is fragile: it needs a skull for protection, it needs a flow of blood to function, it needs limbs to carry out orders.

Recently, however, technologists have explored unique ways to circumvent the last of those needs.  And they’re testing these revolutionary methods to free a very valuable brain that is locked in a broken body: Stephen Hawking.

A piece in yesterday’s New York Times explores, specifically, how a new product called iBrain is being tested to translate Hawking’s thoughts into actions his body is incapable of performing.  The hope is the iBrain will retrieve the raw waves of the mind and translate them, using a complex algorithm, into commands.  Once these commands are mined, they can be digitally converted into the thoughtful words and expressions that comprise human communication.

But there’s the potential for even more: translating those commands into physical actions – such as turning on the lights – by wirelessly relaying them to elements in an environment.  And why stop there?  Why couldn’t it change the room temperature when you think you’re too cold?  Or type notes as you listen to a lecture?

If you think this sounds like the far off possibilities of science fiction, notice how Hawking’s other communication tool of interest – facial recognition – is beginning to matriculate into everyday life.  There’s no reason to expect any less of the iBrain; the more refined the technology becomes, the more relevance it could have in shaping how we interact with the physical world.

…as long as we don’t take it too far, of course:

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