Cyberpunk Review » The New Thinking Cap! It Can Even Type!!!

June 10, 2006

The New Thinking Cap! It Can Even Type!!!

Mind over Matter


Brian sent me to an article on that details research to get the computer to respond directly to commands from the mind:


Sitting stone still under a skull cap fitted with a couple dozen electrodes, American scientist Peter Brunner stares at a laptop computer. Without so much as moving a nostril hair, he suddenly begins to compose a message — letter by letter — on a giant screen overhead.

“B-O-N-J-O-U-R” he writes with the power of his mind, much to the amazement of the largely French audience of scientists and curious onlookers gathered at the four-day European Research and Innovation Exhibition in Paris, which opened Thursday.

Brunner and two colleagues from the state-financed Wadsworth Center in Albany, New York were demonstrating a “brain computer interface (BCI),” an astounding technology which digitalizes brain signals emitted as electrical impulses — picked up by the electrodes — to convey intent.

While no spoons were bent, this was definitely mind over matter.


Mind over Matter


The technology works very slowly, requiring 15 seconds per letter, but for those totally paralyzed, this would provide them a boon in communication:


Dr. Sellers estimates there are some 100 million potential users of BCI technology worldwide, including 16 million sufferers of cerebral palsy, a degenerative brain disease, and at least five million victims of spinal cord injury. Another 10 million people have been totally paralyzed by brainstem strokes, she said….

The Wadsworth system, one of several that detects electroencephalographic (EEG) activity, is based on an algorithm that analyzes the brain waves and identifies peaks in activity that correspond to particular mental efforts. As Dr. Brunner concentrates on the “B” of “bonjour” in a keyboard-like grid of letters and symbols taking up half the screen, a computer randomly highlights lines of characters in rapid succession.

Each time the row — vertical or horizontal — containing the letter “B” is illuminated, Brunner’s brain emits a slightly stronger signal. It takes the computer about 15 seconds to figure out what letter he is looking at. The system is doubly adaptive, with both the software and the person using it becoming more efficient over time.


Truly, this is a pretty cool step in improving a portion of the human condition. It will be interesting to see how this technology evolves.


June 11, 2006

Glam Creature said:

If about people, who have palsy; I know there’s already system, where they can browse internet with moving their eyeballs.

SFAM said:

Hi Glam, yep, they already have systems that work based on Eye movement. This one is different in that it attempts to get at actual brain concentration. if you go to the above link for the article, they interview a neurobiologist stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - apparently a fatal degenerative disease that attacks nerve cells - the Wadsworth BCI technology has make it possible not only to communicate but to continue working, even though he can no longer even move his eyes.

June 12, 2006

Mr. Roboto said:

I remember the movie Firefox (not to be confused with the browser) where Clint Eastwood controlled the jet’s weapon systems by thought. They need to refine and accelerate the tech to reach that level of use, but when they do……

June 13, 2006

SFAM said:

Hi Mr. Roboto, Firefox used the eye movement thing, right? I think our modern fighters already do this for some things, right?

June 15, 2006

Mr. Roboto said:

Firefox used thought impulses to fire its weapons. I remember the the line “You must think in Russian,” meaning the pilot’s thoughts were used as opposed to eye-movements.

I’m certain there’s some aircraft that uses eye-tracking for an interface. I just have to do some googling for it.

July 27, 2006

Kamul said:

Apache gunship has a head tracking helmet, integrated with an eye HUD that controls its 30 mm gun

July 29, 2006

ETM said:

Heh… the Firefox quote reminded me of Neon Genesis Evangelion. “You must think in German”.

October 20, 2006

karuna said:

yes i think this is a very special day for all the world because now we can masturbate and work at same time….

Uther said:

i think agree with karuna! work and masturbation can it get better?

October 24, 2006

NekOtaku said:

The “Think in German” quote is a direct homage to Firefox.
I think it’s been repeated in some modified form in a lot of sci fi movies later on.

December 8, 2006

Lone Jacoby said:

We are making a non commercial web project for The Danish Council of Ethics concerning cyborgs. One of the texts in the project is about the work of cyborgs in the future. I was wondering if it was possible to use the pictures of Peter Brunner demonstrating?

Lone Jacoby
Oncotype, Denmark

December 12, 2006

SFAM said:

Hi Lone,

I don’t have a problem with anyone using any of the pictures here on my site. The ones above though really aren’t mine - they were from a news article linked above.

August 28, 2007

Brendan Allison said:


Here are a few comments and answers to questions. I am a brain computer interface research scientist and used to work with Peter Brunner at the Wolpaw lab in New York. It is great to see public interest in this kind of technology.

The system described by Brunner and his colleagues relies on brain activity alone. No eye movement is required. Brunner is Austrian, not American. The Wadsworth group has indeed used their BCI with a neurologist who has ALS. This patient can use an eye tracker, but prefers his BCI because it is easier and less tiring. It is very important to emphasize that this patient is not unique. Although BCIs are slower than most other assistive communication systems, they are sometimes considered preferable.

A BCI for rudimentary aircraft control was described and published; it can be found online (Middendorf et al., 2000). However, the bandwidth, speed, and accuracy of Firefox is still pretty far away.

If you want pictures and videos of BCIs in operation, many can be found at the Wolpaw lab site, My old website from GSU has some as well: Or see I also gave a talk at Microsoft about BCIs that can be found online:

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