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Neuroscience Pushes Autonomous Cars Forward – Backyard Brains CEO Discussion With TED & Lexus

The future of AV

Can you imagine riding on an autonomous car that knows your emotions and thoughts better than you do?

Neither can we, but our co-founder and CEO Dr. Greg Gage can, and he isn’t freaked out by the prospect. On the contrary, he’s quite optimistic about it. How come?

Human-centered technology is the keyword here. As Senior TED Fellows, Greg and artist Sarah Sandman were invited by Lexus to give their two cents on the future of AV (autonomous vehicles) operated by AI rather than humans. They both think that there is a possibility of a car that is not driven by humans yet remains human-driven – or rather, in Greg’s vision, emotion-driven!

Can a Car Feel You?

Emotions are, Greg says in his latest TED video, one of the major evolutionary inventions that we’ve developed in order to better interact with one another. A human-centered autonomous vehicle should therefore be equipped to detect not only obstacles on the road and other external signals, but also the passenger’s state of mind. Are you tired? The seat’s already lowering down into a bed and tucking you in with some chill-out music. There are sensors picking up your bodily signs such as blood pressure or EKG, so the car can give you exactly what you need before you even know you’re needing it.

This is not science fiction but merely smooth teamwork between the car’s brain and your own. It’s no secret, though, that this car – any car – will be a lot smarter than you are. But no reason to feel bad about it! If you allow it insight into your emotions, it will go one step further from technology for its own sake to technology for human sake.

The future of AV
“Does it know what it thinks it knows?” (Source: TED video)

Devices can’t read our minds just yet. But Greg doesn’t think it’ll be all doom and gloom once they learn how to do it. We reached out to him to tell us a wee bit more about the broader impact of AV that detects and interprets human emotion. “I think that advanced technology will be forced to interpret our emotional state to better communicate and make better predictions of our needs. It could even help us communicate better with other humans by modeling healthy behaviour within its interaction,” Greg told us while tinkering with the DIY beehive in his backyard. “In an autonomous car, the occupants would not be in direct control. So any detected emotional states of passengers (aggressive or otherwise) would be shielded from the control systems. I feel there could be some feedback in extreme situations, for example, if someone is in an emergency and needs to get to a doctor. But overall, this technology is mostly inward focused on the passenger’s experience.”

So the goal is to improve human-to-human interaction by way of an advanced car-to-human interplay. Plug us in!

Another thoughtleader and TED Senior Fellow, Sarah Sandman envisions a car that we’ll happily leave our homes for – one that would fulfill our social as well as physical and emotional needs. As you’re dropping your kid to school, you could be spending some quality time with them instead of keeping your eyes locked on the road. And how about having a cozy cup of coffee with other passengers instead of silently sitting next to each other on a train, everyone glued to their smartphone? Commuting could finally become communal!

If we create a human-centered artificial intelligence, we won’t have to worry about evil robots chasing us around the scorched earth as they whip us into submission. How about (re)claiming our own future instead of envisioning dystopian havoc?


Stationary Electrodes Are The New Black

One of the core tenets of Backyard Brains is our slogan, neuroscience for everyone! We constantly work to drive the world around us into the neurorevolution, and when we hear about projects like Peter Buczkowski’s master’s thesis, we know we’re doing something right.

Peter Buczkowski graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts and in 2017 with a Master of Arts in the Digital Media from the University of the Arts in Bremen. His idea for his masters thesis was born out of a TENS unit, after seeing our Human-Human Interface TED Talk. “I especially liked the receiving part of possessed hand experiment and the idea to use the human as an interface. This inspired me to do my own experiments in that field,” Peter told us. “I chose three topics and build three projects to cover a wide spectrum so one can see the possibilities of this technology in different areas.”

Peter started out with the most basic of scientific endeavors: solving a problem. Doing any sort of human neuroscience or biofeedback research is made a little more difficult the fact that most types of patch electrodes are sticky and a hassle to use, not to mention not very aesthetically pleasing. So he set out to fix that, and now, his projects center around the idea of “stationary” electrodes: not necessarily something attached to the body, but something that a person can just hop onto and start learning. His three projects deal with photography, video game skill, and muscle memory, using the paradigms apparent in our Human-Human Interface experiments to create his designs.

The Prosthetic Photographer

His first project is called the Prosthetic Photographer. “The Prosthetic Photographer is a modular camera attachment that forces you with electric impulses to take beautiful pictures,” Peter wrote. Typical advice for a budding photographer is just to go out and take thousands of photos, and you will learn the difference between and okay shot and a beautiful one. The Prosthetic Photographer aims to shorten that process through machine learning. Using machine learning to distinguish between high and low quality photos and neural networking to connect the computer, the camera, and the user, the ProstheticPhotographer is an example of machine learning and human learning coming together. 

The device is a modular one that can be added to any compatible camera, utilizing a TENS unit to render the user as a conduit for its learning, controlling the photographs being taken and teaching its concept of aesthetics to the user. Electrodes on the camera’s handle transmits a shock signal to the user causing an involuntary press of a button, and a subsequent shutter click. A camera with its own eye for beauty! Photography will never be the same.

Prosthetic Photographer from Peter Buczkowski on Vimeo.

Twitch

Building upon the machine learning aspect of his work, Peter moved on to his second project, utilizing Twitch to condition people to play video games perfectly. Twitch.tv is an online streaming platform that lets gamers both showcase their play and observe others in order to beat a particularly hard section of a game. This unconventional style of video game play gave Peter an idea: what if a computer were to tell you what your next move is?

 

In a version of the classic computer game “Snake,” a computer calculates whether the next move should be left, right, up, or down, dividing the buttons between two electrode arrays (one for each hand). The computer then transmits its decision to the corresponding button and stimulates the finger to press that button, and the snake moves in the decided-upon direction. Sure, it takes the human guesswork out of the game, but without a human, it would not be possible!

Twitch from Peter Buczkowski on Vimeo.

The Medium Machine

Finally, Peter built the Medium Machine, the most speculative of his projects. According to his website, “The Medium Machine enables [a computer] to transfer data and information in the form of muscle contractions into the unconscious mind of a human.” The inspiration for this project arose from a short story called “Johnny Mnemonic” by William Gibson, in which a man’s brain is turned into a sort of repository for information that he transports from client to recipient. With the Medium Machine, Peter hoped to effect a similar repository–albeit without removing the user’s memory to make room for it. Again, the muscles are connected to stimulation, this time encoded by the computer in a certain pattern or message. The contractions force the finger to push a button in a cadence that could mean anything–until it is decoded by the right person.

“The human becomes a medium and a messenger between systems,” Peter wrote. Just like in the story! The possibilities for discovery and the applications of the science are endless. 

Medium Machine from Peter Buczkowski on Vimeo.

We are very intrigued to follow along with Peter as he pursues these projects and starts more. He is currently working with other innovators to create business plans for their projects. Learn more about Peter’s work on his website, http://peterbuczkowski.com

Do you have an application of our products, or a story to share about your own work? Send us a message at hello@backyardbrains.com!