June 9, 2009

Keep Your Mind’s Eye on Cybernetics

Imagine sitting in your home and being able to control a device in a different room, a different city or even a different country by thought alone. Sounds impossible doesn’t it? Well, accordingly to this fascinating article from Popular Mechanics, advances in the field of cybernetics are occurring so rapidly that such things may be possible in the not-too-distant future.
Consider this: a monkey in North Carolina can already send a signal to Japan (where it controls a robot) faster than it can send a message from its brain to its own muscles. One immediate practical application of this technology may occur in the field of surgery whereby a surgeon could control a small robotic device faster and more precisely than she could move her hand. In a field like brain surgery such a distinction could make a big difference.
It will be some time before other cybernetic devices move into the mainstream, but it is interesting to consider how such mind-machine devices may change how we perceive and interact with our environment in the future. For example, imagine being able to control a robot by thought alone. Forget to feed your dog this morning, just “think” your bot to do it. Forget to water the plants or turn off the iron? Not a problem. A solution is just a thought away.
Other potential uses, of course, go well beyond these pedantic applications; but it is worth thinking about these things because as the Popular Mechanics articles suggests “the big breaks [in the field of cybernetic] can come faster than expected.” And, as Louis Pasteur, famously said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” This will be especially true when the mind can control things better and faster than the body can react.

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