Whitley twitters. We've talked about Twitter morality. Now we have news about people who can twitter using only their brains. And will the internet ITSELF someday be conscious (the Master of the Key said this would happen). Or is it conscious already?
Adam Wilson posted a Twitter message just by thinking about it. Just 23 characters long, his message, "using EEG to send tweet," shows how "locked-in" patients can use modern communication tools.
Wilson is not in that condition himself. He's a biomedical engineering student who is trying to perfect a communication system for users whose bodies do not work, but whose brains function normally. Among those are people who have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), brain-stem stroke or high spinal cord injury.
Some brain-computer interface systems use brain implants. Others employ an electrode-studded cap wired to a computer. The electrodes detect electrical signals in the brain (essentially, thoughts) and translate them into physical actions, such as a cursor motion on a computer screen. He is working with his professor, Justin Williams, who says, "We started thinking that moving a cursor on a screen is a good scientific exercise, but when we talk to people who have locked-in syndrome or a spinal-cord injury, their No. 1 concern is communication."
Their interface consists, essentially, of a keyboard displayed on a computer screen. "The way this works is that all the letters come up, and each one of them flashes individually," says Williams. "And what your brain does is, if you�re looking at the 'R' on the screen and all the other letters are flashing, nothing happens. But when the 'R' flashes, your brain says, 'Hey, wait a minute. Something's different about what I was just paying attention to.' And you see a momentary change in brain activity."
Wilson, who used the interface to post the Twitter update, compares it to texting on a cell phone. "You have to press a button four times to get the character you want," he says of texting. "So this is kind of a slow process at first." But users improve as they practice using the interface. "I've seen people do up to eight characters per minute," says Wilson. "People at the other end can be following their thread and never know that the person is disabled. That would really be an enabling type of communication means for those people, and I think it would make them feel, in the online world, that they are not that much different from everybody else. That is why we did these things."
In New Scientist, Michael Brooks predicts that internet consciousness will be a reality within the next 10 years. He quotes researcher Ben Goertzel as saying, "The internet behaves a fair bit like a mind. It might already have a degree of consciousness."
A self-aware internet would constantly strive to become better at what it does, reorganizing itself and filling in the gaps in its knowledge and abilities by, we assume, looking up things on Google. Goertzel thinks this would be good for mankind. Brooks quotes him as saying, "The outlook for humanity is probably better in the case that an emergent, coherent and purposeful internet mind develops."
But researcher Francis Heylighen thinks we might not realize what is going on. Brooks quotes him as saying, "We probably would not notice a whole lot of a difference, initially."