Imagine thinking about something and having a computer capture the thoughts and present it to us in the form of images. This would not only help us elucidate the nature of human thoughts, but also augment imagination and creativity.
A team of scientists from the University of Helsinki have come up with the exact same idea in which computers can present information such as fictional images based on the neural activity of the brain. This idea is based on brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) that allow brain signals to control some external activity such as moving a cursor. So in a way, you think about the activity and it gets executed.
The new study, which has been published in the journal Scientific Reports is a breakthrough innovation in BCIs as it models brain signals and computer’s presentation of these signals simultaneously. With the help of a technique called neuroadaptive generative modelling, researchers were able to generate visualisations based on the interaction between the human brain and a generative neural network.
In the study conducted by the team, 31 participants were shown hundreds and hundreds of AI-generated photographs of different people. During this, the EEG (a test for electrical activity in the brain) of the participants was recorded simultaneously.
In this activity, the participants were asked to concentrate on specific features of the face such as the smile. As they looked at the images, the EEG activity was transmitted to the neural network. The neural network then tried to determine if the AI-generated image matched with what the subject was looking for. At the end of the activity, it was found out that the accuracy of the AI-generated images stood at 83% and almost correctly matched what the participants were thinking about. A member of the team, Tuukka Ruotsalo, stated:
Why is this a big deal?
Visualisation of thoughts is one thing, but scientists believe that this technology can be particularly beneficial in pushing human creativity. To give you an example, let’s say you think about something and would like to draw it out on a piece of paper. Now, if you do not have a flair for drawing or illustration or you simply cannot express your thoughts on paper due to some reason, the computer can help you achieve the goal.
However, it is important to understand that this technology does not detect the thoughts per se but determines our perspective associated with different mental categories. What does that mean? Say we think about an old person, then the technology will determine what our perception of old age is, instead of identifying one particular old man. Michiel Spapé, senior researcher of the study stated:
Neurotechnology, BCIs and the future of humanity
The beauty of BCIs is that they can be used to unlock the mystery of one of the most complicated things in the world, the human brain. While BCIs are still in the infancy stage, experts believe that the technology can revolutionise cognitive neuroscience and will perhaps be able to both send and receive data in the future. Several companies are tapping into the technology to develop groundbreaking devices to perform activities we cannot even wrap our minds around.
One such leading neurotechnology company, Neuralink, founded by Elon Musk, has hit the headlines recently. The company is developing a high-bandwidth brain-machine interface that will be able to treat neurological disorders and will help paralysed people regain control over computers and smartphones. The company claims that initially, the users will learn how to control the virtual mouse with their brains. Eventually, Neuralink will work on the ability to control other devices such as game controllers and keyboards just by thinking about it.
Scientists are working on realising promising innovations in brain-computer interfaces and neurotechnology. Perhaps with the rapid developments in AI and machine learning, it won’t be long before the mind-boggling dreams of the neurotechnology companies actually become a reality.