Closing the loop

I learned today about “two way learning”. This is a technique whereby you have somebody learn something while you monitor that person’s brain activity. As the person is learning about something, the computer is simultaneously “learning” the patterns of the person’s brain activity.

The hope here is that we can train a computer to recognize particular patterns of brain activity, and use those patterns to determine something about what a person is thinking. The primary application for this now is for people who are paralyzed. If a computer can recognize a paralyzed person’s brain patterns, then eventually that person could simply think a particular thought in order to trigger the computer to perform a particular action.

When this technique was described to me, I had a completely wacky idea: Why not make a loop out of it – have the person and the computer watch each other? The person watches and tries to learn the pattern of the computer that is “learning” the person’s brain pattern. So, for example, when I have a particular thought, the computer monitors my brain activity and shows the results as some kind of image on a display screen. Meanwhile, I watch that screen and try to learn and recognize these images.

This is an interesting scenario because we humans have an extraordinary ability to recognize patterns in what we see. If I see a visual representation of my own thoughts, eventually I might start to be able to recognize what particular thoughts “look like”. Eventually I might learn to modulate my own thoughts in order to make various types of patterns appear on the computer screen. Essentially I am training my mind to train the computer.

By involving the person whose brain is being tracked as an active participant in the process, we might be able to create a rich and powerful learning feedback loop. By making use of the human mind’s amazing ability to recognize patterns, perhaps we can give people the power to modulate their own thoughts at will. Those modulated thoughts could then be used to exert truly precise control – purely through thought – of computers, and thereby of the world around us.

It’s worth trying anyway.

Leave a Reply