True cyborgs: “disabled patients mind-meld with robots”

RobotDisabled patients are learning to use robot extensions directed by brain activity, currently in a limited way – but tests are promising. One hope is that “locked-in” patients, those unable to communicate with the outside world, can use robots to communicate and interact.

Researchers set up a modified Robotino robot with an interface that translates EEG signals into realtime navigation instructions. Initial tests were with healthy subjects, then with disabled subjects who had been confined to bed for 6-7 years.

Researcher José del R. Millán, a biomedical engineer at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, says “says he wasn’t terribly surprised that disabled people could control the robot.” However

he was surprised how fast they learned. He is now hoping to involve more bed-bound patients, including locked-in patients in the study. He also sees future applications for the shared control brain-machine interface, such as modifying it to let a user control a prosthetic limb or a wheelchair. And the researchers may eventually add an arm to the current telepresent robot to allow it to grasp objects.


Science, lies, evidence, knowledge

In so many fields, owing to the Internet-driven democratization of knowledge, we learn that that the power associated with hoarded knowledge has been abused, and the position of leadership – the priesthood – associated with the acquisition of knowledge has been leveraged to manipulate and deceive. “Everything you know is wrong!”

David Freedman has a great article in the Atlantic about medical deception, called “Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science,” which focuses on Dr. John Ioanniddis’ dedication to exposing bad science in medicine.

He’s what’s known as a meta-researcher, and he’s become one of the world’s foremost experts on the credibility of medical research. He and his team have shown, again and again, and in many different ways, that much of what biomedical researchers conclude in published studies—conclusions that doctors keep in mind when they prescribe antibiotics or blood-pressure medication, or when they advise us to consume more fiber or less meat, or when they recommend surgery for heart disease or back pain—is misleading, exaggerated, and often flat-out wrong. He charges that as much as 90 percent of the published medical information that doctors rely on is flawed. His work has been widely accepted by the medical community; it has been published in the field’s top journals, where it is heavily cited; and he is a big draw at conferences. Given this exposure, and the fact that his work broadly targets everyone else’s work in medicine, as well as everything that physicians do and all the health advice we get, Ioannidis may be one of the most influential scientists alive. Yet for all his influence, he worries that the field of medical research is so pervasively flawed, and so riddled with conflicts of interest, that it might be chronically resistant to change—or even to publicly admitting that there’s a problem.

At, Peter Frishauf writes a response to the Atlantic article, called “Fixing those Damn Lies.” How do we fix them? The Atlantic piece discusses Ioannidis’ suggestions to change the culture of medical research, and reset expectations. It’s okay to be wrong in science – in fact, it’s almost a requirement. The scientific method is about testing and proving hypotheses – proving can be “proving wrong” as well as “proving right.” Either way, you’re learning, and extending science.

Frishauf also mentions how medicine and science should embrace the Internet “and figure out a way to better incorporate patient self-reported and retrospective data in trials,” which is one goal of participatory medicine. He also suggests “giving up on tenure-tied-to-the-peer-reviewed-literature, and embracing a moderated form of pre and post-publication peer review,” something that came up in discussion when I spoke at the Central Texas World Future Society Tuesday evening. (More about this in an earlier post by Frishauf.)

Knowledge is not a citadel or ivory tower, but a network that we could all be working, challenging, and improving.

Mac Tonnies

Mac Tonnies would definitely have been part of FringeWare. Check out his bio (though I would disagree with the second sentence).

Consciousness is a potential technology; we are exquisite machines, nothing less than sentient patterns.
As such, there’s no convincing technical reason we can’t eventually
upload ourselves into matrices of our design and choosing. It’s likely
the phenomenon we casually call “intelligence” will cease to be
strictly biological as we begin to merge with our machines more
meaningfully and intimately. (Philip K. Dick once wrote that “living
and nonliving things are exchanging properties.” I suspect that in a
few hundred years, barring disaster, separating the animate from the
inanimate will probably be an exercise in futility.) Ultimately, we
have two options: self-mutate by venturing off-planet in minds and
bodies of our own design, or succumb to extinction.

Mac Tonnies died last month. We’ve lost one uniquely weird and compelling fringe researcher.