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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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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, Neuralink, technology

Neuralink: How A Brain Enhancement Will Make Us Smarter (And More Romantic)

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It’s a sad/annoying fact of life. Most of us don’t have photographic memories. Unfortunately, most of our public schools and every major testing system they use works under the assumption that we are capable of retaining vast amounts of semi-trivial information and spitting it out on demand. Then, the people who run these schools are shocked when students complain.

Think back to the class you hated most in school. How much memorization did that class require? Unless you have a really good, semi-photographic memory, chances are you were expected to be half-machine to succeed. You had to spend no less than two hours of your day with flash cards, forcing your brain remember things it doesn’t want to remember. In the grand scheme of things, how productive was that time?

For me, the class I hated most was my Spanish class. I had one of those teachers that basically expected us to memorize a Spanish dictionary. Unless you actually grew up in Spain, it was about as pleasant as getting a rectal exam with boxing glove. Needless to say, I don’t speak a lick of Spanish anymore.

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Now I do have a fairly good memory. Ask me anything about a particular comic book character and chances are, I’ll tell you everything about that character, who they’ve hooked up with, and how many times they’ve been killed off and brought back to life. Ask me to translate a paragraph in Spanish on the spot and you’re bound to be disappointed.

This spotty memory that plagues high school students, adults, and people who just can’t keep track of their keys is an unavoidable part of modern life. It can even hinder our love lives. How many men have been denied some tender lovemaking because they forgot their lover’s anniversary, birthday, or favorite pizza topping? It’s downright tragic.

These limitations aren’t just the byproduct of stupidity. There’s a very good reason why we all don’t have photographic memories. There was no evolutionary need for them until very recently. Our bodies and brains evolved to prioritize survival, reproduction, social cohesion, and spacial awareness. The fact there are over 7 billion of us on this planet now shows that those priorities were not misplaced.

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However, the world is getting more complicated. Society is becoming more complex than our caveman brains can make sense of. That’s why we have entire populations that are still woefully uneducated, which effectively guarantees that they will be left behind and impoverished.

It’s a sad situation because education is difficult when you’re dealing with caveman brains. It takes considerable resources to teach people and those resources are often finite, even in the era of the internet. Even resources like Khan Academy can only go so far.

So how do we fix this situation? A society that has a large population of impoverished, uneducated people is not a stable one, as the 2016 Presidential Election proved. Well, a solution is already in the works and it has even larger implications for our personal lives.

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Enter Neuralink again. Yes, I know I dedicated an entire article explaining why it’s the most important venture in the history of the human race. However, there’s no way I could explore the implications in just a single post. There are so many aspects about this venture with amazing possibilities that I need multiple posts to do it justice.

In case you’ve forgotten, which is entirely appropriate given the context of this post, Neuralink is a new company by tech mogul/Tony Stark wannabe, Elon Musk. The goal of the company is to create a line of neural implants that will go directly into peoples’ brains and fix or enhance their function. It’s a market that doesn’t exist yet, but one that is as untapped as a diamond mine on Mars.

Neural implants are not entirely new, but much like the electric car before Musk, they’re not well-developed. At the moment, most of the research is going into creating implants for people whose brain has suffered damage from an injury or stroke.

That’s an entirely noble use of technology, but let’s face it. We humans, especially billionaire businessmen like Musk, aren’t satisfied with just healing the sick. We also want to enhance the healthy. That’s where the potential of neural implants gets really exciting and even a little sexy.

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Think back to that class you hated so much in high school. Now imagine, if you can, that you just got the latest implant from Neuralink. The implant basically acts as an upgrade to your memory, taking it from caveman mode to one that’s actually useful in the 21st century.

That doesn’t just mean you now have a photographic memory. It also means that your brain can make connections and process concepts faster. It’s one thing to just spit out a Spanish translation of a passage from Shakespeare. To actually comprehend it and be able to analyze it faster is where the real benefits set in.

Suddenly, you don’t need expensive schooling or teachers with PHDs from Ivy League schools to effectively learn a concept. You can read a certain book or watch a few videos from Khan Academy and just like that, you know it. You can learn six grade levels worth of math in just under a year. Sure, you’ll probably be an annoying smart-ass, but you’ll have a wholly valid reason.

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Economically speaking, it would be a diamond mine on top a gold mine on top an oil well. Even if the neural implant costs around $10,000, that’s still less than it cost to educate one American student for a single year. Just like that, education doesn’t just get cheaper. It becomes as easy and efficient as watching a few YouTube videos, something our current generation already is very good at.

With Neuralink, education becomes so much easier and so much more efficient because now it doesn’t have to circumvent our exceedingly flawed caveman brains that only want to survive, reproduce, and avoid hungry bears. Beyond the education, there’s also an even greater implications.

Just being able to memorize facts, equations, and Taylor Swift songs is all well and good, but there are other forms of intelligence that a neural implant could affect. Our brains are also the mechanism through which we process emotions. That’s a skill that schools struggle to teach even more than calculus. Emotional intelligence is a thing and it plays a huge role in how we get along as a society.

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Think back to a time when someone had an emotional breakdown in a very public place. If you’ve been around teenagers in any capacity, chances are you’ve seen more than one. What you saw was a clunky human brain that struggled to process a vast array of emotions. With a neural implant, those kinds of breakdowns become less likely.

So what happens when you combine emotional intelligence with a robust education? That’s where the erotica/romance writer in me gets really excited because that’s a perfect foundation on which to build love. That’s not some coy way to add sex appeal to this exciting technology. That’s a real impact and one with plenty of inherent sex appeal.

According to research by Pew, couples who are both college educated are much more likely to have strong, lasting marriages. That should surprise no one. When you’re smart and educated, you’re better-able to forge a lasting, loving partnership with someone. Being uneducated means more chances for stupidity and stupidity tends to kill romance faster than a clogged toilet.

Now, imagine further enhancing that education and that ability to process emotions. Put it in the brains of two people seeking love, lust, and everything in between. How much depth and passion would emerge in such a romance? What kind of sex life would a couple like that have when they know both the breadth of their emotions and the intricate workings of each others’ anatomy?

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Imagine a society that has these kinds of brains fueling this kind of romance. How much sexier would that society be? In that sense, Elon Musk will have ushered in a new era of love and passion, while probably making himself a few more billions. It’s a promising, romantic, inherently sexy future to contemplate.

I do hope I live long enough to see it manifest. I also hope to craft a few sexy novels along the way. Hopefully, Musk reads one of them and gets a few other sexy ideas. I say that any future that involves enhancing our ability to love one another and make love is one that’s worth pursuing.

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