Tag Archives: brain

Turning Thoughts Into Images: A New Era Of Art With Brain/Computer Interface

BCI Technology: How does a Brain-Computer Interface Work?

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.

Psychology Today: New Brain-Computer Interface Transforms Thoughts to Images

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.

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Celebrating The Return Of “Animaniacs” (With A Zany Personal Story Of Meeting Rob Paulsen)

We live in a strange era of reboots, re-launches, and revivals. It’s brought out a lot of mixed feelings and extreme reactions from fans of all stripes. Some people love it. Some people hate it. Some people are just completely indifferent.

Regardless of how you feel about it, there’s no escaping it. The rise of streaming media and the public’s endless appetite for new content makes it as inevitable as death, taxes, and Thanos. We’ve no one to blame for this trend but ourselves is what I’m saying.

It doesn’t always go well. In fact, there have been more misses than hits. Just as fans of “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” and “Roseanne.” However, some franchises are just more conducive to reboots/revivals more than others. That brings me to the latest revival effort by Hulu for a zany show called “Animaniacs.”

Now, if you were a kid or pre-teen in the 90s, there’s a very good chance you grew up watching this show. It debuted during the apex of 90s era cartoons. Alongside classic Marvel cartoons like “X-Men” and “Spider-Man,” as well as heavy-hitters like “Power Rangers,” this show epitomized wacky, goofy cartoon antics to the utmost.

Personally, I have many fond memories of this show. It was one of my favorite shows to watch when I was a kid. It was even one of those rare cartoons I could still appreciate as I got older. Teenagers could watch this show and still laugh at the jokes, alongside young kids. Some jokes were surprisingly mature.

Just look up the infamous “Finger Prince” joke.

Of all the 90s shows in need of a rivial, “Animaniacs” is probably the best suited. It’s style of comedy and antics might actually work better today than it did in the 90s. When Hulu released a trailer for the upcoming revival, I became even more convinced.

We need this show.

The world needs a little zaniness.

It needs it like it needs an anvil to the head right now.

I’ve watched the trailer at least 100 times and it still puts a smile on my face. Here it is in case you still haven’t seen it.

I couldn’t be more excited about the return of this show. In celebration of the “Animaniacs” comeback, I’d like to share a quick personal story. It involves a real-life zany encounter between me and Rob Paulsen, the voice of Yakko Warner, Pinkie, and about half of every great cartoon character of the past 30 years.

Now, I need to preface this by saying this encounter is one of the high points of my adult life. I had a chance to meet Mr. Paulsen, as well as Jess Harnell and Tess MacNeille, who voiced Wakko and Dot respectively, at New York Comic Con.

Having made many trips to New York Comic Coon, which I’ve documented before, I can attest that getting in line to meet celebrities of this caliber can be harrowing. The voice actors for “Animaniacs” are among the top of the heap in terms of the voice acting hierarchy. Just getting in line to meet them required a significant effort.

That meant getting to the Jacob Javits Convention Center extra early and essentially making a beeline to the celebrity booths as soon as the doors opened. Even then, it still took a while to get to these three amazing human beings.

It was still worth the effort. However, my effort included a zany twist that just made it that much more special.

In an zany fluke of luck, I just happened to get in line in front of this girl who dressed up in this amazing costume of Dot. I wish I could find the picture of it, but I cannot overstate how amazingly adorable it was. I knew as soon as she stood behind me that I was not going to be the center of Mr. Paulsen’s attention.

I was proven correct.

Shortly before the booth opened, Mr. Paulsen himself came walking out to greet the crowd. Jess and Tess were with him. We all cheered, our inner 90s kids going crazy. Then, knowing this girl’s costume was special, I tried pointing her out to Mr. Paulsen as he walked by.

It didn’t take long for him to notice. As soon as he saw this girl’s costume, his face lit up in a way that would’ve made any cartoon character from any era proud. He immediately started talking like Yakko and greeted the girl.

Yes, by the way. He greeted her by saying “Hello Nurse!”

