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The Expanding Mind

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A "remarkable synergy" between the advancement of brain-computer interface (BCI) technology and innovations in computers, digital storage devices, software, and storage technologies is observed by the Innerspace Foundation chairman Pete Estep. This synergy fuels speculation that cognitive BCI could be used to augment the human mind and realize perfect memory and more efficient learning, to name a few benefits. Although such advances are unlikely to be immediately facilitated, Estep notes that the challenge may be workable, for reasons that include a perceived mechanistic and physiological similarity between sensorimotor functions--which most BCI experiments focus on--and cognitive functions. He acknowledges that experts are vexed on how to tackle this challenge because "we possess far less obvious feedback by which we can monitor performance in order to extend and close the 'cognitive loop.' " But Estep points out that evolution successfully closed this loop via natural selection. Notable experiments contributing to cognitive BCI development include a project that aims to give people who suffer from "locked-in" syndrome control of an outboard speech synthesizer; a University of Southern California initiative to produce an artificial hippocampus; and a Georgia Tech demonstration of "synthetic learning" by computer training of living neuronal networks that direct robot behavior. Also of importance is the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging in studies to deduce or predict what is in a person's mind, which suggest that the reconstruction of memories, sensory experiences, and other cognitive processes is achievable.

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