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Computer Control, by Bug and by Brain 76

electric_mongoose writes "NewScientistTech has a fascinating story about a paralysed man who can control a computer and robot arm using electrodes implanted in his brain. The electrodes measure neural signals generated when he concentrates on trying to move one of his paralysed limbs and software translates these imagined gestures into the movement of an on-screen cursor or a robotic arm. Other researchers have also revealed a way to dramatically boost the efficiency of similar brain implants in monkeys." If you don't have a handy human brain to play with, 9x320 writes points to a report on LiveScience of Wim van Eck's graduation project: a computer game similar to Pac-Man controlled, not by conventional computer code, but by the brain of an insect. From the article:"Instead of computer code, I wanted to have animals controlling the ghosts. To enable this, I built a real maze for the animals to walk around in, with its proportions and layout matching the maze of the computer game. The position of the animals in the maze is detected using colour-tracking via a camera, and linked to the ghosts in the game. This way, the real animals are directly controlling the virtual ghosts."
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Computer Control, by Bug and by Brain

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  • Soo.. (Score:2, Funny)

    by this time next year every true slashdotter will have the implant in their brain and be using it full-time to post on slashdot. Gone will be RSS feeds and instead all the Slashvertisememts and FUD will be automatically implainted into your brain.

    And I guess this is appropriate... in sovie..nah, thats too easy.

    • Re:Soo.. (Score:3, Funny)

      by this time next year every true slashdotter will have the implant in their brain and be using it full-time to post on slashdot
      Step 1: Just sit back, and *think* about commenting Step 2: Think about the words you want to say Step 3: Think about clicking the submit button
      Viola! Post successful. I for one welcome our computerized-brain-chip-implanted-super-karma-post ing overlords.
      • Re:Soo.. (Score:1, Offtopic)

        by eln ( 21727 )
        Unfortunately, this fails to account for Step 4: Decide the post is worthless, and decide not to actually click the Submit button after all.

        Not that anyone posting to Slashdot would ever use Step 4 anyway (including myself).
      • Re:Soo.. (Score:5, Funny)

        by MarkByers ( 770551 ) on Thursday July 13, 2006 @01:16PM (#15713457) Homepage Journal
        * Step 1: Just sit back, and *think* about commenting


        * Step 2: Think about the words you want to say

        Ahh that's where I've been going wrong. I usually just type without thinking first. Thanks for the tip.
      • Step 4: Think "Damn, I should have thought about clicking the Preview button first".
      • "Slow down cowboy! Slashdot requires you to wait two minutes before even thinking about repeating what you just said..."

        They may have to add something to the lameness filter, too. Assuming that statistic about the average guy thinking about sex every seven seconds on average is accurate, there will otherwise be a lot of interesting if off-topic stray thought comment spam out there.
  • Eat PacMan? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alexandra Erenhart ( 880036 ) <saiyanprincess@[ ] ['gma' in gap]> on Thursday July 13, 2006 @12:38PM (#15713239) Homepage
    How do they do to make critters chase PacMan? Or they just don't and wonder around in the maze? I didn't find it on the article.
    • Surely you have seen the video of the monkey (okay, an ape) playing Ms. PacMan: lay-ms-pacman-186031.php []
    • Re:Eat PacMan? (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      A better link to this project can be found at []. Go to 'projects', then 'all projects by year', then 'Animal Controlled Computer Games'. Looks like this project was done back in 2004 - not exactly recent news.
    • I guess your verbs actually do have... alternate conjugations.

      I'm gonna go ahead and translate to English, and then posit an answer to the question I think you've asked.

      - Do they make the critters chase PacMan? Or do they just let them wander around in the maze? If so, what motivation do they give the crickets to chase PacMan?

