Thu. Feb 27th, 2020

Interfaces for brain machines: Villainous gadgets or instruments for superheroes of the next generation?

There is an equal number of villains who use technology nefariously for the many superheroes who use high-powered gadgets to save the day. From robots plugging into human brains for fuel in The Matrix to memory-warping devices seen in Men in Black, Captain Marvel, and Total Recall, the technology that can control the minds of people is one of the most terrifying examples of technology that has gone wrong in science fiction and superhero movies.

Now, progress on brain-machine interfaces is bringing us closer to a world that feels like science fiction, a technology that provides a direct link between a brain and an external device. Elon Musk’s NeuraLink company works on a device to allow people to control computers with their minds, while the “mind-reading initiative” of Facebook can decode speech from brain activity. Is this progress a glimpse into a dark future, or are there more powerful ways in which interfaces between brain and machine can become a force for good?

Penn Today spoke with Konrad Kording, a Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor whose team operates at the information science and psychology interface to better comprehend the human brain, learn more about brain-machine interfaces and combine real-world technologies and science fiction.

The main issue is that you need a lot of brain data. The prosthetic devices of today are very slow, and if we want to go quicker it’s a tradeoff: I can go slower and then I’m more accurate, or I can go quicker and be louder. We need to get more brain information, and we want to do it electrically, so we need to get more electrodes into the brains.