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The Future Gets Closer, Part VII
September 3, 2014 1:56 PM   Subscribe


 
Brain signals to operate drones. Maybe not the best idea.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:00 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Every time I reach the point where I think I'm going crazy, along comes an FPP to show me the seeds of sanity.
posted by infini at 2:03 PM on September 3


So...maybe they really are up in my head?
posted by Thorzdad at 2:04 PM on September 3


Most technological developments are driven by the seven Gs: Gambling, Games, Geodata (where you, or someone or something else is), Genealogy, Girls (pornography), Good health (medicine) or Guns (military and defence).

Am wondering about the applications of this technology to those. Looks like the last category was quickly covered...
posted by Wordshore at 2:06 PM on September 3 [7 favorites]




Finally those hours learning the Shadowrun drone rigging rules will not have been in vain!
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:11 PM on September 3 [12 favorites]


So lets see:

We have a disembodied eel brain driving a little car(over a decade ago). We have Rat brain cells grown into computer chips. We have commercially available remote controlled animals. We have nanocopters that function in swarms, and now some fun new stuff in OP's header. And that's just the published/publicly available stuff.

How many years until we have soldiers connected into swarms (even small swarms) of cyborg animals, either for purposes of observation, or attack? How many years until that tech is commercially available?

If you could be connected to your dog via bluetooth, would you do it?


obligatory shout out to We3
posted by DGStieber at 2:18 PM on September 3 [3 favorites]


For now, fellow graduate student Prasanna Kolar stands nearby to operate the unmanned aerial vehicle, also called a UAV or drone, through a cell phone app — gently commanding it left and right.

But the goal is to create a process for a human to control the movements of groups of drones with only a thought, said Daniel Pack, chairman of UTSA's electrical and computer engineering department.


Gotta love science. Where else would you find people who can control an unmanned drone using an iPhone saying "this is not good enough".
posted by kisch mokusch at 2:20 PM on September 3 [5 favorites]


(@ @)
----
You have not read this. You have not read this. You have not read this. (continue on to next post)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:23 PM on September 3


I'm really glad I'm going to be dead in 40-50 years.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:25 PM on September 3 [5 favorites]


I'm really glad I'm going to be dead in 40-50 years.

There is no escape.
posted by homunculus at 2:29 PM on September 3 [3 favorites]


Resistance is Futile; or Pay $1.99 to opt out of Brain Ads
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:30 PM on September 3 [3 favorites]


Where else would you find people who can control an unmanned drone using an iPhone saying "this is not good enough".

I guess it's less clumsy than writing down commands with pen and paper and placing the slip in a "Suggestions" box.
posted by indubitable at 2:34 PM on September 3


Great work, Military Industrial Complex! Now if only we could figure out a way to weaponize the cure for cancer...
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:38 PM on September 3


They're using bluetooth. I wonder how many lab rats are running around on GPRS
posted by infini at 2:39 PM on September 3


I just love that none of this stuff would ever be designed to help people. But to more effectively kill more with less? Shovel money at it like mad.
posted by nevercalm at 2:43 PM on September 3 [4 favorites]


I just love that none of this stuff would ever be designed to help people. But to more effectively kill more with less? Shovel money at it like mad.
Unfortunately, you can't put a price tag on someone's life. But you clearly can put a price tag on their death.

Maybe we should work on solving that problem instead.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:45 PM on September 3 [6 favorites]


Whither jscalzi?
posted by boo_radley at 2:47 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


I first heard about laminated mouse brains in Cordwainer Smith's Norstrillia stories. Took them long enough.
posted by Splunge at 2:49 PM on September 3 [3 favorites]


I just love that none of this stuff would ever be designed to help people. But to more effectively kill more with less? Shovel money at it like mad.

Eh. Even if it's going to military research now, it will eventually move outward toward less malignant uses. Take the medium we are communicating over, for example.
posted by indubitable at 2:53 PM on September 3 [7 favorites]


Whither jscalzi?

Eh, this is more cstross' speed. Or maybe Neal Stephenson (Rat Things).
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:56 PM on September 3


Eh. Even if it's going to military research now, it will eventually move outward toward less malignant uses.

Like staffing Amazon's drone delivery service with a single employee cerebrate!

Urk.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 3:11 PM on September 3 [5 favorites]


The futurist that played rigger in Shadowrun in me has always been excited for this and other things straight out of Gibson's work that I'm getting to finally witness.

