Last week, the New York Times reported a major scientific breakthrough: people were able to successfully control robotic devices with their minds. The times went on for a few hundred more words, but the only reaction to that kind of news can be:
Seriously, listen to this. By attaching a pill-sized transmitter to the base of their skulls which attaches to neurons and synapses, and, uh, other brain stuff (get the smart version of that sentence in the original report here) two paralytics were able to move around a robot arm. One woman, paralyzed for years, was able to pick up a cup of coffee and take a sip.
The research is being done for “healing” and other altruistic purposes, of course. But the stuff has huge potential for making life more like all of our favorite science fiction novels, which is the best part. Here’s the key takeaway from the Times interview:
“’The ultimate goal‘, Dr. Donoghue said, is to develop a system that is so effective and discreet that people with brain injuries ‘can interact with the environment without anyone knowing they’re using a brain-machine interface.’" This means that within our lifetimes, people with injuries, or without, could be walking the streets in entirely robotic bodies, controlled remotely from Matrix-like tubs of safety.
And here’s the thing… this technology need not stop at one body. One could conceivably use one's mind to control a robot army or factory line, say, from the safety of a hammock or hot tub.
Actually, that may be the most far-reaching effect of all. This technology is being used specifically for arms and other body parts, to help the paralyzed. But in theory, it could be used to control any robotic device. And don’t we hear all the time about how all of our manufacturing jobs are being replaced by robots? So what this could mean is that anyone can now do any job. You could order a robot to make cars—and it might not even require that much effort on your part. Because the whole point of having robots is that the process becomes more streamlined and automated, and less in need of direct oversight.
Does this mean we will no longer have factory workers? We are talking years and years down the road. And there would have to be people to build the robot-brain devices. But once they exist, and are in people’s brains, then a paraplegic could take over production perhaps just as easily as a manual worker. It definitely means great things for people suffering from paralysis. It could also mean the death of the typical blue-collar American worker.
But most importantly though… robot armies. Seriously, think about it. Giant robot Gundam Wing style boxing matches, anyone?
What would you do if you could control robots with your mind?