Boy: Try not to bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Boy: Then you'll see, it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.
Hopefully, from the first line, you recognized the above excerpt is from the Matrix. The Matrix was one of those groundbreaking movies that had us questioning our reality, potential, and our future, long after it released.
The one, Neo, had to realize for himself what he was capable of which turned out to be just about anything. These abilities lie dormant in him throughout the entire film, in the most powerful entity in the human body, his mind.
Now, of course, the Matrix was only a movie and in the real world people don't fly, slow bullets down with their hand, or hold helicopters with a rope wrapped around their wrist. However, brain-controlled interfaces (BCI's) may soon allow humans to manipulate the physical world with mental commands.
Stanford neuroscientists have successfully used implanted BCI's to restore limb movement in paralyzed patients using off-the-shelf wearable technology. One company heavily invested in BCI's is called Neuralink, owned by none other than Elon Musk. The savvy tech mind behind the electric car company Tesla motors and spacecraft manufacturer SpaceX. Neuralink aims to "eventually help humans merge with computer software in order to keep pace with artificial intelligence advancements."
It's difficult to predict how BCI's will impact the world in their infancy stage, but American conceptual artist and self-described "experimental philosopher" Jonathon Keats has a vision of the mind-controlled future. His "brain-controlled factory," called Mental Work Industries, is the first of its kind and he wants you to be part of it.
Mental Work allows visitors to control manufacturing processes with their mind. Guests sport an electroencephalogram (EEG) headset which measures electrical activity in their brains via small nodes attached to the scalp.
Individuals' neural signals are detected by Mental Work's computer interfaces, and according to neuroscientist Jose Milan, "algorithmic analysis of these signals will transform cognitive activity into physical action."
This physical action is imposed on slider cranks, a device reminiscent of the 19th century that converts straight line movement into rotary motion. According to Milan, workers control the machine by imagining movement in their hands.
Visitors then work their way down an assembly line of three brain-controlled machines. The first allows subjects to manipulate the speed of the machine. The second station modulates the input from brainwaves from the first station to increase the difficulty of impacting the speed of the device. The third machine employs two different types of BCI: alpha-wave activity and motor imagery.
Alpha-wave activity increases when the mind is in a relaxed state, which gives the individual more passive control of the machine. Similar to when you arrive at your destination after a ten-minute drive, but you don't remember actually driving. Motor imagery, however, gives the user "fully alert control" over the machine. The BCI selected at station three is determined based on how well the individual has controlled the device at the 2 previous stations.
Mental Work Industries will not be producing mind-controlled machines or products, but rather, the data obtained from their visitors will be provided to neuroscientists to help improve BCI technology. Mental Work hopes this project will help us understand automation and how society can benefit from it, as opposed to machines eliminating human jobs.
According to Keats, "it's a compelling alternative to artificial intelligence: Whereas AI strives to make technology omniscient and omnipresent, externally managing our lives without our even noticing it, BCI makes technology a part of us and makes us a part of technology. With AI making headlines as a job-killer, I feel compelled to consider BCI as an alternative path forward."
How do you feel about the prospect of brain-controlled interfaces? Should humans attempt to fuse mind and technology into one? Let us know in the comments.