Tom Chi  

Cyborg Mind Monkeys

May 28th, 2004 by Tom Chi :: see related comic

I saw Ray Kurzweil speak last Wednesday, and it was quite incredible. A lot of what he presented is talked about in “The Age of Spiritual Machines“, but experienced in one sitting it had my brain at 100% CPU usage trying to rationalize 10 different threads. Although I had read about it in Scientific American a while back (Oct 2002), I hadn’t really considered the larger ramifications that the cyborg mind monkey experiments could have.Haha. Sort of sounds like a joke, but it’s not. We are getting to the point where we are able to successfully and repeatably interpret signals from the brain, either by crude non-invasive sensor techniques, or by crude direct wiring techniques. For Parkison’s disease there is already FDA approval for some of these early implant technologies.

Brain-computer interfaces are here. Besides Parkinson’s there is work on brain implants to replace lost hearing and eyesight. In the non-invasive realm, there are video games and gizmos which can be controlled by thought, but no killer apps as of yet.

The HCI issues associated with these interfaces are quite fascinating. After all, using something that interprets your thoughts is a very literal “cognitive load”. There is also significant danger of thoughts being misinterpreted or of errant thoughts ruining an interaction sequence. Deeper than this, there is the very bizarre notion of not being alone even inside our own heads and the somewhat eye-opening possibility that the first generation that grows up with this technology being commonplace might have their brains pathways develop to better support the hardware.

9 Responses to “Cyborg Mind Monkeys”
Bob wrote:

How literal were you being when you said “no killer apps as of yet”? (my italics). Thought control doesn’t necessarily change what you do with the control i.e. you could have a finger controlled gun or a thought controlled gun, but I’d want to make absolutely sure that there wasn’t going to be any nasty feedback before plugging my brain into whatever. (See Neuromancer etc. for details.)

David wrote:

I use the Mozilla Firefox browser and I recently saw the film with the same name (1982). The plot is that Clint Eastwood (who also directed) embarks on a covert mission into the Soviet Union to steal their new plane - the Firefox - which has thought-controlled weapons systems. However, he must think in Russian.

Tom Chi wrote:

For a second I thought you saw a movie called “Cyborg Mind Monkeys”. Alas. As Bob mentioned, the race is on to see whether its civilian commerce or the military that makes the first killer apps.

Luckily, I think the medical restoration side of it is in the lead for now. Of course then we get to the entire restoration vs. enhancement debate. I can’t wait to have visual system 2.0 which corrects nearsightedness and can toggle between 30, 60, and 300Hz frame grabbing.

Jimbob wrote:

Of course, the question is: If you now put the monkeys and the scientists in the room with the robotic arm, would the monkeys continue to merely stack blocks for juice, or would they kill all the scientists?

Kevin Cheng wrote:

Speaking of thumb wrestling … check out some Massively Multi-player Thumb Wrestling.

Mark Hicks wrote:

If you put 100 monkeys in a room with typewriters and cyborg arms would they produce the works of shakespeare or something by Asimov ?

I used to work on a programme not so long ago that was attempting to do the fire-fox mind-meld thing, the understanding then wouldn’t have allowed you to select between bagels or toast for breakfast, I am certain it still couldn’t - rest easy in your beds !

Andrei Sedelnikov wrote:

Just received a great link:


“Mindball is an experience product, a game where two players control a ball with their brain waves

Bob wrote:

The Russian-thoughts-only interface in Firefox leads to interesting neurological and philosophical questions (off topic, possibly, but would have consequences for the UI if ever this happens).

At what level in the brain are various languages the same, and at what level are they different? For example, the family tree of languages can be tracked by how many different colours are distinguished. Welsh, for instance, doesn’t separate blue and green. My father-in-law lives in south Wales and bought a place called The Green Hut - surprise, surprise, it was painted green.

His village isn’t alone in having a Green Hut, but sometimes they’re painted blue. This is not a mistake - “Green” is one of several possible translations of “glas” - play with a welsh english dictionary.

Was the designer of the Firefox UI aiming too high in the mental processing stack, and would aiming lower produce a language-agnostic version?

Bringing this back to almost everyday relevance: do all cultures for which we develop share the same set of metaphors etc? Does aiming the UI at the commonly-used mental level limit its universal access, or is this the lowest we can go and still have meaningful metaphors?

Johan wrote:

Just remember to allways mount a scratch monkey…

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OK/Cancel is a comic strip collaboration co-written and co-illustrated by Kevin Cheng and Tom Chi. Our subject matter focuses on interfaces, good and bad and the people behind the industry of building interfaces - usability specialists, interaction designers, human-computer interaction (HCI) experts, industrial designers, etc. (Who Links Here) ?