But, today, just reading that synopsis, the voice inside said, "No. No! Fuck this, NO!" I think I just hit my peak-future. Time for me to grow a lawn.
posted by _paegan_ at 3:12 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Here come the dreams interrupted by advertisements....
posted by Renoroc at 3:25 PM on September 3


Why is it that the people writing the Future always seem to be masturbating to the worst dystopian SF novels?
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:26 PM on September 3 [3 favorites]


The original peer-reviewed article for that brain-to-brain communication thing was published here in PLOS ONE, which means that it's Open Access and anybody can read it if they like. The link was provided in the io9 article.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:37 PM on September 3 [5 favorites]


The hippie, transhumanist, and realist in my mind are clashing.

Because i feel like actual brain to brain communication, of actual thoughts would end all conflict in the world nearly instantly. It would be like the POV gun in HGTTG.

But, i know this will all end in a fireball anyways.
posted by emptythought at 3:38 PM on September 3 [5 favorites]


The teenage me would have celebrated this. Interfacing your brain directly with technology. The adult me knows that that sort of thing comes with a price. I suppose I will take comfort in the fact that we still cannot define consciousness, let alone the unconscious parts of our brain. Manipulation of that is (hopefully) far off. But I imagine there are people who would love to have that ability. Imagine every single person in North Korea actually truly loving the dear leader.

RedOrGreen - you're forgetting the BrainPalTM.

To steal a quote from Alpha Centauri:

The Warrior's bland acronym, MMI, obscures the true horror of this monstrosity. Its inventors promise a new era of genius, but meanwhile unscrupulous power brokers use its forcible installation to violate the sanctity of unwilling human minds. They are creating their own private army of demons. - Commissioner Pravin Lal
posted by Hactar at 3:39 PM on September 3 [3 favorites]


RedOrGreen: "Eh, this is more cstross' speed. Or maybe Neal Stephenson (Rat Things)."

Don't make me override your brainpal.
posted by boo_radley at 3:48 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


Also: woah.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:48 PM on September 3


So I'm working on one of the DARPA BRAIN neural prosthetic projects. Since it's a touchy subject, I'll just provide a link to a DARPA-approved press release.

Safe to say, though, that I am far less worried about the transhumanism-type implications with this brain-augmentation research & development now that I'm on the front lines. Not to say that it's ever too early to discuss ethical concerns with scientific advancement, but it's like the Wright Brothers talking about the effects of spaceflight or breaking the sound barrier on the human body.

The brain is the epitome of a black box.
posted by supercres at 4:00 PM on September 3 [16 favorites]


Also, the aim on my project (and related ones) is squarely on treatment, just with a military spin: memory restoration for TBI, depression related to PTSD, etc. That's the party line, anyway; not like they'd tell a bunch of academics anything else. DARPA just happens to have the fat checkbook.

As someone who'd like to see defense spending get rerouted to, say, research at NIH/NIMH/NINDS or NSF, this isn't a terrible end-run around really warped budget priorities in Washington.
posted by supercres at 4:05 PM on September 3 [7 favorites]


it's like the Wright Brothers talking about the effects of spaceflight or breaking the sound barrier on the human body.

That sort of sucks as an example then, because 44 years went by between the wright bros and the first supersonic flight, and 66 years went by between the first powered flight and landing on the moon.

It took essentially a decade, and maybe some change for the internet(and general inter-computer WAN communication) to go from something only nerds and large corporations used or even knew how to use, to something your grandma sent you email on.

Every single thing i can think of like this, the more time went on the faster the technological advancements stacked up. There's also plenty of examples of how quickly something went from super expensive/the drawing board to general use. Look at say, multitouch. And there's pretty much just as many logical progressions as there are huge leaps in a category. Some of which leverage something else that was in and of itself a Big Deal(see the internet, then netflix vs cable).

I wouldn't be surprised if in 20 years the conclusion of this was full on brainstorm/.hack type full immersion virtual reality and gaming/entertainment/remote control of hardware and telepresence/anything. Hell, if someone told me it would be raring up to get going in ten years i would say it was plausible.

I mean, i'll believe you if you really think this is super far out like real fusion power or something... but if it is, you didn't use a very convincing example. More of an example that makes me really hopeful i'll be alive to see this happen.
posted by emptythought at 4:47 PM on September 3 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure what people are worried about. It's like worrying that maybe we shouldn't create fire because then fire could be used for bad things and thus we don't develop fire and hide away hoping that nobody else invents it as well. Should we suffocate innovation to prevent the possibility of misuse?
posted by I-baLL at 5:03 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


44 years went by between the wright bros and the first supersonic flight, and 66 years went by between the first powered flight and landing on the moon.

Like I said, the brain is an insanely complicated black box. There's basic science going on here in addition to the engineering, so even the Wright brothers were too conservative an analogy. The better comparison is between ENIAC and my grandma sending email, or, hell, Marconi to WAN. Maybe even Isaac Newton and the beginnings of the study of EM radiation to WAN, or at least Newton to Marconi.

