Technology has come one step closer to helping disabled people perform more natural movements using a robotic limb, with the development of a new type of ‘brain–machine interface’
Image: iStockPhoto via COSMOS Magazine
Inviting artificial intelligence into our bodies has appeal – but it also carries certain risks.
Some commentators argue we should be treating AI (artificial intelligence) as a suspicious package, because it might eventually blow up in our faces.
The Conversation: 6 August 2012
US researchers have made an artificial neural network – the beginnings of a brain – from DNA molecules.
Discovery News: 27 July 2011
Brain-machine interfaces (BMI) are poised to challenge our notions of identity, culpability and the acceptable limits of human enhancement.
New Scientist: 20 May 2011
Image: Merging with the machine (Image: Adrianna Williams/Corbis)
By Jason Major
Proj Sejnowski’s expertise is in the field of computational neuroscience and his research has given insight into memory, emotions and disorders such as autisms, epilepsy and schizophrenia. Stemming from this is research leading to artificial intelligence and spare parts for humans. He revealed lots of cool stuff that we can expect from his field of research in the not too distant future: the bionic eye and the rise of the social robot – one that interacts with humans, learns from experience and can recognize human emotion. Prof Sejnowski believes the bionic eye will be a reality in our lifetime – not sure if he was referring to his or mine. See below for more detail.
What struck me most, however, was his prediction about all the information that was going to come from this and other research. The sheer volume of knowledge being generated and the computing power that will be needed to makes sense of all this data is immense. I started to wonder just how much data we as humans can handle before we get overwhelmed, and important stuff, stuff integral to our survival, slips through the cracks with detrimental consequences, or is this is already happening?
When I was a boy…
My Dad tells stories of how my grandfather would spend much of his day yakking to his neighbour on the boundary fence of our farm. These and other stories from my elders seem to suggest that time went at a more leisurely pace back then. The world’s problems could be solved over a good yarn and a cigarette, back when we had time to reflect and debate the issues of the world, even if the world only extended to the edge of the local district – unless it involved world wars, flu pandemics or losing the Ashes to England. There is no doubt that today we have more information at our fingertips, but we don’t have time to find, digest, reflect and discuss the information, or is that just me?
I wasn’t living 60 years ago to compare, but today we are forever rushing; we seem to exist on sound bites, pithy quotes and Tweets. And those in the political sphere are one group that have become especially adept at delivering us this.
The amount of information we are bombarded with is growing exponentially and we are going to have to be more and more selective about what we take in and use to form opinions. Even today, we seem to be forming an opinion about important stuff on just a few headlines’ worth of info.
This is not a complaint or a wish to hark back to the old days, though having time to have a good yarn over the boundary fence does seem appealing. I accept that this is the way it is; I just wonder how we will cope with this onslaught of knowledge, how we integrate it in a way that we extract meaning out of it and use it appropriately?
Some of the computing and artificial intelligence technologies predicted by Prof Sejnowski suggest that these are the tools we will rely on to do this. Will humans, to some extent, be taken out of the decision-making equation? It is starting to sound like HAL in 2001 a space odyssey. Geez, I might actually get my wish of having the time to solve world peace over a good yarn at the boundary fence.
And for a speculative trot into the near future, here is some of the cooler stuff Prof Sejnowski talked about:
Neomorphic engineering. What the…Think robots and cyborgs
Neomorphic engineering is what will be bring us the bionic eye. It is a new multi-disciplinary research area using nano, IT, biology, physics, chemistry and informatics to understand the human brain and use that knowledge to design artificial neural systems that will restore lost function in humans (or even enhance exiting ones?), or reverse engineer these to create that robot that will learn, develop common sense and detect and respond to human emotion, though there are some serious computing power issues to overcome before we get a robot with these capabilities, let alone what we need to understand about the human brain and how it works to provide these traits. Asimov, where are you?
To give you an idea here is a link to a story – though it’s a bit technical:
And another one slightly more reader-friendly from CalTech
And a link to the Institute of Neomorphic Engineering, of which Prof Sejnowski is a member
Research and the generation of knowledge will continue to surge ahead and the more powerful our computers, the more knowledge we will generate. There is no stopping this. Somewhere in this I hope there is a way to extract meaning from it all.
It’s the weekend; time for a drink chat about the footy with the lads.
Droids perceiving their self-image and reflecting on their own thoughts so they can be more adaptable in unpredictable situations.
Scientific American: 24 February 2011
Image: An artist’s depiction of a robot reflecting on itself. Image: Victor Zykov, Cornell University
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Watson, the smartest computer on earth – take that HAL