I think I was about 14 years old when I built my first brainwave amplifier.
Do I have your attention? Good! Actually, there’s a lot about my opening sentence that has the potential to be misleading. My use of the word “first,” for example, would imply that there was a second (there wasn’t), while the entire sentence might lead you to believe that this device worked (it didn’t).
This was a circuit that was published in the UK’s Practical Electronics hobbyist magazine. Since we are talking about the very early 1970s (a) the circuit was 100% analog and involved some very tricky ultra-low-noise pre-amplification and (b) I didn’t have any test equipment, so I had no way to work out what had gone wrong.
I can no longer recall if we were looking for Theta Waves (4 to 7.9Hz) or Alpha Waves (8 to 13.9Hz), although I suspect it was the former. The idea was to detect and isolate the waves in question and then use them to trigger a pink noise generator, which played a relaxing “chuff chuff” sound in your headphones. Had this worked, the author promised to train me to achieve levels of meditation that would otherwise require 20 years of effort by a Buddhist Monk.
Apart from anything else, using my brainwave amplifier required me to daube patches of slimy and sticky conductive solution on my head. The fact that the system didn’t function as planned made this doubly annoying.
A couple of months ago as I pen these words, I attended the NASA Mad Scientist Bash, which was held at the Space and Rocket Center here in Huntsville Alabama. The keynote speaker was T. Warren de Wit, and his talk was titled Hooking Brains to Things (you can see a video of this talk here).
A few days after this event, Warren visited me in my office where I interviewed him for a column I have yet to write (so many things to do, so little time to do them all in). As part of this interview, Warren let me don a state-of-the-art brainwave detecting device that does not require you to stick your head in a bucket of electrolytic solution.
Warren and I talked of many things, including the possibility of shrinking brainwave detecting technology such that it could become part of the Temple Tips (sides) of a regular pair of eyeglasses.
I love the internet. When my wife (Gina the Gorgeous) and I are watching TV, we are invariably to be found using our iPads to locate additional tidbits of trivia and nuggets of knowledge pertaining to whatever is on the screen at the time. Can you imagine being able to search for things just by thinking about them using something like the aforementioned eyeglasses?
At some stage in the future, people will be tempted to have brain-computer interfaces implanted in their noggins. Of course, I’m now thinking of the 2005 episode of Doctor Who called “The Long Game” (Series 1, Episode 7) in which the Doctor, Rose, and a young genius called Adam (who we met in the previous episode) travel to a space station called Satellite 5 in the year 200,000.
Rose has a phone that’s been doctored by the Doctor (no pun intended) that allows her to call back home to her own time. Adam gets a communications port embedded in his head and uses it and Rose’s phone to transmit data about the future back to the answerphone at his parents’ house. Suffice it to say that things don’t turn out well for Adam.
Would you have a brain-computer interface implanted in your own noddle? My knee-jerk reaction is to say “No!” But what about the case where someone is paralyzed and having such an interface would grant them mobility (via a suitable equipped wheelchair), the ability to manipulate objects, and the capability to communicate. The reason I ask is that my chum Jay Dowling just introduced me to the fact that Synchron says it’s the first to implant a human brain-computer interface in the US.
The worrisome thing is that I can easily envisage a not-so-distant future when much more sophisticated brain-computer interfaces become available for general-purpose infotainment use. What happens if someone hacks such a system? What happens if that someone is your own government or another nation state? What are your thoughts on this (while you can still think without fear of other people listening in)?