What do I mean when I say human augmentation, and what does it have to do with singularity? Human augmentation is changing something about yourself usually by adding something with the intent of making yourself better. What does this have to do with singularity? Well, whats going to happen when we start combining computers with humans? what about a direct Brain to Computer link or cybernetics, or replacing body parts with machine parts.

Does it sound far fetched? Look at plastic surgery, that is a form of human augmentation, breast implants (aka breast augmentation) is a perfect example and is one of the most popular plastic surgery operations done today. Why wouldn’t people pay money to be smarter, to have better memory, to have direct access to the internet just by thinking. Why wouldn’t amputee’s have brain implants controlling a robotic arm or leg attached to their body.

Computer to Brain Link

Rat Brain compute link
Rats implanted with BCIs
in Theodore Berger’s experiments

There has been much progress lately in the field of Computer to Brain Links. There are two huge obstacles that need to be tackled. How to talk to the brain and how to listen to the brain.

Listening to the Brain

Listening to the brain is fairly easy, its just not very precise yet. This is done by measuring electrical activity in the brain by recording from electrodes placed on the scalp or, in special cases, subdurally or in the cerebral cortex, this is called Electroencephalography

EEg Cap

Researchers at the University of Washington have used this technique to issue simple commands to a humoniod robot.

Rajesh Rao, associate professor of computer science and engineering, and his students have demonstrated that an individual can “order” a robot to move to specific locations and pick up specific objects merely by generating the proper brain waves that reflect the individual’s instructions. The results were presented last week at the Current Trends in Brain-Computer Interfacing meeting in Whistler, B.C.

Video of the robot being controlled

A few years back when I first heard of this they could only do two commands “on\off” or “left\right” Now they are able to differentiate between multiple commands. Imagine 20 years from now as this field of research matures some more.

Talking to the brain

Talking to the brain is a little more complicated and invasive. Typically it involves placing small electrode or BCI (Brain Computer Interface) directly into the grey matter of the brain. This has been used to restore vision in the blind…. Sort of.

In vision science, direct brain implants have been used to treat non-congenital (acquired) blindness. One of the first scientists to come up with a working brain interface to restore sight was private researcher, William Dobelle.

Dobelle’s first prototype was implanted into Jerry, a man blinded in adulthood, in 1978. A single-array BCI containing 68 electrodes was implanted onto Jerry’s visual cortex and succeeded in producing phosphenes, the sensation of seeing light. The system included TV cameras mounted on glasses to send signals to the implant. Initially the implant allowed Jerry to see shades of grey in a limited field of vision and at a low frame-rate also requiring him to be hooked up to a two-ton mainframe. Shrinking electronics and faster computers made his artificial eye more portable and allowed him to perform simple tasks unassisted.

In 2002, Jens Naumann, also blinded in adulthood, became the first in a series of 16 paying patients to receive Dobelle’s second generation implant, marking one of the earliest commercial uses of BCIs. The second generation device used a more sophisticated implant enabling better mapping of phosphenes into coherent vision. Phosphenes are spread out across the visual field in what researchers call the starry-night effect. Immediately after his implant, Jens was able to use his imperfectly restored vision to drive slowly around the parking area of the research institute.

Jerry's BCI
Jens Naumann