      - I'm thinking he just lets the insects loose and bases the ghost movement on the rather random (unless we assume insects have a plan when placed inside a maze) insect movement/lack
    • Re:Eat PacMan? (Score:4, Informative)

      by poot_rootbeer ( 188613 ) on Thursday July 13, 2006 @02:49PM (#15714021)
      How do they do to make critters chase PacMan? Or they just don't and wonder around in the maze?

      The ghosts have never chased PacMan around the maze, even though it seems an awful lot like they are when you find yourself in their paths.

      Ghost movement patterns are predetermined and unrelated to the player's actions, as anyone who's looked at the slipcover inside Buckner and Garcia's "Pac Man Fever" LP could tell you.
    • Re:Eat PacMan? (Score:2, Informative)

      by Jamil Karim ( 931849 )
      According to the project page [] he did it in this way:

      When the crickets should chase Pac-Man, I switch on the motors furthest away from his location in the maze, so the crickets will flee in his direction.
  • by mobby_6kl ( 668092 ) on Thursday July 13, 2006 @12:40PM (#15713255)
    BBC submitted [] it with a better headline.
  • Not quite... (Score:2, Insightful)

    So from TFA about the insects controlling the ghosts, this doesn't sound as ground-breaking as the first FA... I mean sure the insects are "controlling the ghosts with their brains" but there really is no interaction with the computer at all... The insects are just recognized by the camera who then moves the ghosts in the game correspondingly... Isn't that just optical recognition of colors? Why over-hyped... Though I'm glad to see the advances being made towards better prosthetic limbs. My roommate lost h
    • Re:Not quite... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by smbarbour ( 893880 ) on Thursday July 13, 2006 @01:03PM (#15713395)
      Judging by the way this (and related) technology works, wouldn't it be possible to augment a completely healthy adult with a computer? Obviously, this is something that could only be tested on humans. While other animals may be capable of thought, we cannot directly communicate with them enough to instruct them to make a "trivial"# thought repeatedly for a computer to "learn" the signal. We, however, do possess the ability to make a "trivial" thought repeatedly. Perhaps something like this would one day lead to computer-assisted telepathy. So far though, the biggest hurdle is that, at present, the computer interface is mainly read-only.

      # A "trivial" thought in this context would be one that does not correspond to a normal physical action by the body. (Such as articulating a second set of arms, or "typing" without a keyboard by thinking of making the letters appear on screen)
      • Will this end all the frivolous lawsuits about Carpal Tunnel?

        I'll be so excited when all the 400lbs beasties that complain about their arms hurting can't blame it on that "new fangled keyboard device"

      • To the contrary, it's something that can, and has been,tested on monkeys []. The monkey in this article was hooked up to a robot arm and at first was synchronizing it's movements with her real arm, but after a while, learned to control the robot arm independently. This means we could theoretically upgrade ourselves with any peripheral we want, so long as the learning curve didn't kill us.
      • > So far though, the biggest hurdle is that, at present, the computer interface is mainly read-only.

        While this paticular system of controling an arm is read-only. There have been results in other are that arn't read-only.

        I don't have a link, but I recall very clearly that they've started to make a lot of progress with hooking up a camera to a subjects head and placing electrodes on/in the visual cortex and then feeding images captured by the camera into the person brain, allowing blind people to see
    • I'm guessing that they could so something like have the player simultaneously control the Pac-Man avatar on the screen while the player controls a plastic block being moved throughout the maze with the joystick. The block would be scented with cheese, which the mice would then chase. The block could also be scented by pheremones of the opposite sex of the species used to control the ghosts.
  • Not so new news.... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Cherita Chen ( 936355 ) on Thursday July 13, 2006 @12:43PM (#15713276) Homepage
    We have already seen this in Professor Kevin Warwick []
  • Be careful. (Score:4, Funny)

    by rowama ( 907743 ) on Thursday July 13, 2006 @12:43PM (#15713277)
    paralysed man who can control control [sic] computer and robot arm using electrodes implanted in his brain.

    Today's paralytic is tomorrow's cyborg. Children, be careful of whom you make fun.