We're talking about observing a natural phenomenon to harnessing it. The more apt comparison is Bernoulli observing lift in an airfoil to breaking the sound barrier. The study of neuroscience is in its infancy; we're not that far past Bernoulli. We're at the Da Vinci flying machine stage of engineering-- just starting to think about how to take advantage of phenomena that we barely understand the mechanics of. In vitro neuroscience, sure, but the brain, and something as complicated as depression or memory?

THAT SAID, I'm incredibly optimistic about projects like these.
posted by supercres at 5:31 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure what people are worried about. It's like worrying that maybe we shouldn't create fire because then fire could be used for bad things and thus we don't develop fire and hide away hoping that nobody else invents it as well

Go tell it to Prometheus, I like my liver where it is.
posted by angerbot at 5:39 PM on September 3 [3 favorites]


but it's like the Wright Brothers talking about the effects of spaceflight

Orvile flew a jet.

On April 19, 1944, the second production Lockheed Constellation, piloted by Howard Hughes and TWA president Jack Frye, flew from Burbank, California to Washington, D.C. in 6 hours and 57 minutes. On the return trip, the aircraft stopped at Wright Field to give Orville Wright his last airplane flight, more than 40 years after his historic first flight. He may even have briefly handled the controls.

supercres has really interesting comments, the brain is vastly more of a black box than anyone can probably imagine, but it also seems vastly more flexible capable of interacting with, ah, non-original parts. I really hope the first uses will be to give people with limb loss full mobility rather than the silly drone control stuff.

How many folks have boring inanimate piercings? Implants will take off like crazy at the earliest possibility.
posted by sammyo at 5:47 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


>It's like worrying that maybe we shouldn't create fire

No it's not. Fire is wonderfully simple to make, and easy to share, and thus rather democratic and individualistic at the end of the day. You may make fire your way, and I may make it mine, and we both may use it the way we want to. Or not use it at all if we'd rather.

>It's like the Wright Brothers talking about the effects of spaceflight or breaking the sound barrier on the human body.

That's a little closer, but you can still opt out of flight. I have a grandmother that's never been on a plane- she doesn't trust them. She sends me emails, though, and pays bills online, and worries about hackers stealing her identity. I don't think she trusts the internet all that much more than she trusts planes, but the internet is where life happens now, and she can't really opt out of that.

And these technologies really do shape the way people live and think, even without physical chips in physical brains. Facebook, and "Like"s, and RT's mean that the way a 15-year-old conceives of "getting involved" is actually different from the way a 75, 55, or even 35-year-old conceives of it. Their character and their virtues are differently shaped because of this tech. And it's not just "getting involved", it's things like "Love", "Trust", and "Fear" (@Kattalus from an earlier FPP), "Joy", "The Sublime", and a whole number of things that have been the crux of religion and philosophy for millennia. And, percentage wise, the number of people shaping the tech that shapes humanity is getting smaller and smaller.

These things being invented today are going to dramatically affect the way billions of future people live, and die, and interact. Those used to be profoundly moral or spiritual questions, but now they're being answered by companies worried about next quarters profits, or governments worried about the next war, or election.

I'm not worried that "fire will be used for bad things". Tech is always used for good and ill, depending on the will of the user. But this is tech that shapes the user, and that's something else entirely.
posted by DGStieber at 5:59 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


The underrated recentish remake of 90s videogame Syndicate was a surprisingly well-imagined riff on what it might be like giving an amoral all-powerful corporation direct access to your brain.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:10 PM on September 3


At this receiving location, a CBI transmitted the message to the receivers' brains through noninvasive brain stimulation. This was experienced as phosphenes — flashes of light in their peripheral vision. The light appeared in the numerical sequences that allowed the receivers to decode the data in the message.

This just strikes me as a really hokey attempt to spur interest or get funding. So what they really did was use an EEG on one end to trigger a command. There's no discussion of how capable the receiver is, but I'm guessing it wasn't arbitrary text input. That text was then piped into an encoder and presented to the subjects as flashing light. It is neat that they can make people perceive flashing lights through transcranial stimulation, but I'd be willing to bet there's nothing new here.

The drone control from UTSA is equally silly. I like the rational of the researcher - instead of carrying a tablet computer into the field to control the drone, troops can use a noisy interface built into their helmet that requires hours of training! Also, I'd be willing to bet decoding EEG signals into commands requires more computing power than a simple GUI interface.
posted by heathkit at 6:13 PM on September 3 [3 favorites]


Spoiler? Not good.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:13 PM on September 3


Should we suffocate innovation to prevent the possibility of misuse?

