Neurophilosophy

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The Brainloop brain-computer interface, demonstrated at the VisionSpace laboratory for perception and cognition at FH Joanneum, University of Applied Sciences in Austria. (Photo by Miha Fras, courtesy of Aksioma/ Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana)

What will they think of next? First, there was the brain-computer interface for controlling Second Life avatars, and yesterday I mentioned a gig in which the music is controlled by the audience’s brainwaves. Now, researchers from Austria and Slovenia have developed a device called Brainloop, which can be used to navigate in Google Earth:

Brainloop is an interactive performance platform that utilizes a Brain Computer Interface (BCI) system which allows a subject to operate devices merely by imagining specific motor commands. These mentally visualized commands may be seen as the rehearsal of a motor act without the overt motor output; a neural synapse occurs but the actual movement is blocked at the corticospinal level. Motor imagery such as “move left hand”, “move right hand” or “move feet” become non-muscular communication and control signals that convey messages and commands to the external world. In Brainloop the performer is able – without physically moving – to investigate urban areas and rural landscapes as he globe-trots around virtual Google Earth. Through motor imagery, he selects locations, camera angles and positions and records these image sequences in a virtual world. In the second half of the performance, he plays back the sequence and uses Brainloop to compose a custom soundtrack by selecting, manipulating and re-locating audio recordings in real time into the physical space.

That’s a very good description of how BCIs work, apart from the bit that says “a neural synapse occurs but the actual movement is blocked at the corticospinal level“.

Presumably, what they mean is that signals generated in the premotor cortex, which contains neurons involved in planning movements, are not transmitted to the primary motor cortex, which contains cells that descend into the spinal cord in the corticospinal tract, and which are involved in executing movements.

Pendantry aside, here’s a film clip of the Brainloop device in use: 



[Via Ogle Earth]

Comments

  1. #1 Nathaniel
    November 5, 2007

    That’s really awesome. The problem I have with it is that it requires that the person think about moving specific body parts and not just the movement. For instance, it is possible to imagine movement without imagining the movement of a specific limb. I would like to see it work out so that the mind learns to use the controls independently of their own actual limbs.

    An example that easy to think about is flying in a dream. You don’t have to flap your arms or try to swim through the air. You can simply concentrate on the movement and shift your perspective. In dreams, of course, you are your perspective. I think this could work but it would require that both the person and the computer train each other. The computer would have to learn to pick up those signals, and the person would have to learn how to operate the controls.

    As it is now, however, the controls are simple enough that anyone should be able to learn to use them. With time, it may become second nature and the operator will cease to think about the movement of a limb but rather on the desired action.

    And since someone’s got to say it. Enter the Matrix!