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April 28, 2006

The tongue, like FireWire for the brain

Neuroscientists are using the tongue to relay detailed information from helmet-mounted sensors:

Researchers at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition envision their work giving Army Rangers 360-degree unobstructed vision at night and allowing Navy SEALs to sense sonar in their heads while maintaining normal vision underwater — turning sci-fi into reality. The device, known as "Brain Port," was pioneered more than 30 years ago by Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita, a University of Wisconsin neuroscientist. Bach-y-Rita began routing images from a camera through electrodes taped to people's backs and later discovered the tongue was a superior transmitter. A narrow strip of red plastic connects the Brain Port to the tongue where 144 microelectrodes transmit information through nerve fibers to the brain. Instead of holding and looking at compasses and bluky-hand-held sonar devices, the divers can processes the information through their tongues, said Dr. Anil Raj, the project's lead scientist. In testing, blind people found doorways, noticed people walking in front of them and caught balls. A version of the device, expected to be commercially marketed soon, has restored balance to those whose vestibular systems in the inner ear were destroyed by antibiotics. [AP]

Eventually, this technology may enable people to "taste" sonar, or virtually any other kind of input that can be detected by an external sensor and translated into electronic impusles.

More information on Brain Port from Engadget.


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Comments

Oops, I sort of screwed up those links. Let's try that again.

Brain Port Tongue Interface
Thought-Based Passwords

So what is it like to be a bat guy with sonar routed through his tongue? The guy AP article describes it as feeling like pop rocks, but he also said it guided him to a small object. I'm having trouble imagining how a pop rock sensation does this. Also, once you get used to the interface, is your consciousness still on the pop rock sensation on the tongue, or does it feel like direct awareness of something outside of you? If the latter, how does that object register with you? Is it like seeing?

I believe that Nagel is wrong and Dennett is right, and that we can use science to imagine what it is like to be a bat. Could this contribute to the effort?

Officers will love this, because it prevents the soldiers from asking a lot of damn fool questions.

"Take out that machine gun nest!"
"Mwah gabba dabba!"

Rob,

My guess is that one has a "pop-rock" sensation on the tongue AND has some further experience of a visual/spatial variety. It isn't even difficult for the pop-rock sensation to make this happen (in principle, at least). As I recall, in Bach-y-Rita's work the impressions on the back were roughly shaped like the things that the camera was recording. If this is right, then perhaps one would have a back sensation AND some kind of visual one as well.
Also, as one gained expertise, I would imagine one would be less aware of the tongue sensation and more aware of the other form of conscious experience the interface caused. In fact, that would be exactly what one expects: just compare learning the ability to use the tongue interface to pretty much any other kind of ability learning.

I think I get how a pop rocks work, it'd be like how you comprehenda first language, you don't think on a concious level "this word refers to that object", the sensation, whether visual in the form of letters or body language, or aurual in the form of words, is something we just know traslates into this information, and so too does the pop rock sensation translate to 4 dimensional objects.

You try describing the slight sensation of pressure in your ears which is sound without refferring to sound, you might say a "slight tingling sensation" maybe, or a pulsing sensation, but to someone who has never heard sound in their entire life it would seem to be a sensation that in no way would translate into information.

Sonar feels like sonar, which feels a bit like pop rocks, that's what is really being said I suspect.

Suffice to say, this is very very very very, *inhales* VERYVERYVERYVERYVERYVERY COOL! /scifitechnerd

R. Mildred--

Is it true that if you operate a sonar device while drinking a coke, your stomach will explode?

I remember, when I first heard about using a mouse or tablet to control a computer, thinking that it sounded a lot less intuitive than a light pen that let you write directly on the screen. But it turns out that making that mental mapping from your hand motions to the screen is not hard to do at all. I imagine that this is something similar; you'd get the hang of mapping your tongue to the world pretty quickly.

Matt--

I have to agree. Microsoft developed a whole series of games and tutorials for the mouse, which were probably never necessary. Just do it for awhile.

My friend has a mouse with the ball on top that you operate with your thumb. It only takes a few minutes to get used to. I think this keyboard I'm typing on probably took more training and practice than any of the "counterintuitive" systems we're talking about.

Tongue? Penis/vagina. Definitely.

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