Robots controlled by brain waves

by James Meikle

After whiling away hours of my time trying to use telekinesis to roll a pea across a table, I’d all but given up on the notion that I could move things with my mind. Turns out that there is hope after all, I might just need a little tech to do it.

Several serious tech companies have been working on projects which involve interpreting either brainwaves or bioelectric signals in the skin. The ability to decipher these signals is the key to creating technology we can control with our thoughts.

In a concept with similarities to the movie Avatar, Swiss scientists have been working on robots controlled by brain waves. The robots would be operated by seriously disabled people who could use them to perform tasks around the home or interact with family members. While undoubtedly having the capacity to improve the quality of life for many people, it also has the potential to freak the hell out of many others.

One of the other projects under development has similarities to another pop-culture icon: Iron Man. Japanese scientists have been developing a Hybrid Assistive Limb exoskeleton suit. The suit reads the wearer’s intentions to move by interpreting bioelectric signals on the surface of the skin. The suit then performs or augments the movement the wearer is trying to achieve.

As well as having the potential to restore mobility to disabled people, the tech could also be used to turn the able bodied into super strong sci-fi style cyborgs. There are however, some seriously disturbing omens in the names. The company’s name is Cyberdyne and the suit is called HAL. However much fun the suit looks, you just could not convince me to wear one: I’d be terrified it would take control of my body, talk to me in an extremely condescending tone then attempt to wipe out humanity by triggering a nuclear holocaust and building time-travelling killer robots.

On a lighter note, the brainwave interaction designs could revolutionize gaming. Imagine the possibilities when combined with advanced virtual reality systems. You could put on a headset which would allow you to enter a virtual gaming world where you could control every aspect of your character’s body with only your thoughts. We could all be running around cyberspace with chiselled good looks and washboard abs while vegging out on the couch at home.

These technologies do offer wonderful possibilities, but what dangers do they pose? Is it possible that people could develop a neurological dependence on brainwave driven technology? Could a two-way link be developed allowing a computer to send information directly into your brain, and if so, could this link be hacked? It may be the case that we have to look to science fiction to help us see the potential dangers of these technologies.

Anyway, back to that pea. If I want to get it rolling it looks like I’ll have to strap some electrodes to my head and get my hands on a mindless robot minion… could be fun!

In what weird and wonderful ways could the tech in this article be used? Post your comments in the box below.

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