As long as we have economic, social and political systems that behave as if we have no control or responsibility over where our technology leads us, maybe?
posted by saulgoodman at 6:15 PM on September 3


In the hands of a sane civilization, these technologies, once fully developed, could be used to create something damn close to a utopia, but they're too much power to give to one as diseased as ours.

If misused they could reduce human beings to a slavery more total than the worst 19th century plantation-holder or 20th century despot could ever have dreamed of; the temptation to governments, corporations and probably even the occasional plucky, future-oriented religion to misuse them in this way will be impossible to resist.

>Unfortunately, you can't put a price tag on someone's life. But you clearly can put a price tag on their death.

Maybe we should work on solving that problem instead.


Actually, governments have been doing that for decades. You sort of need to be able to in order decide whether, say, a new highway-safety measure, or a proposed pollution control rule is cost-effective. In the US, the cash value of doing something that will probably result in one less death in the future from some particular cause is generally around $8M - $10M a head, depending on which agency is doing the estimating.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 6:27 PM on September 3


"I just love that none of this stuff would ever be designed to help people. But to more effectively kill more with less? Shovel money at it like mad."

Most of the research that I've seen on stuff like this has focused on amputees being able to control prosthetic arms, actually.
posted by klangklangston at 6:38 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


Anything to stop using these stupid anachronistic keyboards.
posted by lumpenprole at 6:48 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Anything to stop using these stupid anachronistic keyboards.

You say that, but wait until intrusive thoughts are the new typo.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:04 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


> Orvile flew a jet.

The Constellation was a four engined prop, but still an amazing airplane!
posted by Fleeno at 7:06 PM on September 3


I don't fully understand the "brain-to-brain" communication in the first link. So the person mentally spelled out a specific word, they used the EEG to encode into binary, then sent it by email, where on the other side they input the binary code into some thing that stimulated the receiver's brain into "seeing" flashing lights? And then presumably the receiver needed to translate the flashing lights back into human language like with morse code? So they didn't really send each other "thoughts", just used one machine to read brain signals and other machine to induce brain signals in somebody else?

Then the drone mind control thing. Even if they had something where you could "think" commands to a drone, I would totally be worried about intrusive thoughts. Doesn't everyone have those to some extent? You would need to spend years and years doing meditation just to control your OWN mind from not flipping out and crashing the drone...or just fly the damn thing using a remote control handset.
posted by pravit at 7:22 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


If I understand it correctly the Grau study developed a protocol whereby the motor imagery (measured as EEG activity) of the hands or feet of subject A induced corresponding flashes of light (through transcranial stimulation) in subject B. In this way they managed to transfer information at a rate of 2 bits per minute. By comparison, skilled Morse operators, who encode information by translating words from Morse code into rapid movements of the hand and decode it by listening to an acoustic signal, achieve (according to Wikipedia) 35 words per minute. Average typists, who encode information by hitting keys on a keyboard, can encode information at a similar rate and skilled typists achieve 100 or 150 wpm (Wikipedia again). Assuming the average number of characters per word in English is 5 (Wolfram Alpha) and assuming every character requires 5 bits (the Grau study uses this figure), an average typist or skilled Morse operator manages about 875 bits per second, i.e 437.5 times more efficient, except that the Grau study also transmits every bit 7 times for redundancy, meaning the average typist or skilled Morse operator employs a transmission scheme that is about 3062.5 times more efficient, disregarding the effort of setting up EEG machines and transcranial stimulators. Skilled, rather than average, typists, can be up to 10000 times more efficient.
posted by dmh at 8:27 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


I should mention that I'm not clear whether the reported 2 bit transmission rate includes the 7x redundancy or not, so perhaps typing is only 437.5 and ~1430 times as efficient.
posted by dmh at 8:35 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's the absolute best way for brains to communicate except for all the ones provided by nature and all the other ones developed by human technology.
posted by Segundus at 11:18 PM on September 3


This is like that time in the 90s when they invented "cybersex" and it was a remote controlled vibrator.
posted by yoHighness at 9:19 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


You say that, but wait until intrusive thoughts are the new typo.

That's ridiculous, that could never HE KNOWS TOO MUCH happen.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:24 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


I agree, you're imagining thi-SHUT HER UP ALREADY SHE IS TYPING AGAIN-ngs. All of this is hand waving not "Mr Watson will you please come in here"
posted by infini at 12:04 PM on September 4


  1. I will seriously favorite pretty much any quote from Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri.
  2. I can't not read any quote from Alpha Centauri in the voice of the character who says it.
3. where do you want your node today?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:16 PM on September 4 [2 favorites]


What I liked best was the method of shipping ores and minerals from asteroids back to the factory. What was it? Some kind of booster ray or slingshot?
posted by infini at 1:23 PM on September 4


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