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AI The Human Connection
June 1, 2017

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AI: The Human Connection

Brain-computer interface technology will allow the advantages of AI to combine directly with all the advantages of human intelligence.


Over the past 25 years, there’s been a huge disruption in how we communicate. Cellular, Bluetooth, Near Field Communication (NFC) and Internet access have transformed the way we transfer information from one place to another. We can use a variety of devices to pay with a tap, shop online, play games, perform research, present ideas, share documents and make video and/or audio calls anytime, anywhere. This is about to change.

Up until recently, communicating with a machine was almost exclusively via text or vocalization, but not anymore. We now have rudimentary communication taking place from human to machine via electroencephalogram (EEG) signals. That’s right — we can now communicate with robots using only our minds. This is not the stuff of science fiction. Many universities and tech companies are aggressively developing brain-computer interface technology (BCI).

For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University developed a system that lets people correct a robot’s mistakes instantly by simply thinking. Terry, a human, has electrodes strapped to his head. He watches Baxter, an industrial robot. The system allows Terry’s brain’s electrical activity to talk to Baxter when Baxter is going to make a mistake.

It is a simple binary communication; Baxter only listens to whether it is doing something wrong or something correct. This is possible because the technology’s algorithms filter out the huge volumes of electrical impulses Terry’s brain is emitting. The only data that gets through is a faint signal known in neuroscience as an error-related potential signal. So when Terry thinks Baxter is making an error, the system translates the EEG signal into a language that Baxter understands. It only takes 10 milliseconds or so to do this. Amazing.

In December 2016, the University of Minnesota published a study in Scientific Reports describing a major breakthrough in BCI technology. It’s now possible for an individual to control the movement of a robotic arm. “This is the first time that people can operate a robotic arm to reach and grasp objects in a complex 3D environment using only their thoughts without a brain implant,” says Bin He, a University of Minnesota biomedical engineering professor. “Just by imagining moving their arms, they were able to move the robotic arm.” I can only imagine how beneficial this technology will be to amputees, people who are paralyzed or people who have suffered decreased verbal communication due to a stroke.

Artificial Intelligence is upping the ante, thanks to the ongoing development of natural language processing or a machine’s ability to understand the meaning behind words. Think about what this could mean when AI’s natural language processing is refined and combined with BCI.

At the World Government Summit in Dubai, Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, said, “Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence.” To back up this claim, he has founded a startup called Neuralink. The company is developing neural lace technology that would implant electrodes directly into the brain. These electrodes will communicate to the external world without any physical connection (similar to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth). The eventual purpose is to help humans use software to connect to devices to augment memory, data retrieval and to allow for direct real-time interfacing with cloud computing devices.

Where is all this technology leading? BCI will allow the advantages of AI to combine directly with all the advantages of human intelligence. We can now see the pathway to humanity’s largest evolutionary step forward into a more complex augmented being.

This post was originally published in CPA Magazine