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Devices that read human thought now possible

Kalman Rubinson kr4 at nyu.edu
Mon Nov 10 21:17:34 EST 2003

Hah! Let us have one when you can so that we can replaced our MEG.


On Tue, 11 Nov 2003 02:14:21 GMT, "Allen L. Barker"
<alb at datafilter.com> wrote:

>[Now that such things are openly known to be possible it is
>time to consider the ethical and human rights issues involved.
>It is actually well past time, but better late than never.
>Such technologies can help the disabled and could even enhance
>our ordinary cognition.  But they can also be used nonconsensually
>-- in situations like interrogations -- in ways which would justify
>the term mind rape.  Such devices can be designed into torture
>implements, to turn the brain's own signals against it to inflict
>enhanced psychological (and concomitant physical) injuries.
>Such nonconsensual testing and application of the technologies
>and techniques may be carried out under the false cover of
>psychiatric illness -- with plenty of historical precedent,
>Devices that read human thought now possible, study says
>Brain implants could help severely disabled
>Carl T. Hall, Chronicle Science Writer
>New Orleans -- Less than a month after a widely heralded experiment
>showed how thought-reading implants can work in monkeys, scientists
>presented new findings Sunday suggesting such machines could work in
>people, too.
>Dr. Miguel A.L. Nicolelis of Duke University said previously
>unreported human experiments demonstrated success with one type of a
>so-called brain computer interface, or BCI.
>He and others discussed their latest findings Sunday at the annual
>meeting in New Orleans of the Society for Neuroscience, the world's
>largest gathering of brain researchers. About 28,000 people are
>attending the weeklong event.
>Much of the attention on Sunday was given to technology designed to
>overcome paralyzing injuries or illnesses afflicting the nervous
>system. About 11,000 new cases arise every year, adding to a total
>estimated at more than 200,000.
>Nicolelis said the new study had been done in a few Parkinson's
>disease patients while they were undergoing open-skull neurosurgery
>for their disease.
>Full results, he said, have been submitted for peer review to a
>scientific journal and were not a formal part of the program, in which
>he and colleagues reported new details from the monkey experiments
>already published.
>Nicolelis said the important point was that the principle had been
>shown to work: People can control devices merely by thinking.
>Ultimately, it may be possible to design high-tech implants that can
>read and direct the muscles using the patient's own intentions and
>natural sensory equipment.
>For now, it's a much less grandiose business of just tuning the
>equipment to the human brain's frequency.
>In the Duke experiments, patients were being fitted with standard
>electrical stimulator devices, which can help to control Parkinson's
>This procedure requires the patient to be awake while the surgeon
>identifies a safe route through brain tissue, taking care not to harm
>brain cells needed for essential functions. As part of that process,
>the surgeon periodically asks the patient to speak or move while
>recording localized brain activity.
>Nicolelis and his colleagues took advantage of the opportunity and
>recorded the information the surgeon was obtaining. Then, for
>five-minute periods while the patient was being operated on, they
>conducted simple reaching-and-grasping experiments to determine
>whether the patient's intentions could accurately be read -- the first
>essential step in controlling a limb by computer implant.
>That's a far cry from proving that a workable long-term implant would
>be safe and effective. Nicolelis said it was much too soon to "even
>think about" moving any particular device into full-blown clinical
>A competing group, however, led by founders and collaborators of a
>company called Cyberkinetics Inc., has announced plans to begin a
>small safety study next year of an implant designed to allow a
>paralyzed patient to control a desktop computer.
>That device, called "BrainGate," is based on research at Brown
>led by scientist John Donaghue. He and other company officials
>described the technology on Sunday as a "novel gateway" for people
>with no other options.
>"These are the opening days of a new era in neurotechnology," Donaghue
>The competition, however, has gotten somewhat testy of late amid an
>explosion of interest. Some scientists accuse Nicolelis of
>overreaching, noting that his latest monkey experiment actually wasn't
>the first to show a "thoughts-into-action" device could function in a
>primate; he was merely the first to show that a monkey's brain firings
>could be harnessed to direct complicated movement, involving both
>reaching and grasping.
>Meanwhile, Nicolelis decried the entry of corporate interests into a
>field once thought to be purely science fiction, now being taken
>seriously as modern medicine at the cutting edge of technology.
>"I am a university professor," Nicolelis said. "I have no interests in
>any business. I am Brazilian -- I want to have fun, I don't want to
>make money. What I am very afraid of is that people who really want to
>make a buck out of this will be rushing into the clinical thing. I
>don't believe in that. A lot of important science needs to be done,
>and we need to go step by step in a very careful way."
>All the labs claim to be pursuing the technology responsibly.
>Donaghue and his colleagues pointed out they were also university
>scientists who realized the only way to fully exploit the technology
>was to form a company capable of raising the money needed to carry out
>very expensive clinical studies. Cyberkinetics is proceeding with the
>guidance of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
>In the latest studies on people, Nicolelis' Duke group had to use a
>simplified version of the animal study protocol to stay within the
>bounds of a five-minute surgical window. But that was still enough,
>Nicolelis said, to show animal and human brains can be read much in
>the same way.
>"We are showing the same computational algorithms work, the same
>technology in general works, suggesting the principle would work in a
>patient that is severely handicapped," Nicolelis said. "We are able to
>predict the hand position, and the hand force, while they are doing
>the task during the surgery."
>Before you can lift even a finger, nerves fire in the brain, along the
>spinal cord and nerve pathways of the arm, then back again in a
>tightly controlled feedback loop.
>Douglas J. Weber, of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, reported
>new research Sunday suggesting that the motion of a limb can be
>accurately predicted by reading the firings of just a handful of brain
>cells -- only 10 or so in one case.
>That means it may be simpler than once imagined to tap into the body's
>own sensory apparatus to keep some natural motion going with a brain
>implant merely as a detour around a damaged spinal cord or other
>problem in the brain's natural circuitry.
>Dr. Jonathan Wolpaw of the New York State Department of Health's
>Wadsworth Center described new methods of reading signals that can be
>detected outside and just beneath the surface of the skull, suggesting
>the possibility that some devices may not even have to be implanted
>into the brain. Implants run some risk of infections and other
>But he and others emphasized it might be several years before the
>first such devices were ready for widespread use, and they noted that
>the technology worked only in individuals who might be utterly
>disabled and "locked in," with no ability to move even their eyes, and
>yet had enough healthy brain activity to drive the implants.
>The revolution will start slowly, Wolpaw said, in a few people "who
>are the most disabled and who have no other options."

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