01 December 2010

Brain as Co-Processor: Grobyc Super-Computers?

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Computers lack a certain je ne sais quoi, which has prevented them from achieving the next level of quasi-intelligence. Humans, on the other hand, possess that ineffable quality in abundance, and some may be willing to share with computers -- to lift them up, closer to our level. Columbia University researchers are looking into the techniques of mind-sharing, with some interesting findings:
Most brain-computer interfaces are designed to help disabled people communicate or move around. A new project is using this type of interface to help computers perform tasks they can't manage on their own...[The] device, called C3Vision (cortically coupled computer vision), uses an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap to monitor brain activity as the person wearing it is shown about 10 images per second. Machine-learning algorithms trained to detect the neurological signals that signify interest in an image are used to analyze this brain activity. By monitoring these signals, the system rapidly ranks the images in terms of how interesting they appear to the viewer.

...At the speed at which it works, the conscious brain is unable to register a "hit." But the neurological visual pathways work much faster, says Sajda. The brain produces distinct electrical signals that can be detected and decoded by the 64 EEG electrodes within the cap. "It's on the edge of the subconscious," he says. _TechnologyReview
That is the key point, of course. By using the brain below the level of consciousness, the brain-computer hybrid -- or grobyc -- is able to function more quickly than the conscious mind, and on a higher level than a mere computer.
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Researchers have worked with grobycs using insect brains as controllers for several years. But it is only recently that the "mind-reading" technology has become available which allows the human subconscious -- much faster than the conscious -- to function as a computer controller.

This is the key difference between a human cyborg and a human grobyc. In the human cyborg, the human uses machine augmentation to perform tasks it could not otherwise perform. In the human grobyc, the machine uses the human brain as an adjunct to machine operation. The person's conscious mind (if any) need not be aware of the low level activity at all.

Doug Hofstadter has been writing about this slippery component of the human mind for over 30 years. It is central to the human mind's ability to think generatively and autonomously -- although outside input is crucial. It is the phenomenon of metaphorical stacking down to the embodied, non-verbal levels. It one of many critical features of mammalian general intelligence that AI researchers have ignored for over 60 years to their detriment.

Because the field of AI has neglected something so central to intelligence for so long, scientists are forced to use human brains as co-processors, and reduce human minds to grobyc status. Imagine: "My life as grobyc."

It certainly opens up entire new avenues for commerce and enterprise, to those forward thinkers looking to seize an under valued and under utilised resource to turn a profit. In the future, humans may sell the use of their subconscious minds to Google while they are sleeping, providing the mega-corporation with computational powers of search and subtle "slippery discrimination" its competition could only dream of.

More ominously, governments may use the subconscious minds of the masses to find better ways to control them en masse. This is an application to which an Idiocracy is ideally suited, unfortunately. Think of it as "following the ratings" or "following the polls", but on rocket fuel, and taken to the lowest common denominator.

Bonus: NYT article profiling "Portraits of the Mind", beautiful images of the brain
In the game of intelligence, the score is: Natural Evolution 1 AI Design 0

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Blogger Loren said...

The HAL powersuit from Japan exemplifies the merging of this. Running off of the electrical signals in the muscles, the motorized augmentation enhances the human ability to do things like pick up heavy stuff. This is the cyborg side.

The grobyc part is that the human senses and control software allow the suit to do things it couldn't do without more computer, like walking. Ideally, tweaking the program would allow the system to run reflexes--the more powerful motors of the suit could increase the human's speed, and mix in artificial input. A radar detecting in incoming bullet or shell can initiate the "duck and cover" movements, or the procedure you mention above can let the computer calculate "friend or foe" faster than the human can, and not just get the shot off faster, but stabilize the gun so the shot is also more accurate.

This isn't just interesting to military--your grobyc technique could allow improved part inspection accuracy and speed. A robot suit could check with the operator, making sure a part is in the right place before doing it's automatic drilling/screwing operation for assembly.

This is one reason I'm more interested in the neurally controlled suits like HAL than the master-slave suits like DARPA is funding.

Wednesday, 01 December, 2010  

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