Katie Gant – Fellow

Mind-Reading Robots

Wouldn’t it be great if you could control electronic devices with your mind? During a boring movie, you could send a text message to a friend without ever taking out your phone. Or, you could tell your iPod to play your favorite song at just the right volume. Although this may seem like science fiction to you, the world of technology is rapidly advancing and the possibilities are limitless. Twenty years from now, your robot assistant may be scheduling you a massage, while your driverless hovercraft transports you to the beach!

Today, brain-computer interfaces are being developed in research centers all over the world. When you think about something, electrical activity is generated in your brain. By wearing a special hat, that electricity can be recorded and transmitted to a computer. Using special programs, the computer can decipher your thoughts and convert them to action.

My research uses these devices to help people after spinal cord injury, when muscles become paralyzed because the electrical connection between the brain and muscles is disrupted. Just like when the lights go out after power lines go down, the signals from the brain can no longer get to the muscles. Like putting up a new power line to replace the old one, we make a new connection between the brain and a device that activates paralyzed muscles.

Someday soon, these brain-computer interfaces may allow you to play video games with no hands, using only your thoughts. But don’t get too excited, you probably won’t ever be allowed to send your brain-controlled robot to school while you stay home in bed!

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