21 Jun, 2011
Thoughts Must Be Crazy
Posted by: hammy In: Gadgets
As someone who’s been shot and killed several times, I often wonder whether this makes me an expert in spiritualism or the ‘world beyond’; does it make me noteworthy at all, or does it get diluted by the fact that my death and revival has only happened within video games? Maybe I should find other stuff to wonder about. Maybe the reason I keep dying in all these games… is because I’m too slow on the joystick/ mouse/ keyboard…
If the scientific community is to be believed, then this is soon going to change. They are developing a method of translating human thoughts – electric impulses transmitted by neurons – to intelligible commands. A virtual mind reader! Science is galloping at such an insane pace that my jailbreaking my ipad seems too trivial to even mention.
So why are scientists working on video game enhancements, you ask… Shouldn’t they be working on curing cancer, ending world hunger, or waving to aliens via smoke signals? Well, they’re not exactly working on the video game enhancements, actually. Dr. Miguel L. Nicolelis is actually aiming to help paralyzed people walk again using a robotic vest that takes commands from the brain and simultaneously paving the way for curing Parkinson’s disease. So it’s not as… hey, wait a minute… A robotic vest?? As in.. an exoskeleton like the one shown in the 1986 James Cameron movie ‘Aliens’? No. No. No. The exoskeleton only mimics your own actions… it does not read your thoughts… Dr. Nicolelis plans to help paralyzed patients to control robotic prostheses to manage their daily lives. A noble goal, right?
Except… of course that’s not where it’s going to end. We’re talking about controlling machines with your mind. I figure it would take maybe 5 minutes before people think of extending the application elsewhere… The possibilities are endless. You can drive your car by just thinking about it. You can switch your toaster on just by having a mental image of toast bread. You can simply wish your garage door open. You can place an online order without getting up from bed. You could be staring at a wall while you mentally shoot off an important office mail to a client. And if you’re the extra lazy filthy rich type, you can even get a machine to spoon feed you at the dinner table. You can even… ok, ok, you probably have to chew your own food right now, but scientists are probably working on that too. Controlling machines by thought… Nothing bad can come out of that, right?
But the thing with technology is… it consists of giant leaps of faith in terms of underestimating human idiocy. Sure, you can drive your car by just thinking about it, but do you really want the jerk who cut you off at the intersection – the one with the insanely low attention span – to have this power? Sure you can switch your toaster on by having a mental image of toast bread, but if your mental image comes as a picture of eggs on toast, are you willing to bet that the machines wouldn’t crack an egg into the toaster along with the bread? Sure, you can wish your garage door open, but imagine you’re getting ready for bed and casually wondering whether the garage door is open, how certain can you be that this wouldn’t open the garage door and further let your car drive off into the community center on the next block if you simply dream about roads? Sure, you can place an online order, but do you really want to risk ordering a fleet of luxury cars just because you were watching the latest Fast and Furious movie? Sure you can shoot off an important mail to your client using just your thoughts… But is that client REALLY someone who you want to send your actual thoughts to? Is it really effective as a time-saver if you have to spend twice as long writing retractions?
All things considered, do you really want machines to obey your thoughts? Considering how expensive new technology is and the kind of people who may be more likely to be the first consumers, let’s put the question in perspective… Would the world really be a better place where Charlie Sheen had Jedi powers? Where George Bush could launch missiles by thought? Where Mel Gibson could control circumcision equipment when walking past a Jewish hospital? What if Donald Trump’s hairpiece could be controlled by thought?
But I wouldn’t be worried yet. We’re not anywhere close to mind-reading to that extent. Contrary to how most fiction accounts for mental thoughts, your mind does not actually conform to a standard syntax. When you think of something, it’s less a cloudy bubble with perfectly phrased statements, and more of a mixture of pictures, words, phrases, sounds, and various other media floating through… And the words and phrases are usually not aligned. Even when you’re thinking in English, most of the time, your mind wanders off mid-sentence into random territory and your thoughts keep morphing all the time. My point is… it’s not easy to interpret thoughts even if it could be read.
So I don’t really think that Nuclear wars might be set off because a president somewhere had a nightmare. Not any time soon, though. But having thought control embedded in new video games is definitely a strong possibility. With the success of Wii and Kinect, we have already moved away from normal controls and complex instructions. Eliminating the need to have any physical motion at all will certainly find appeal.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see… Fortunately, I have this mechanism where I just have to think I need to wait and the machines around me… they actually do the waiting for me. So let the waiting begin.