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Move things with your mind using the real telekinesis of science


Yes, real telekinesis!

After posting the awesome sounding internship to work on 3D augmented reality stuff, I remembered how cool all this human computer interaction is.

I first got interested back in first year of grad school, where we learned in one of the intro classes about monkeys in Japan controlling computers with nothing but the power of thought alone.  Not only were they good at it, they were doing it better than humans could at a young age. The exact paper I can’t find anymore, but since then, the human computer interaction research has really advanced to the level of the stuff that SciFis are made of.

It was during my last years of grad school when I was browsing the University of Michigan sites to see if anyone was doing any human computer interface research, that I found an opportunity to be a paid subject to test out a new design. It wasn’t the first time I was involved in a study as a human subject. Back at Cornell for intro psych, it was mandatory to sign up for two studies. I had done one that was researching psychic abilities where I had to guess where a ball was among other tasks. Yup, that’s Cornell for you, never a dull moment. But in Michigan, more serious studies are being done, and some of them are certainly no less fun and exciting.

Take the human computer interaction study I was involved in for example. The project was to design a wheel chair for people who are completely paralyzed from the neck down. The chair, controlled by the mind alone, will be able to tilt, turn, and move about. Imagine sitting, forever, in a single position. Your body needs to constantly move and adjust itself in order to prevent blood flow from getting cut off among other things. Beyond that, the chair will give the gift of independent mobility to someone.

For the study, a head cap was attached to my head, its electrodes adjusted to fit against my scalp (noninvasively of course). I then looked at a computer screen ahead of me and followed directions. The computer learned my mind almost immediately. I was able to make dots disappear, adjust numbers, all with just my mind. It seemed unreal, it seemed that it could be done with eye movement tracking (which I’ve done some work in), but no, it was all with my mind alone. Once the computer got better acquainted with me I was able to move the chair, again with just my mind. I guess if you think about it, even typing and moving a mouse to move and create things on a digital screen wirelessly is a miracle in its own way. For me to slide a chunk of plastic and see the mouse move on screen seems like the most nature thing, but at the same time there is no physical medium that connects the screen and the mouse. The same with the mind, only it’s one more step further along the chain. Now we take away physical input from our actions.

To see how it’s done by a monkey, who seems to have much better telekinetic abilities than I, watch this video. The same video also teaches us a bit more about how it all works.

As a scientist, sometimes you may feel like you are stuck researching a single topic FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE when there are so many exciting things out there in the world beyond ____(insert your thesis topic). Earlier today at the UBC job fair the exact sentiment was shared by a few people. When you feel like that, just look for an opportunity on campus to participate in a study as a human subject. You’ll get to see some exciting science done out side of your field, and even earn some bucks to supplement your measly earnings. Who can say no to that?

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