Quadriplegic Controls Robot Arm With Thought.

December 31, 2012

Source: Singularity Hub, CBS News (60 Minutes)

Woman with robot arm

Jan Scheuermann went from Wheel Of Fortune to a wheelchair, to being able to control a robot arm.

‘Breakthrough’ they say. 60 Minutes’s Scott Pelley used the term to describe the thought-controlled robot arm, though I suspect he may not have seen such machinery before. But given how this arm is controlled, “breakthrough” might be the appropriate term.

Jan Scheuermann appeared on Wheel Of Fortune in 1995. A year after her appearance, she was diagnosed with a hereditary condition called spinocerebellar degeneration (ataxia), which causes parts of her brain and spinal column to degenerate, leaving her a quadriplegic. Researchers at University of Pittsburgh’s Pitt School of Medicine attached two electrode arrays to her brain near the areas used for arm movement, and in a year she was able to use the arm as well as a normal person.

 

Four years in the making. The arm is the result of a Defense Department project called “Revolutionizing Prosthetics,” a project looking at making a new generation of prosthetic limbs that restore normal functions for soldiers who lost limbs in battle.

This old Associated Press video shows an early stage of the project where a monkey uses his mind to control a robot arm.

Sooner or later, this technology had to come to the average person, not just paraplegics but amputees as well.

In Jan’s case, having to connect the arm directly to her brain was necessary since her ataxia has ruined the connection(s) between her brain and limbs. For amputees, the connections are still intact so the connection can be made at the nerve endings.

 

Further refinements. Jan’s new arm is impressive, but still far from perfect. In the 60 Minutes video Jan has problems with grabbing objects she looks at. One possible solution is to use ‘touch’ sensors in the fingers to give feedback. Another possibility being considered is the use of Wi-Fi to eliminate the skull connectors.

Earlier this year, NIH’s NINDS division announced their BCI system called BrainGate. Link for further details.

Restoring arm and leg functions for amputees and paraplegics are only the beginning. They’re also looking at eyes (no pun intended), ears, and even artificial internal organs for for stroke and cerebral palsy victims, and even the elderly.

Once such artificial limbs and organs are ready for the general public, the only thing left to worry about is…

This post has been filed under Brain-Computer Interface, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

Invasion of the body hackers

June 16, 2011

Source: The Financial Times

“I’ve rewired my brain.” – Dave Asprey

People as Data. Imagine having your body wired 24/7/365 to collect data on what you eat, how you move, when you go to the bathroom,… when (or IF) you get laid…, and that data is used to tweak your body and mind through organic or cybernetic means. Orwell revisited? Google’s or Apple’s business plan?

Nope.

Financial Times’ April Dembosky reports on a growing group of bio-hackers, or “self-quantifiers,” who are doing just that, and they even have a website where other would-be bio-hackers can find more info (Quantified Self) and meat – er, meet – each other. They held a conference in late May in California to explore the possibilities and discuss the effects of self-quantification not only on each other, but on society as a whole (link for more info).

vitruvian-man-by-leonardo-da-vinci-8464.jpg

“We like to hack hardware and software, why not hack our bodies?” says Tim Chang.

 

Past is prolog. The idea of self-quantification isn’t new, as a paragraph on Benjamin Franklin shows how he kept track of 13 virtues that he would check off when violated. This would help him keep his moral bearing straight. Modern self-quantifiers see themselves doing something similar, only with modern implantable equipment like pacemakers and insulin pumps. And the medical community is also taking notice. Modern medicine has always had a “magic bullet” or “one size fits all” mentality for treating ailments. With the data gathered by willing self-quantifying patients, doctors can better tailor treatments for those cases where the standard issue treatments can cause adverse side effects… like killing the patient. That could save lots on insurance and lawsuits.

Already these self-quantifiers are comparing themselves to a group of 1970s era computer geeks: Early-adopters and hobbyists with visions of everyone in every household quantifying themselves to tweak their meat for optimum performance. One possible system described is the Sprout:

The self-tracking equivalent of an early model, 30lb, four-part desktop computer is Fujitsu Laboratories’ Sprout, as worn by software engineer Alex Gilman at the Quantified Self Conference: a maze of sensors and wires send data from his ear, chest and arm to the pocket-sized computer clipped to his belt – the Sprout. The Sprout synchronizes the physical data from the body sensors and from the apps on his iPod Touch where he records his moods and drowsiness levels. What is now a mess of raw, useless data can be calculated and translated into a neat graph that will eventually be used to measure stress and fatigue, manage weight loss, even predict illness.

The potential of the Sprout is intriguing, but mass appeal will only come when such devices are consolidated into small, wireless, all-in-one products that make data collection completely passive, says Chang. Most will require little to no human effort and some will even be “game-ified”, he says, made as fun and addictive as Angry Birds.

“… and right here is where I farted.”

Speaking of games, I can already see athletes at ALL levels wanting to use self-quantification and bio-hacking. They probably already do, with a poke of ster… I mean “vitamins.” But using this system is not considered cheating… yet.

 

The Bigger Question: Do you REALLY want to be tracked and quantified? Self-quantification may sound pretty cool, until you need to find a place to put all your biometrics. Not only do you need large enough space, but that space needs to be secure from unauthorized access:

The implications for privacy are dramatic. Advocates and politicians were in an uproar when they realised the kind of access that Apple and Google have to geographic data derived from phones. Imagining three years worth of heart rate data or depression symptoms travelling through mobile devices – potentially being offered for sale to drug or insurance companies, exploited by advertisers or hacked by cyber criminals – puts watchdog groups on alert.