Keep in mind, I’m standing right next to her. Mr. Paulsen is within arm’s reach of me. I came hoping for an autograph and to express my gratitude, but seeing him react to that girl’s costume felt like something so much more. The love he had for the characters and the show really revealed itself.

You just don’t get that from most celebrities, be they athletes, celebrity chefs, or voice actors. Just being there, seeing Mr. Paulsen react to the love of the fans and these characters, was such an experience. I must have smiled for a good hour or so after that.

While that girl was definitely the star of the show, I still managed to get my picture and an autograph from Mr. Paulsen. I tried to put into words how much I appreciated his work. I’m not going to lie. My voice cracked somewhat while talking to him. I probably sounded like an idiot. He still never stopped smiling.

He, Jess, and Tess were just so wonderful on so many levels. They took the time to talk to fans. At one point, Mr. Paulsen even sung his famous countries of the world song with a fan who claimed he could sing it faster. Seeing and hearing that was a spectacle in and of itself. I wish I could put into words how amazing it was. I don’t think I can.

That’s one of the many cherished memories I have of New York Comic Con. Now that “Animaniacs” is coming back, I find myself recalling it regularly. It still brings a smile to my face.

To Mr. Paulsen, as well as Jess and Tess, I doubt he’ll ever read this. I’ll still say it. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Thank you for being so awesome that day.

Thank you for bring so many insaney, zany voices to this world.

Countless kids in the 90s and countless more kids today will be forever grateful for it.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, real stories, television

Jack’s World: Why Neuralink Might Be The Most Important Venture Of All Time

The following is a video for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. You may recognize the title from an article I wrote years ago in the before times when pandemics were still the subject of bad sci-fi movies. I miss those times too.

The news surrounding Neuralink is still of great interest to me. I still think it’s one of the most important technological advancements of the century. This video simply offers another general overview of why this technology is so important. Enjoy!

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Filed under biotechnology, futurism, health, human nature, Jack's World, Neuralink, technology, YouTube

Purging Bad Memories And The (Hidden) Price That Comes With It

Think about the most traumatic experience you’ve ever had. No, this isn’t another thought experiment, nor is it something I’ll put a sexy spin on. It’s an honest, but difficult question to contemplate. Some people don’t even need to contemplate it. Some trauma is so severe that simply asking the question is redundant.

Even if you accept, as I have argued, that the world is getting better and people are generally good, there is still a lot of suffering in this world. There are horrific wars throughout the world, extreme poverty, and gruesome crimes unfolding every day. The crimes themselves are awful, but it’s often the scars they leave on people, mentally and emotionally, that further amplifies the suffering.

Those scars can be pretty debilitating, even after the physical wounds heal. It often manifests in post-traumatic stress disorder, a terrible mental state that effectively locks someone into their scars. Wars, violence, abuse, and criminal victimization can create varying degrees of trauma and coping with that trauma can be a never-ending struggle.

Now, here’s the part where I try to make this discussion less depressing. This is a blog that talks about sexy thoughts, sexy novels, and personal stories involving awkward boners. In general, I want my posts to inspire and, if possible, arouse in the sexiest way possible.

I don’t think it’s possible to make something like dealing with terrible trauma sexy, but it does present an opportunity to discuss something that might not just be a thought experiment within our lifetime. It boils down to one simple question.

“If you could purge traumatic memories from your mind, would you do it?”

If that question sounds familiar, then congratulations. You’ve probably seen one of Jim Carrey’s most underrated movies, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Granted, it wasn’t exactly as funny or memorable as “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” but it dealt with this question in ways nobody had dared by making the concept of purging memories a simple service to facilitate the process of getting over a loss.

All three “Men In Black” movies streamlined that process even more with their trademark neuralizer, a device that erases peoples’ memories of an incident in a simple flash. When you’re a super-secret government agency trying to hide aliens from the public, it’s kind of a necessity. However, its implications are much greater than simply making life easier for government agents.

