The Advent of the Brain Computer Interface (BCI)

What is the next device after thumb and finger input smart computers (mobile phones)? In the 21st century we’ll have a working prototype of the BCI as the push towards it makes us less human and more augmented with artificial intelligence.

According to Scott Olster, a LinkedIn Editor:

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco have developed an AI-powered system that can translate brain activity into text. The system learns to pair brainwaves with words by recording the brain activity of study participants (with electrode implants in their brain) as they read specific passages aloud. With the help of machine learning techniques, the system can begin to produce text by simply analyzing a subject’s brain activity. It’s very early days, but such tech could one day allow people who cannot speak or type the ability to communicate with others.

So does this herald a new wave of how we manipulate our physical world and control the IoT 5G architecture of our lives?

If scientists have developed artificial intelligence that can turn brain activity into text, how much longer before a working BCI? Some say years, while others say decades. Clearly if there is an AI-arms race, a consumer BCI is among the most sought after devices. Could Apple, Google, Huawei or Samsung get us there one day? Or will it be another company that’s even more AI-centric?

In days gone by, mind-reading was reserved for sci-fi films and novels. But in a world where we have become screen addicted thumb tapping cavemen, one has to wonder at the possibilities of mind-control and seamless manipulation of our environments and the virtual spaces we are creating to represent various elements of society and the new economy.

Extracting speech from brain waves is astounding. This system obviously won’t scale but it’s promising. The system was not perfect. Among its mistakes, “Those musicians harmonise marvellously” was decoded as “The spinach was a famous singer”, and “A roll of wire lay near the wall” became “Will robin wear a yellow lily”.

However, this puts the dream of the BCI that much closer and that’s the real news here. For human beings to survive, many believe we’ll have to continue to “merge” with AI. This being the case, a Brain Computer Interface (BCI) is the most pressing step towards that reality, where AI can scale along with us. Where human beings can participate in the exponential increase of machine learning in our societies.

The headline is somewhat misleading and the study very limited, we cannot be over-optimistic. Writing in the journal Nature Neuroscience, [researchers from the University of California, San Francisco] reveal how they developed their system…

According to the BBC, they trained algorithms to transfer the brain patterns into sentences in real time and with word error rates as low as 3%. How the BCI is invented and how it is iterated and combined with new forms of AI could change the trajectory of how our society evolves and how institutions like democracy, capitalism, consumerism and the Internet of Things evolve.

The speech to be decoded was limited to 30-50 sentences. The scientists say this proves that the machine interface is identifying single words, not just sentences. In principle, this means it could be possible to decode sentences never encountered in a training set. So this is a small step in the right direction, something San Francisco and Silicon Valley like to hype.

What is clear is that AI as the intersection of neuroscience is just in its infancy. When the computer system was trained on brain activity and speech from one person before training on another volunteer, decoding results improved, suggesting that the technique may be transferable across people.

According to Kurt Cagle, this actually may end up disproving Noam Chomsky’s thesis of underlying universal grammars, something that’s been under pressure for quite some time. I’m unsure how significant this headline is to the emergence of the BCI, but enthusiasm for such a device from Facebook to OpenAI has never been stronger in 2020.

They see dollar signs and Apple, the winner of the first wave of mobile devices in the iPhone craze, must be secretly working towards the BCI as well, with likely the best iteration of wearables and AR Smart glasses in the world.

The ultimate wearables are those tied to AI that bring more seamless interactions.

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