For information technology to bring real value it not only has to form a synchronous union with one's mind (or should I say brain, as 'mind' - like 'consciousness', is a contentious topic) but such a technology-human connection must actually be inside the brain. In Asia, it is clear that our connectivity happens increasingly through mobile devices; our tablets and smart phones allow easy entry onto the Looking Glass world of the Internet where we play and work.
However, there are more examples where technology has moved even closer to our thought processes such as a thought-reading headphone, which has been available in the U.S. for some time. It is a lightweight headset (called MindWave from NeuroSky) that reaches halfway across the forehead tipped by an electroencephalogram (EEG) sensor measures the intensity of beta and alpha brainwaves. These signals are aligned to the level of your relaxation and attention and are then wirelessly transmitted to a laptop, for example or perhaps used to direct the storyline in interactive films. Another innovation, this from Europe, is Austrian firm G.Tec Medical Engineering's Intendix system, which helps people with limited motor functions to type using thought alone.
Further along the path to removing the 'middle men' between brain and technology is exemplified by a car braking system that is worked by brain signals. The efficacy of such a system is that it gives the driver a precious few extra milliseconds (normally taken between the brain and the leg muscles). Some cars already have systems to detect traffic hazards, and can then stop the vehicle the moment the driver touches the brake. The Berlin Institute of Technology's Stefan Haufe thinks that direct connection to the driver's thoughts does indeed make response times faster than 'the real world process'. These systems triggered the braking system 130 milliseconds sooner than waiting for the driver to touch the pedal, as experiments at the Free University of Berlin, Germany, have shown: at 100 km per hour, this would reduce the stopping distance by the length of a small car, perhaps just enough to prevent an accident.
However, Palaniappan Ramaswamy at the University of Essex in Colchester, UK, says the system needs the driver to be fully alert and prepared to break and may not work yet in the real world; it is only a matter of time and better software development. Imagine you were in an accident and had the opportunity to carry on living by having your brain placed into a cyborg body-machine? Would such technology, if such a process worked at all (remember that 'consciousness/mind' may not be an intrinsic part of the brain) be a help or a hindrance? The march to marry technology with our brains has clearly broken out into a mad dash. Even the positive and negative economic and social cycles that we hear about every day has not appeared to put a break in ICT's sprint to a brave new world. Perhaps we need to take a breath and see what benefits are we actually hoping to achieve?
I suppose the bottom line for now is: don't try this at home.
- AvantiKumar, Editor, Computerworld Malaysia & Malaysia Country Correspondent for Fairfax Tech Channels
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