Sasha Stadler

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Are there other applications for brain/machine interfacing? How might they affect our sense of self?

Miguel Nicolelis offers at least one application for brain/machine interfacing: control of artificial limbs. But there are probably a dozen other applications for this research. (And that includes Matrix paranoia!)

No less from the realm of sci-fi, imagine the military implications of being able to remotely navigate robot soldiers with capabilities well beyond those of their human controllers (certainly these remote machines could have capabilities well beyond fighter drones, and even more dangerous).

In Nicolelis' talk, he touches on how the instruments and mediums we use (including this type of interfacing) come to be seen as extensions of our own bodies. What other applications of this technology can you imagine? And how might they affect/augment/fragment the sense of self?

  • Feb 25 2013: Will they lack mirror neurons? Will they lack empathy? Will they come to view normal humans as too slow, pathetic, or easy targets? Will it make it easier to hack into both, like having a garage attached to a house - now there are just more entrances to guard. And if you get into one, that just gives you cover while you work to gain entrance to the other. Will they have a secret back-door that gives control to some third party?
    We could be jumping onto thin ice, psychologically-speaking. How much subtle rapport would they get (or be able to give) in face-to-face meetings? How important is that, really, to our subconscious sense of security & identity? Is our identity rooted in "interaction" & "intimacy"?
    What happens when they unplug a person who's been running a robot at 100 MPH and they start moving around in a body at 3 MPH? They may get pretty bored with that body, they may see it as slower/weaker and they may forget its subtleties - lose tactile senses, etc.
    What happens when a person with a "weak spine" is empowered with a strong robot, and depends on it for social strength? They become increasingly dissatisfied with their human body, & like a drug, come to over-depend on it while their real body & "backbone" withers away.
  • Feb 19 2013: In a sense, I think that using interfaced robots for war wouldn't change the numbers of death of people. The main purpose for war is to diminish another country's power over the world. Wars would be focused on human death rather than the destruction of robots. There would be more meticulous plannings to kill people. Robotics would save people at the front row of the war but not the public.
    Our sense of self...
    I think that nothing would be different even if we have all the technolgy that helps people do things. For instance, if I person is severley injured and is connected to their own avatar, they would get less stress from their pains, but they would know that it isn't their own body that is moving but an artificial robots. People would still think that their "organic body" is their real self and the others would be machines to help the brain live. In other words, if we are able to code all of the information of a human brain and insert it to a new body it wouldn't be themselves.(Just like Total Recall)
    I think that this problem of sense of self is related to definition of what our souls are. All this science fiction turning into reality is just another philosphical way to think of ouselves.
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      Feb 19 2013: That's a very astute point: I think I agree with you that our sense of self is a much larger, soul-related question. But I'm also considering how other mediums have affected our "selves" in a more physical sense, such as writing (much lower-tech that brain/machine interfacing). Suddenly we're not just accountable for what we say and do everyday, but we're accountable for the part of ourselves that can be preserved and circulated. And suddenly, those who could read and write can communicate their ideas without regardless of physical presence. It must have been a crazy time.

      Fast forward thousands of years, to developing this interfacing. Who I am, what I'm responsible for, what it means to be transmitting action remotely with fewer fears or repercussions for my physical self (such as in the military example) - couldn't these be extensions just as writing, or other forms of communication, were? I agree that it's not the same as an organic body or "real self," like you say. But then what is it?
      • Feb 20 2013: I like your point about computer interfacing as an extension of communication. From the words from The Matrix, The Matrix is a complex system that allows humans to interact with each other and have a social life without even knowing that the world is a computer program. Like Smith coming out from the Matrix if we think of the robot as an individual, it could be thought that a computer program got a form in the real world and can interact with people. Thus it is a machine.
        I think that if a person has an avatar uses it, they could think of the avatar as part of themselves but not the whole. The human body must be the origination of our souls.(Just my opinion)
  • Feb 19 2013: actually been thinking about that exact question for a while now. i don't think they will affect our sense of self at all, and i think the reason lies in that we already aware of the line between 'me' and 'my body'.

    if we for example were t have a limb removed or replaced, besides the trauma of whatever made it necessary i'm sure most would agree that we are still exactly the same person. and although we like to say things like "i am 6 feet tall" what we really mean is "my body is 6 feet tall", because if we were to switch brains with someone we would all agree that 'we' were in another body.

    other applications of this technology i hope will be an end to death. 'we' don't ever really die, what happens is our bodies die and we get taken with it. think of all the knowledge an experiences that are lost to the human species each time someone dies, and how many things we haven't learned because we were busy doing something else. this should lead to more travel, more learning, and more wisdom throughout the whole population, which could only be good for society as a whole.
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      Feb 19 2013: Separation of self from bodily self? That's very intriguing to me, and it makes a lot of sense considering medical phenomenons like Alien Limb Phenomenon. I'm reminded of a report I read several years ago about amputees' alienation from their prosthetic limbs, because like you say, it's not "them." I can foresee that being a complication that will still exist, though it might be greatly alleviated, by brain interfaced prosthetics.

      When you say an end to death, do you mean body replacement like Jihyun Kim (above) mentions, a la Total Recall (I'm also thinking of the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica)?
      • Feb 19 2013: interesting about the prosthetics thanks. i'm thinking this must be a common phenomenon becase it's also been shown in studies of drivers that have shown that people who get used to the car as being an extension of themselves (ie they think "go left" rather than "turn the wheel anticlockwise") tend to have fewer accidents because the intermediate step is eliminated, and similarly in another study of top gamers they found that the best always moved like the game was part of themselves whereas those that never made it to the top still thought about which keys to press.

        i meant that i feel that my own arms are 'me' but really i shouldn't because they're not 'me' at all and are no different from other things i use to get things done like my screwdriver. i wonder if it's just attachment? is it the limb itself that causes the alienation or is it just because it's a foreign body, or not the original part, in the same way that original toys are much more highly valued that modern replicas even if the new version is higher quality.

        i did mean body replacement, though really it could be anything analogous to a body that we could inhabit, such as the cyber reality idea from "caprica".
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    Feb 19 2013: There are many possible applications of brain/machine interfacing and I am very uncertain how these might affect our sense of self. When one mentions brain/machine interfacing, we seem to think immediately of high tech. But this may not be necessarily so. Even a pair of spectacles may be seen as a brain/machine interface, and they certainly changed our sense of self by way of increasing our reading ability over substantially longer periods of time. What about a car? Is it not a brain/machine interface? The brain is just not a biologically local object, it extends in our perceptive capabilities. A machine is simply what produces a net gain in our capabilities.
    A possible implication is presented by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans in their TED book 'Homo Evolutis' which one can have here.
    http://www.amazon.com/Homo-Evolutis-Kindle-Single-ebook/dp/B004KSREFC/ref=amb_link_355097102_83?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_r=10XN4FHM50D09FYR52TJ&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1287262642&pf_rd_i=2486013011
    A critical review of a possible immortality by myself can be checked here.
    http://pabitraspeaks.com/the-immortality-question/
    Also please check Juan's TED talk
    http://www.ted.com/talks/juan_enriquez_shares_mindboggling_new_science.html
    and a related TED talk by Harvey Fineberg
    http://www.ted.com/talks/harvey_fineberg_are_we_ready_for_neo_evolution.html

    Hope this helps.