There are any number of skills you can learn, practice, and eventually master. I highly encourage everyone to do to this, whether it involves computer programming, cooking, crafts, or any other hobby. You may not always like or master them, but they’re still fun and rewarding to try.
For some skills, though, no amount of learning or practice will help you master them or even be competent. Some things just take talent. That’s why only a handful of human beings ever become Olympic athletes, professional quarterbacks, or brain surgeons. There’s nothing wrong with that. We need that kind of diverse skill set, as a species.
I consider myself to be good, if not above-average, at a number of skills. I’ve learned plenty over the years and there are some that I just have a knack for more than others. I like to think writing is one of them. However, there’s one particular skill that I just have absolutely zero talent for and it’s something that has bugged me for years.
That skill is drawing.
Please understand that this is somewhat personal for me. I’ve always had an artistic side, but for reasons I can’t quite grasp, I’ve never been able to draw worth a damn. I’ve taken art classes in school. I’ve tried practicing here and there. It just never works. I can barely draw stick figures, let alone an image of a typical person that doesn’t look like it was drawn by a five-year-old.
Some of that actually runs in my family. Quite a few relatives can attest that they can’t draw, either. At the same time, an unusually high number of relatives are good writers, poets, etc. We’re all great with words, for the most part. That’s a talent that seems to get passed down, but we just can’t turn those words into pictures.
For me, that’s kind of frustrating. I’ve always enjoyed telling stories. For a time, I wanted to be a comic book writer, but I learned quickly that’s next to impossible when you can’t draw. There are also times when I wish I could draw well enough to describe a scene from a story. I just don’t have that talent or that skill.
As much as I enjoy writing, I don’t deny that humans are visual creatures. If I could incorporate images into my work, then I believe it’ll have a much greater impact. Sadly, I doubt I’ll ever have the necessary talent and skill to create those images.
However, it certain technological trends continue, I might not have to. A recent article in Psychology Today gave me hope that one day, I’ll be able to take some of these images I see in my head and make them real for others to see. It also leads me to believe that art, as we know it, is about to change in a big way.
Achieving the next level of brain-computer interface (BCI) advancement, researchers at the University of Helsinki used artificial intelligence (AI) to create a system that uses signals from the brain to generate novel images of what the user is thinking and published the results earlier this month in Scientific Reports.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to use neural activity to adapt a generative computer model and produce new information matching a human operator’s intention,” wrote the Finnish team of researchers.
The brain-computer interface industry holds the promise of innovating future neuroprosthetic medical and health care treatments. Examples of BCI companies led by pioneering entrepreneurs include Bryan Johnson’s Kernel and Elon Musk’s Neuralink.
Studies to date on brain-computer interfaces have demonstrated the ability to execute mostly limited, pre-established actions such as two-dimensional cursor movement on a computer screen or typing a specific letter of the alphabet. The typical solution uses a computer system to interpret brain-signals linked with stimuli to model mental states.
Seeking to create a more flexible, adaptable system, the researchers created an artificial system that can imagine and output what a person is visualizing based on brain signals. The researchers report that their neuroadaptive generative modeling approach is “a new paradigm that may strongly impact experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience.”
Naturally, this technology is very new and nowhere near ready for commercial use. It’ll probably be a while before I could use it to create my own graphic novels of the books I’ve written and the sexy short stories I’ve told. That still won’t stop me from entertaining thoughts of incorporating images into my stories.
I doubt I’m the only one who feels that way, too. I know plenty of people like me who just do not have the talent or skill to draw anything more detailed than a stick figure. Those same people have images in their minds that they wish to share. If products like Neuralink, which the article directly references, become more mainstream, then this could be among its many uses.
With some refinement, it won’t just allow artistically challenged people like me to make competent drawings. It’ll allow people who never would’ve otherwise produced that art create something that they can share with the world.
Just take a moment to appreciate how many beautiful images exist only in the minds of people who never get an opportunity to share them. Maybe someone did have an idea for a piece of artwork that would’ve brought beauty, joy, and inspiration to the world, but they just didn’t have the skill, resources, or talent to make it tangible. How many masterpieces have we lost because of that limitation?
We can never know, but any loss of beautiful art is a tragic one. With a process like this, people who never even thought about having an artistic side could explore it. Moreover, they would be able to do it without messy art supplies, sketchbooks, or ink stains. They would just need a neural prosthesis and a computer.
Almost everyone has a computer, so we’re already halfway there. If ever a product came out that allowed us to develop this ability of turning thoughts into images, I would be among the first to try it. I would eagerly line up to take the plunge, if only to open the possibility that some of the images I see when I’m writing can become real one day. I hope I live long enough to see this. Our bodies and minds may ultimately fail us, but great art can last for multiple lifetimes.