Think back to that traumatic experience I mentioned earlier. In addition, think of the many traumatic experiences behind those who suffer from PTSD. All that suffering is built around the memories of those horrible moments. Whether it’s an atrocity in a war, severe child abuse, or a sexual assault, it’s the memory that locks that moment into the mind.

Now, imagine being able to purge that memory from your brain. In an instant, be it a flash by a neuralizer or the service offered in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” that experience is gone. You didn’t just forget it. As far as your brain is concerned, it never happened.

It’s a concept that “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” avoids and is never expanded upon in “Men In Black.” The ability to purge our memories of traumatic experiences has huge implications, even if they’re not as entertaining as watching Will Smith fight aliens. It’s one thing to improve our memories. Actually manipulating them opens up a new world of complications, some of which we might not be ready to confront.

At the moment, we don’t have to because the technology isn’t there yet. While we have a fairly comprehensive understanding of how our brain forms memories, we currently lack the necessary tools to manipulate them. However, those tools are in development.

Once again, I’ll mention Neuralink and the advanced brain implants its hoping to use to augment human cognition. Given how often our brains frustrate us with our inability to keep up with the world or program a goddamn coffee maker, it’s a given that there will be a market for that. Part of that enhancement, though, will likely extent to memories.

It may even be among the early uses for the implants developed by companies like Neuralink. As I write this, PTSD plagues millions of people, many of them military veterans who experienced unspeakable horrors in a war zone. Given the inherent difficulties in treating PTSD, who wouldn’t opt for a better way?

Sure, it involves manipulating our brains, but talk to anyone who can’t sleep, work, or form functional relationships because of their trauma. Some of them would do brain surgery on themselves and accept all the risks that came with it. Some experiences are just that traumatic and I’m not just talking about the ones that involve wars and clowns.

It’s a tragic situation, but one that makes the idea of actually purging those memories from our minds more pressing. Before brain implants like Neuralink start enhancing our minds for the hell of it, they’ll focus on treating those who are sick. It happened with artificial limbs. It will likely happen with brain manipulation.

Due to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we’re already dealing with a significant population suffering from PTDS. Since those wars show no signs of ending, that population will likely grow. Medical science has gotten better at helping soldiers recover from major injuries, but treatments for the brain are still lagging, so much so that governments are considering using MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, to treat PTSD.

Unlike a bullet wound or a broken bone, though, traumatic experiences don’t always heal. Our brain is wired to tie powerful emotions to powerful memories. That’s great for giving us fond memories of the food we eat, the sex we have, and the social bonds we create, but terrible when it comes to dealing with trauma.

In a sense, removing the memories completely may be the only way to actually cure PTSD and allow people to live fully functional lives. Given the incentives, the prevalence, and mankind’s innate ability to make awesome tools, this ability will likely emerge at some point, possibly in my lifetime.

That may be great for those who endure traumatic experiences, but it may come at a price, as all great advancements do. If we live in a world where trauma is so easy to treat and so easy to get rid of, then does that undermine the power of those experiences? Would we, as a species, become numb to those who experience trauma and those who inflict it?

Picture a scenario where someone commits a brutal rape, one that leaves another person so traumatized and scarred that it may haunt them until their dying daze. Right now, we would all want that rapist punished to the fullest extent of the law. However, what if a simple brain implant removes that experience completely while simple medicine treats the wounds?

If the victims has no memory of the experience, no lingering pain, and suffers no ill-effects for the rest of their lives, then do we still treat the rapist with the same disdain? Right now, that’s an unconscionable question to answer. I’m sure there are those who want to strangle me through their computer screens, just by asking it.

First, I apologize if that question causes someone significant distress, but it’s a question worth asking. Once we have the ability to undo all suffering caused by a crime, then will that affect our ability and desire to punish such crimes? No amount of Will Smith fighting aliens can detract from those implications.

At the moment, the technology doesn’t exist, but the trauma doesn’t stop. As decent, empathic human beings, we want to do everything in our power to stop such trauma and heal those wounds. Our efforts may get to a point where we can literally attack the source of that trauma. The questions still remain. What will the hidden cost be and can we stomach that cost?

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