Controlling computers with the mind

You may have heard of research being done on sensors which allow computers to be controlled with thoughts alone, as opposed to physical movement of the body (via, say, a keyboard). This research has immediate implications for people who are paralysed, but also longer-term implications for human-machine interfaces in general. At the moment it’s a pretty new field, and not very many people have actually controlled computers with thought alone.

I am one of those people.

Yep, I can control a computer with the power of thought alone. As long as I’m inside a functional magnetic resonance machine at the time, that is. This morning I was a subject on a study investigating whether people can activate specific parts of their brains, based on discrete punishment/reward feedback only.

First I had electrodes attached to my arm and foot, and had to clench and relax my hand or foot in response to visual cues from goggles I was wearing. Then I would repeat it, but only imagining moving my hand or foot, not actually moving them. This allowed the fMRI machine to map the regions of my brain involved in motion.

Then for the main experiment, I was shown one of two different visual patterns, for around 10 seconds, with rest periods of 15 seconds between each pattern. During the pattern I had to imagine clenching either my foot or my hand, and during the rest period I had to specifically NOT think of that, so as to create a contrast. If I did it correctly I received a dollar each time. I wasn’t told which pattern corresponded to hand and which to foot.

Anyway, I was able to work out which pattern was which, and trigger it correctly most of the time, even though the triggering threshold was adjusted to become less sensitive as the experiment continued. So I was able to control the computer (and make a fair amount of money) with thought alone. How AWESOME!!!!

The proceeds? Getting me this.

2 thoughts on “Controlling computers with the mind

  1. That is awesome. Would like to see the fMRI machine at work. Many years ago people were enabled to control their blood pressure and other automatic processes using bio feedback, but it did not require localisation in the brain. It will be great if they can refine the process to get artificial limbs working.

    Can’t work out why they did not tell you which pattern was which.

    Hope this line of research is more productive than one for which I was once wired up for EEG measurement, in which they were trying to measure IQ through brain response speeds. That seemed to fade away.


  2. This technology probably won’t be of any use for artificial limbs — there’s not enough specificity possible from scanning from outside the head. You’d probably need some sort of implant, or at least tight-fitting cap, either on the brain or nerve endings. But it’s interesting research anyway!

    I suppose they didn’t tell me which symbol was which just as extra proof of how I could work it out? I wasn’t sure either.

    Measuring IQ from response speeds??? It’s far from clear to me that they should be correlated at all…


Comments are closed.