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How Do You Feel About A Robot Reading Your Mind?

As I sit here typing this, an odd thought has occurred to me. Perhaps only a few decades down the line, and the traditional mouse-and-keyboard interface will seem as archaic as a typewriter does today. Perhaps more so, come to think of it: at least a typewriter and a keyboad have a few vague similarities in design. The technology which might potentially replace them both is completely alien.

I'm referring, of course, to computer-brain interfaces. Forget gesture commands - those are so last century. Gadgets you can operate with a thought are what's in. 

Seems absurd, right? Not as much as you might think. The truth is, we're inching closer and closer to truly mind-controlled technology with each passing day. What's more, we might just be about to take a huge leap forward.

Anca Ralescu leads a team of researchers at the University of Cincinnati who are developing a brain-computer interface designed to quite literally read the wearer's thoughts. This interface uses electroencephalography (it measures the brain's electrical activity) in order to distinguish between different brain signals corresponding to different motions. In particular, the team is paying close attention to the signals associated with the movement and positioning of various body parts; they're taking in electrical impulses from the muscles as well as the brain.

The idea is that, once their interface is complete, a wearer will be able to communicate motion to a computer without actually saying a word.

"The problem is quite difficult," explained Ralescu. "We are experimenting with processing the signal and selecting useful features from it, and designating a classifier capable of distinguishing between these two transitions - sitting to standing and standing to sitting."

The interface being developed by Ralescu's team, notes Science Daily, could easily be used in conjunction with another project presented at last week's Human-Centered Robotics Symposium: a spring-assisted exoskeleton developed by engineering master's student Gaurav Mukherjee and Professor Grant Schaffner. When hooked up to Ralescu's interface, it could potentially allow people with impaired mobility to move about as though able-bodied. 

That's hardly the only use for such technology, either. The sky is quite literally the limit on this one: thought-controlled smartphones and tablets, mind-to-screen computer interfaces; maybe even brain-operated motor vehicles. Of course, bona fide mind-reading robots potentially aren't all that far away either. Perhaps one day in the not-too-distant future, we might literally need to start watching what we think. After all, when we're wired, there'd be no telling who might be listening in. 

Or maybe I'm just being disingenuous again.