    Disclaimer: I personally advocate restraint in fun-making for "goodness sake" and not for fear of future retaliation. But there are those who think it cute to make fun of people with disabilities. Hopefully, a cyborg will eventually teach them that such behavior is not acceptable.
  • Ender? (Score:4, Funny)

    by schmidt349 ( 690948 ) on Thursday July 13, 2006 @12:44PM (#15713290)
    "You made the hard choice, boy. But heaven knows there was no other way you could have done it. Congratulations. You beat them, and it's all over."

    All over. Beat them. "I beat you, Mazer Rackham."

    Mazer laughed, a loud laugh that filled the room. "Ender Wiggin, you never played me. You never played a game since I was your teacher."

    Ender didn't get the joke. He had played a great many games, at a terrible cost to himself. He began to get angry.

    Mazer reached out and touched his shoulder. Ender shrugged him off. Mazer then grew serious and said, "Ender Wiggin, for the last months you have been the commander of our fleets. There were no games. The battles were real. Your only enemy was the enemy. You won every battle. Ate every pellet. And finally today you fought them at their little box in the middle of the screen, and you destroyed them completely and even got all the little fruits, and they'll never come against us again. You did it. You."
  • by inverselimit ( 900794 ) on Thursday July 13, 2006 @12:45PM (#15713295)
    The Nature paper about the guy who can open email, control an arm, etc. just by thinking is available as a free pdf here []. Or just the abstract [].
  • This is not new news (Score:2, Informative)

    by ckhorne ( 940312 )
    I don't have any links or otherwise to show as proof, but I worked on something related to this almost 8 years ago. I was doing my undergrad senior project at Georgia Tech and was following up on previous research done in the same program.

    We were working with a quadraplegic who had implants that also measured brainwave activity and crudely mapped them to mouse movements - one "thought" was for X-axis, and another was for Y-axis. I say "crude" because, IIRC, the cursor could only go one way, and when it got
  • Imagine... (Score:1, Redundant)

    by novus ordo ( 843883 )
    ...crickets with frickin lasers attached to their heads!
  • by treeves ( 963993 ) on Thursday July 13, 2006 @12:50PM (#15713328) Homepage Journal
    at Pac-Man.
    Gotta go out to the garage and find that can of Raid. . .
  • van Eck? (Score:2, Informative)

    by eric434 ( 161022 )
    Is this the same Wim van Eck that's known for van Eck phreaking; i.e. using radiation from a CRT to replicate what's being displayed on said CRT?,289893,s id9_gci550525,00.html []

    "This term combines the name of Wim van Eck, who in 1985 authored an academic paper that described this form of electronic eavesdropping, with the term phreaking, the earlier practice of using special equipment to make phone calls without paying. Van Eck phreaking is identified in the U.S. gove
    • I thought the same thing, initially, but I would assume not, considering that this Wim van Eck did the cricket-Pac-Man thing as a "graduation project," according to the article, making it highly unlikely (though I suppose not impossible) that he was authoring academic papers in 1985.
  • by linvir ( 970218 ) * on Thursday July 13, 2006 @01:03PM (#15713397)
    Sony marketing droids, having confused this story with a Nintendo press-release, have announced that the PS3 controller "was going to have a mind-chip all along", and promised a barely functional demonstration model by early next week.
  • Music (Score:2, Interesting)

    by HoboCop ( 987492 )
    This would be a really neat interface for musical instruments.. just imagine, hook your head to a set of speakers and ROCK OUT! In all seriousness, If this ever becomes a mature and pervasive technology, the applications are limitless.. imagine a wi-fi brain control unit with an open-source API... Control anything with your brain!
  • by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Thursday July 13, 2006 @01:07PM (#15713420) Homepage
    I was awake in the '80s. I knew Pac Man. And that screen shot, sir, is no Pac Man.
  • Development of these devices is actually a fun little field for a lot of electrical & computer engineering students who decide they want to do something else.

