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Closing the Brain/Computer Divide

(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

It sounds so very Star Trek: Computers that can read your mind, and act accordingly.

Brain computer interfaces—computers that are able to assess and respond to your needs, wants, and feelings—have been in the works for years. But now we’re strikingly close to seeing them in the mainstream: within a few years, predicts Nick Bolton in a New York Times Bits post.

The technology “was conceived to enable people with paralysis and other disabilities to interact with computers or control robotic arms, all by simply thinking about such actions. Before long, these technologies could well be in consumer electronics, too,” Bolton writes.

Over the past few years, there has been a flurry of development activity in this field encompassing government, academia, and the private sector. In early 2013 the Obama administration started The Brain Activity Map project, a 10-year project to build a comprehensive map of the brain. At the Brown Institute for Brain Science, Dr. John Donohue is pioneering a project called Braingate that connects the brain activity of fully paralyzed people to robotics. And emerging startups like NeuroSky, Emotiv and Muse have developed some early-phase consumer electronics interfaces. While the early-stage models “will soon look archaic,” Bolton writes, advances are coming fast and furiously.

So will these interfaces enable us with Vulcan-like powers in the not-too-distant future? As Mr. Spock would say, “Quite possible.”

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