“What consumers need to realise is there’s a huge, huge demand for information about their activities, and the protections for the information about their activities are far, far, far less than what they think,” says Lee Tien, a privacy attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “A lot of these cloud services fall outside the federal and state privacy regimes.”

To put it another way, do you want to hear from Lulzsec that you are genetically predisposed to being gay or homicidal?

Most, if not all, self-quantifiers do it of their own free will, in the name of self-improvement. To many outsiders, they can’t get over the feeling of orwellianism mixed with a bit of narcissism. Even former self-quantifiers admit to taking the quest to perfection to the extreme:

“People thought I was narcissistic. What they didn’t see was the self-punishment, the fear, the hatred behind the tracking,” writes Alexandra Carmichael, one of the founders of CureTogether.com, in a poem about why she stopped tracking herself. “I had stopped trusting myself. Letting the numbers drown out my intuition, my instincts.”

Despite the perils, the self-quantifiers are willing to continue the tracking and tweaking in hopes of making humans a better species. Will they become Friedrich Nietzsche’s ubermensch, or just a bunch of skin-eating mutants roaming the streets? Nobody has come up with an app for that, and that leads to the most important question:

How do you measure perfection?

This post has been filed under Brain-Computer Interface, Bio-Hacking, Cyberpunked living, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

DARPA looking to REPAIR damaged brains.

May 9, 2010

Source: Wired

A new Pentagon project is looking to rewire your cortex. [Conspiracy theory goes here]

Hardwired for real. DARPA, the evil geniuses of the US military machines, announced on 06-May-2010 that $15M US will be going to four institutions to study way to accelerate repairs of brain injuries. The project is aptly called “Reorganization and Plasticity to Accelerate Injury Recovery (REPAIR)” (link to presolicitation page).

DARPA seeks new methods for analysis and decoding of neural signals in order to understand how neural-based sensory stimulation could be applied to accelerate recovery from brain injury. Ultimately, it is desired to develop models of neural codes and temporal patterns that can provide an ability to interpret and predict changes in neural organization through plasticity at multiple scales of measurement.

A document is available there (MS-Word/XML format) for those who need some military-procurement-related reading material.

 

Look into the light. The idea behind the REPAIR project is to use chips in areas where physical damage has occurred. The chips will act as replacements for damaged areas and use light pulses to transmit signals:

But what experts can’t yet do, (Krishna) Shenoy said, is alter those electrical pulses to turn brain circuits on or off. His team will use optogenetics, an emerging technique that involves emitting light pulses to precisely trigger neural activity, to develop an implanted TBI treatment device.

“Before this, emitting light into the brain would be like hitting it with a hammer,” Shenoy said. “What we’re doing now is pin-pointing a single neuron, and that neuron will naturally change its activity depending on the cue.”

The implants developed by the project will likely be composed of electrodes or optical fibers, and will sit on the surface of the brain. They’ll read electrical signals from neurons, and deliver appropriate light pulses to stimulate other brain regions in response. The implants would allow the brain to operate normally, by acting as substitutes for areas that were damaged or “unavailable.”

But why stop at “replacing” when you can “upgrade?” How about a math co-processor? Maybe an nVidia GPU for your vision? Do you multitasking types want a multi-core CPU for more multitasking?

No word yet on if stem cells are being studied to rebuild those same damaged areas.

 

Beyond beta-tests. Shenoy is looking to have animals with implants in four years. After that…

And while Darpa’s interested in ailing vets, the implants could have broad civilian application, …

You know what THAT means…

Locutus of Borg

This post has been filed under Brain-Computer Interface, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

Hacker’s next target: Your BRAIN

July 13, 2009

Source: Wired

BCI

Brain-Computer Interfaces are just in its infancy, but security experts are worried that hackers may be able to pull off the ultimate “mindfuck.”

Mind control. Using everyday objects requires using your brain, mostly to control your arms and legs to manipulate them. Lately though, there have been some major breakthroughs in interfacing directly to your head, including a thought-controlled wheelchair and mind-reading machines, which have stirred up some controversy of its own. William Gibson’s vision of a computer that you can “jack” into your head is ever so closer.

And that has some security people concerned…

“Neural devices are innovating at an extremely rapid rate and hold tremendous promise for the future,” said computer security expert Tadayoshi Kohno of the University of Washington. “But if we don’t start paying attention to security, we’re worried that we might find ourselves in five or 10 years saying we’ve made a big mistake.”

Hackers tap into personal computers all the time — but what would happen if they focused their nefarious energy on neural devices, such as the deep-brain stimulators currently used to treat Parkinson’s and depression, or electrode systems for controlling prosthetic limbs? According to Kohno and his colleagues, who published their concerns July 1 in Neurosurgical Focus, most current devices carry few security risks. But as neural engineering becomes more complex and more widespread, the potential for security breaches will mushroom.

 

Can’t happen… can it? It would seem that trying to upload malware into your cortex would be difficult at best, if you consider that most BCI are read-only (that is, they can only read your brainwaves). Then again, if the “sex chip” proves viable, that connection will become read-write which can be “influenced,” and not by outside hackers alone:

In some cases, patients might even want to hack into their own neural device. Unlike devices to control prosthetic limbs, which still use wires, many deep brain stimulators already rely on wireless signals. Hacking into these devices could enable patients to “self-prescribe” elevated moods or pain relief by increasing the activity of the brain’s reward centers.

 

They’re already hacking brains. If the attacks on Epilepsy support sites are any indication, brain hacking is already occurring if not directly. Having a hacker hijack your brainstem is not possible just yet, but on the day when neural interfaces and neuron reprogramming come together, you can bet that meatbots will abound and we will be facing a real zombie apocalypse…

zombies.jpg

This post has been filed under Brain-Computer Interface, HackZ AttackZ!, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.