Mind-Reading is the Future of Interactive Media

Using nothing but her brain, Cathy Hutchinson drinks a canteen of coffee at Brown University.  As the straw touches her lips, you see a quiver of a smile; after she takes a good long sip, her face brightens with a genuine laugh.  Hutchinson has good reason to be happy– now 58 years old, she has struggled with quadriplegia since her stroke fifteen years ago.

As a volunteer for Brown’s cognitive study, Hutchinson had a “computer mind interface” only a few millimeters in size implanted in her brain–specifically, a patch of neurons in her motor cortex.  The interface works by “translating neuronal activity directly into control signals for assistive devices” (Nature).  In this case the assistive device is a robotic arm that moves in three-dimensional space. Researchers hope this implant will one day restore the mobility and independence that many handicapped people must live without. Very exciting technology!

But, of course, I am not handicapped, so why might I be so excited about this? Interactive art, people!! Duh!  As I write this, the people at Google are probably thinking of all the wonderful ways we can implement this to make regular, non-handicapped people even lazier (sorry, not trying to hate on the google glasses, I just think they are mispurposed. And no, that’s not a real word).  I recently read this heart-wrenching Gizmodo article called “Being Deaf: How Different the World is Without Hearing.” I wonder, could this implant create new methods of communication for those who are born deaf?  And what about blindness? Only good things can come from this research.

Since I’m still only on Chapter 9 of my processing book, I can’t quite conceptualize the amount of programming and research that goes into a chip like this. I wonder…one day, will we all have chips in our brains?  Will the interface be commercial, and only available to those in the highest tax bracket? Perhaps the chip will someday be programmed to read other people’s chips, creating a new “internet,” a revolutionary platform for communication and information sharing.

In my last post I discussed women’s proclivity towards mind-reading and speaking in code…this is a whole new level of telepathic communication!  What will we women do when we no longer have to decode thoughts, and can literally just know them instead?

Sounds either really good, or really, really bad.  Until that happens, I think I’ll just appreciate the simplicity of life as it is.

Source: Nature

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What a Billion-Year-Old Sees in the Night Sky

One of the rare pluses of being a billion years old is that time might go so fast you see this when you look up.  As photographed by Australian artist Lincoln Harrison, these long-exposure photos capture colorful nighttime star trails in the Australian outback.  It would be kind of lonely to live that long, don’t you think?

Biomodd: A Living Game Computer as Social Structure

Biomodd is “an open source and co-created art project fusing computer waste and living biology. Essentially, Biomodd creations are computer systems with living ecosystems inside of them. Taken together they form a global art project challenging presumed notions of opposition between nature and technology in different cultures.” (Biomodd).  It can be built and improved upon by anybody since it has an open source license.  Pretty cool huh?  Watch the video below for a close up sneak peek.

Source: Biomodd

Experiment like Isaac Newton with Prisma 1666

Shown at 2011’s International Science and Art Exhibition in Shanghai, “Prisma 1666” draws from Sir Isaac Newton’s experiment in 1666 where he discovered that prisms refract, not create, colors and that light alone is responsible for this phenomena. Created by Wonwei and Super Nature Design, users interact with a touch screen device to control the colored lights projected onto 15 crystals.  See it in action below:

Source: Wonwei

Adorable Elementary Schoolers make Amazing Animation about Evolution

The elementary school students at William Fox Elementary School and the Patrick Henry School of Science & Art helped animation student Tyler Rhodes in making an animation that teaches evolution.  Going through 6 phases of evolution and more than 400 drawings, Rhodes engaged the students by making the project into a “telephone”-esque game.  The children started with a drawing of a salamander, and as it was redrawn and redrawn, subtly mutating it.

This is super educational and I’m sure those kids had a blast seeing their work form the animation, but I have to admit I’m a little peeved I haven’t though of this myself!  Who needs motion frames and background art when you can have children do it for you, 400 times over!  Brilliant…

Morals and Values Affected by Magnetic Pulses

An area of the brain just above and behind the right ear appears to control morality, says researches at MIT.  How do they know this?  MIT conducted a study on volunteers’ abilities to distinguish between right and wrong by applying magnetic pulses to this area of the brain, blocking cell activity.  Astonishingly, he magnetic pulses impaired the moral functions in volunteers’ brains.

Image from MIT

This area of the brain is a “knot of nerve cells” called the right temporo-parietal junction, or RTPJ.  20 volunteers were in experiments that tested their ideas of right and wrong.  One of these experiments included asking participants how acceptable it is for a man to knowingly let his girlfriend cross an unstable bridge. A 500 millisecond magnetic pulse to the top of the head confused viewers into judging moral decisions based on the outcome, or hindsight, as opposed to considering outcomes beforehand through an understanding of other people’s intentions. If the girlfriend safely crossed the bridge, volunteers saw her boyfriend as having done nothing wrong. Past studies of the RTPJ show the area to be very active when people try to place themselves in another’s shoes.

This is very interesting in that it just goes to show how vital our brains are to our survival and proper functioning in society.  Life around us is just a jumble of objects and interactions in space, and our brain is the lens that shapes our perspectives and allows us to form understandings of these complex systems.  More than anything else I find this study to be a bit frightening, as it shows how fragile our brains really are.  I’m personally interested in how this study relates and can possibly contribute to the study of mental disorders, in particular sociopathy and other disorders that affect morality and empathy.  How closely related are the two?  If you were to conduct this study on sociopaths, what would the end result be?

Original article at BBC news.

Read more about the MIT studies here.

The small Massachusetts Institute of Technology study appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”