    A couple years ago I toured one of the research labs at Michigan where they were developing these electrodes and the algorithms they're using to interpret the impulses... At least half of the lab were ex-EE students who decided they wanted to do biomed for grad school.

    The scary part was that it was these same EE students who were running around pe
    • The amazing part was that if you stuck the electrode anywhere in the correct general area it would "just work" without needing to worry about hitting exact nerves, etc.

      That would probably be because in that case, it is not the computer that is learning from the animal, but the animal learning to interact with the computer. I have a suspicion that the area of human-controlled manipulation will move forward in leaps and bounds when the people hooking these things up realise that brains are actually quite good
  • Your lab's on line 1.
  • Here's a link to the actual company and its technology used []. This technology could be extremely helpful for soldiers or people who lost their limbs in traumatic accidents.
  • by Sketch ( 2817 ) on Thursday July 13, 2006 @01:23PM (#15713488) Homepage
    Now all we have to do is get the Ms. Pac-Man playing chimp to play against the insects for absolute animal kingdom Pacman supremacy... []
  • How about this idea - an electrode in your brain, wired to a computer whose output connects to the said muscles. "Artificial nerves", so to speak.
    On the other hand, that'd make me fear hackers 1000 times more. This could be the perfect plot for a sci-fi horror movie.
  • Wired Reflexes I (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Relic of the Future ( 118669 ) <> on Thursday July 13, 2006 @01:45PM (#15713615)
    Between this and the cortical pre-conscious response story earlier today, I look forward to getting my Wired Reflexes I cyber implant. Still waiting on the datajack, though.
  • by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Thursday July 13, 2006 @01:49PM (#15713644)
    The position of the animals in the maze is detected using colour-tracking via a camera, and linked to the ghosts in the game.

    The 'virtual ghost' is not controlled directly by the bugs' brains any more than my computer is controlled by my brain. There are other physical interfaces present. This story was made up to be sensational and actually provides no news at all, other than some bored kid with a webcam and several tortured bugs.

  • The force is with you Nagle
  • when I install Pac-Man, I also have to install the crickets and the maze?
  • by mindstorms ( 788968 ) on Thursday July 13, 2006 @02:40PM (#15713958)
    A beowulf cluster of linux running grits eating insect overlords. Uh... *throws a chair at an old korean e-mail user* .... 2) ????? 3) Profit!!!
  • "The position of the animals in the maze is detected using colour-tracking via a camera, and linked to the ghosts in the game."

    I dunno about you, but the PacMan I played when young never had ghosts start humping each other in the middle of the maze. They never laid eggs under each other's skin, either.

    And there was never some announcer off to the side of the game inciting "Jim" to go wrestle with the ghosts

    "This way, the real animals are directly controlling the virtual ghosts."

    Well, we could be real animal
  • aside from the fact that the insects have no concept that they are controlling anything (unless they secretly are our overlords after all), in as much as they arent isn't this just a telemetry system with a "game screen" representing the actions of what you are measuring?
  • This all just shows that the future as protrayed by such fiction as Ghost in the Shell, and at the risk of really dating myself, The Eigth Man is not so farfetched. I wonder though, why they would use the artificial limbs to type, and not have a more direct way to transform thoughts to text.
    • Because a direct thought-to-text translator requires that your thought-receiver directly interfaces to whatever system you're working with. If the interface is unavailable, you lose. On the other hand (har har) controlling an artificial limb means you can use all of the existing keyboards and other interfaces, no new special interface required.
  • There are so many better things to do with tiny brains.

    Say an electrode touches where the brain feels pleasure, another touches where it feels pain, Those can be used to teach the 'brain' basic calculations. Maybe the next Radeon will be based on a rat brain.

    Stem cells can be injected into the brain to keep it going for much longer so it learns more.

    Move over Xilinx.

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle