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Next X-Prize — $10M For a Brain-Computer Interface 175

Posted by timothy
from the does-it-come-in-small dept.
The first X-Prize was about reaching space. Now, reader destinyland writes "This time it's inner space, as Peter Diamandis holds a workshop at MIT discussing a $10 million X-Prize for building a brain-computer interface. This article includes video of Ray Kurzweil's 36-minute presentation, 'Merging the Human Brain with Its Creations,' and MIT synthetic neuroscientist Ed Boyden also made a presentation, followed by discussion groups about Input/Output, Control, Sensory, and Learning. Besides the ability to communicate by thought, the article argues, a Brain-Computer Interface X Prize 'will reward nothing less than a team that provides vision to the blind, new bodies to disabled people, and perhaps even a geographical 'sixth sense' akin to a GPS iPhone app in the brain.'"
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Next X-Prize — $10M For a Brain-Computer Interface

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's called my hands on the keyboard.

    ok, where's my 10mil

    • That's interesting, when I read "brain-computer interface", I was thinking more along the lines of a stake.

  • by SlappyBastard (961143) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:34PM (#31012198) Homepage
    My understanding -- as a complete outsider to the field -- is that a lot of the elements are already there.
    • by suso (153703) * on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:38PM (#31012272) Homepage Journal

      It also might not take millions of dollars to do. This could potentially be solved by someone in their garage.

      • by snowraver1 (1052510) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:43PM (#31012362)
        FIDO! Here boy! Daddy's got a surprise for you...
      • by Venik (915777)
        I agree. Especially since most slashdoters already have their DIY lobotomy kits.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by maxwell demon (590494)

          I agree. Especially since most slashdoters already have their DIY lobotomy kits.

          What did you think where all those First Posters and goatse linkers come from?

      • by pz (113803) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:11PM (#31012714) Journal

        It also might not take millions of dollars to do. This could potentially be solved by someone in their garage.

        No, that's just not the case. It will take millions of dollars and lots of equipment and infrastructure. We're not talking about technology, we're talking about biology. There are already hundreds if not thousands of people working on the problem (I'm among them). The limiting factors are not the power of our computers, or the whizziness of our mechanical machines, but the understanding of (a) how we can make permanent high-fidelity implants in the brain that do not pose an undue risk to the health of the patient, (b) what, exactly, the language for communicating through these implants is. While the last 100 years has seen tremendous, fantastic progress in understanding the brain, we are still pretty much in the dark as to the fine details, and it's the fine details that matter for a machine-brain interface. Fortunately, recent technological advances (two photon microscopy coupled with ultra-high resolution 3d tissue reconstruction) are going to give us a huge push toward understanding the details in the next few years.

        Like I said, I work in the field. To do a very small -- SMALL -- experiment with only half a dozen volunteers who will have a temporary brain implant for two weeks, the non-recoverable costs are about $500,000. That's just for the hospital stays, the costs of the operating room, and paying support staff and the like, and assumes that the surgeon's time is donated, along with all of the important hardware. Remember, this is actually brain surgery. And yes, I have that cost baked into my budget.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Cigarra (652458)
          US$ 500k? You've got to outsource that ASAP!
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by isomer1 (749303)
          I work in an optical imaging lab doing whole animal and human brain imaging studies. As you've mentioned two key points should be stressed for those outside the field.

          (1) The project is laughably underfunded. Think more on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars plus for these types of projects to make it through the full FDA approval process. Human trials are phenomenally expensive, to the point where whole established companies can be driven to bankruptcy through the process (ART in Canada comes
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by vix86 (592763)
          I suppose this might fit in with your (a) but...

          I read a BCI panel report put together by Theodore Berger some 3 years ago and the one thing I took away from the report was that the problem with BCI right now (for invasive implants) isn't the matter of "Where to put the implant" and "How to communicate," but a problem with keeping it permanently there. I hadn't realized prior to reading that report that the body was actually the number one "enemy" in any kind of long term study involving invasive implants
        • by Colin Smith (2679)

          Like I said, I work in the field. To do a very small -- SMALL -- experiment with only half a dozen volunteers who will have a temporary brain implant for two weeks, the non-recoverable costs are about $500,000.

          Clearly you should offshore this to China or India.

           

        • Okay, so it won't be solved by someone in their garage safely or legally, but what else is new?

        • Like I said, I work in the field. To do a very small -- SMALL -- experiment with only half a dozen volunteers who will have a temporary brain implant for two weeks, the non-recoverable costs are about $500,000.

          Could you do it for less if you relocated everybody and all the machines long term to India?

        • The best interface setup i've seem is in the field of Optogenetics. It requires a single cut into the skull, and not even all the way through the skull (just light goes inside) so the risks are greatly lowered. Mind you this involves infecting the patient with a virus to mess with their DNA (totally minor haha...) and it is computer to human communication only. I suppose I'd use it in conjunction with an EEG headset for output (they didnt say how precise it had to be >.>...). So the project seems DOAB
    • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:38PM (#31012282)

      One aspect to this is programming the mind itself.

      To some extent we already do this naturally with our learning and memory forming cognitive capabilities. Simple programs are easily written to our minds.

      THINK ABOUT YOUR BREATHING
      YOU ARE NOW BREATHING MANUALLY

      It will take time to build a language in which we can program more complex behaviors, but I have no doubt it is possible.

      • One aspect to this is programming the mind itself.

        Especially programming the jury's minds to give you the prize. :-)

      • by RealErmine (621439) <commerce.wordhole@net> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:36PM (#31013028)

        THINK ABOUT YOUR BREATHING
        YOU ARE NOW BREATHING MANUALLY

        Oh no! Now what do I do? How do I know that once I stop thinking about breathing that it will continue? Oh, cruel Fate! Must not get distracted...

      • by 7-Vodka (195504)

        Your post was exceptionally good at putting MY breathing into manual just by reading it. Now I've got to wait until it goes back to auto before I feel normal again.

      • by Thing 1 (178996)
        What's interesting about your programming example is: deep breathing is helpful in many regards, and requires conscious control. (It's useful for meditation, helping you get to sleep, calming you down from a fight-or-flight response in the workplace where either of those responses are not helpful, and energy healing.) Otherwise, we tend to sigh once every hundred breaths or so (an unconscious deep breath).
    • by pz (113803) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:41PM (#31012314) Journal

      My understanding -- as a complete outsider to the field -- is that a lot of the elements are already there.

      My understanding -- as an insider in the field -- is that you are correct. I work in the field of visual prosthetics. There are Phase II clinical trials underway for visual prostheses based on retinal stimulation, and a handful of researchers, like myself, who are looking at alternate approaches that include a more direct brain interface. To create a crude machine-brain visual interface, you need: (1) a digital imaging device, like a web cam, (2) a means to translate the image into the neural signal, like a wearable computer, (3) a computer-controlled multi-channel stimulator, like are used for cochlear implants, (4) a brain electrode, like are used to treat Parkinson's disease through Deep Brain Stimulation, or are used on the cortical surface to treat epilepsy. The parts are all there; it's really just a matter of integration, optimization, and getting FDA approval to try it in blind volunteers.

      • My understanding -- as an insider in the field -- is that you are correct. I work in the field of visual prosthetics. There are Phase II clinical trials underway for visual prostheses based on retinal stimulation, and a handful of researchers, like myself, who are looking at alternate approaches that include a more direct brain interface.

        Then what are you doing posting on slashdot!?! There's 10 million at stake! If you're really so close, get back in the lab and make yourself a multi-millionaire!

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      My understanding is that while brain-to-CPU is now quite advanced, direct feedback is missing.
    • by Mashdar (876825) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:09PM (#31012688)
      I have a small bit of experience in this field (having attended lab meetings for a University group partnered with the lab of Duke's Dr. Miguel Nicolelis).

      I frankly have to say that the resolution in non-surgical methods is just not there, and is not promising. Surgical methods, on the other hand, are fairly invasive, and have yet to yield long-term success. And by success, I mean prediction of a single motor event, ie a mouse pushing a lever. Implants tend to degrade in signal quality over time.

      Given that we cannot yet accurately predict simple motor events (which should have very easy-to-identify motor cortex manifestations), the idea that we are anywhere near interacting with conscious thought (which we still have no concept of the physical manifestation of which), is wrong. To put it in CS terms: Our data path is lossy and degrades with time. We have no idea what format the data is in, or even the data structures involved. We can tell that there is traffic on the network, but little else.
      • My understanding is that to win the prize, you don't have to be able to interpret every thought that comes out of the brain, you can get away with thoughts directed at the device. We already have video game controllers that can do this, although they are very crude (they don't take dictation or anything). Picking up thoughts consciously directed towards a device is a lot easier than trying to pick up whatever randomly is going on in the mind.

        Communication from device to nerves is different than communica
    • Yeah; for example: does banging your head on the keyboard count?

  • by TheLink (130905) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:34PM (#31012210) Journal
    Yay for virtual telekinesis, telepathy, auxiliary video in and digital "videographic" memory.

    Except that DRM and restrictive Copyright laws will probably cripple it...
  • It's already done (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SerpensV (1325715)
    What are the exact rules? Some BCI devices have already been made.
  • Isn't sight for the blind already getting close? (ok, last I heard it was B/W only and the resolution was ridiculously low, but it was still a brain machine interface)
  • by trybywrench (584843) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:35PM (#31012226)
    I want a way to communicate with the outside world from within a dream. If you could get lucid dreaming perfected you could get a day's work in while your physical body is resting. Then when you're awake you have the day off. ...of course i'm sure this will just devolve into working during the day and when you're asleep too heh.
    • by kiehlster (844523) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:40PM (#31012304) Homepage
      Personally, I'd prefer an interface from the subconscious to the outside world. Then you can do your work without even thinking about it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mhajicek (1582795)
        I don't think my subconscious would do my job very well even if it wanted to.
        • by Chris Burke (6130)

          "Burke, we're taking you off of the Subconscious Programming Team."
          "Why? Did the program my subconscious wrote not work?"
          "No, it worked fine."
          "Did I not follow the code guidelines?"
          "No. Look, the problem is that every single variable, function name, and comment refers to female anatomy."
          "Oh. Wait, that's the one I wrote while awake!"

      • I'd rather not let my subconscious have free reign over the outside world. We have violent tendencies that are kept in check by our rational, conscious thoughts.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by SerpensV (1325715)
      Try this: http://xkcd.com/269/ [xkcd.com] Apart from that, I've heard about experiments where vertical or horizontal eye movement was used to comunucate yes/no signals from the sleepers to the outside world.
    • I had lucid dreaming perfected during high school, though I'll be honest, I would prefer to work the day and rest in my dream.

      My dreams could be anything I wanted them to be. More fantastical than a Role playing game and more stimulating than a girlfriend. Now that I look back on it, I don't think I'd be able to get any work done, even more distractions than the internet.

    • I'm guessing you're half jesting, but I see a few problems with that concept. First, even if you could get lucid dreaming perfected, could you keep up a lucid dream for 6+ hours? Second, I have to believe maintaining a constant conscious state couldn't be good for one's health. It just doesn't strike me as likely that either evolution (or God) would have developed a sleep cycle for no good reason. If we could function day and night without sleep, we'd have a major survival advantage and would have almost ce
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by thesandtiger (819476)

      Actually, there's something to this, though not necessarily from dreaming.

      I often find that in the 9-10 minutes between my alarm going off the first time and after I've hit the snooze button waiting for the alarm to go off again, I spend what feels like hours thinking about things. My brain slows down again when I have to deal with physical stimulus.

      So, if I could have my brain connected into a body/device that could work at the speed of my thoughts rather than the speed of my meat self, that would likely m

    • by doug141 (863552)

      If you could get lucid dreaming perfected you could get a day's work in while your physical body is resting.

      Sleep is for the mind, not the body.

  • use optoisolators for any sensors attached to the human body.

  • The Keyboard (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by kiehlster (844523)
    I have this device with 104 keys on it that, without even speaking or looking at said device, can transmit commands to a computer. It only requires neurological impulses to transmit down to one's fingers causing a force compression on an electric button, which then sends a signal to the computer, which interprets said signal as directed.
  • I wonder what the criteria is for winning? Do you have to be able to move something physical? Move a mouse or press a button? According to this wiki article, [wikipedia.org] they've already had some success with the non-humans.

    • by mhajicek (1582795)
      There are some pretty good bionic / cybernetic / prosthetic arms with over twenty degrees of freedom, that are controlled by what's left of the arms original nerves. As for the requirements, the TFA looks like they haven't yet been determined.
      • Hrmmm...that makes it even more curious. I'm assuming that what they want is the cybernetic equivalent of a private sector space launch, you know? But I wonder what that could be? Maybe complete control of a UI where you can press buttons and write sentences just by using precognitive functions? As you and some of the other posts have pointed out, many of the building blocks are already in place.

  • Depressing (Score:3, Funny)

    by symes (835608) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:40PM (#31012302) Journal
    But if we pipe the internet directly into the brain will this make us even more depressed?
    • If by "us" you mean, "the internet" yes, I can assure you, "we" will be even more depressed than we are after reading the millions of blogs out there.

      Signed, the internet.

  • Actual information (Score:5, Informative)

    by Stone Rhino (532581) <mparke@nOSPam.gmail.com> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:46PM (#31012390) Homepage Journal
    The article linked is spammy and terrible. For the actual information, see the newsitem on the xprize site [xprize.org] or the linked details [singularityhub.com]. Basically, there is no prize yet but they had a workshop to begin working out A. Rules for a prize and B. What is achievable. The actual prize would be announced in about 8-14 months.
  • Need some way to know where you are at? There's a map for that!

    Seriously, let's just work on getting "brain in a jar" to a functional state, and get the kinks worked out before Apple gets a hold of it and turns it into an iBody.
  • To sell my soul. Cause we all know where they will be using this technique. And it will cost us all a lot. -we don't need no education, we don't need no mind control. It's just another brick in the.... -
  • I *love* this idea. Neural interfaces are still very much in their infancy with the best commercially available probably being the OCZ NIA [ocztechnology.com] and even it is mostly a glitchy gimmick at this point. But the standards they're considering for this X-Prize seem very high. Providing vision to the blind and being able to control virtual bodies both require an understanding of very intricate neural operations that we probably won't see for many years. Sure, there's been devices created that can sort of do these th
  • ... that need the occasional "Alt+Ctrl+Del" combo.
    • I like to think of the whole planet as a system; each of us as an application in part of the global operating system.

      In which case I'd settle for widespread use of alt-F4.

      • widespread use of alt-F4

        That would explain why reality never works out like you want it to...apparently it's run on Windows.

    • by T Murphy (1054674)
      It would be very interesting to be able to pull up a personal task manager. I could watch how the digestive system varies after lunch, follow how hard my immune system is working when I have a cold... it could also be insightful to see how my brain functions when I attempt to multitask.

      The only problem is if management makes me upload the data so they can make sure Job.exe is getting the most attention.
  • Ok, I know the "X-Prize" in general is not without it's risks. But with the Ansari X-Prize, a lot of those dangers could be mitigated before testing. Yes, we can passively monitor the brain for all kinds of great things- memory, motor control, etc. However, it looks like what they want is active input directly -to- the brain from a device. I think they're treading on very dangerous ground here, and "somebody working in their shed" would be a bad person to be feeding electrical current into a live brain.
  • So what will we do when people start developing Cyberbrain sclerosis? Who will be liable, will it be the indivdual or group who invents the interface or the one who manufactures it or the neurosurgeon who installed it?

    And also will section 9 be involved?

  • by lobiusmoop (305328) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:08PM (#31012676) Homepage

    The big problem I see is that unlike regular computer interfaces, which have tightly defined specs for physical connectivity, voltage levels, signalling etc, brains tend to be unique, irregular and dynamic, with only very rough maps available of which area has which function.
      Unlike TCP/IP, There's no clear distinction between the link, transport and application layers to work with in the brain, they blend together. So it might be possible to implement on an individual level with a ton of work, but I can't see it happening generally.

  • If so, I hope they have their checkbook out [youtube.com]

    Slashdot covered it [slashdot.org], so it must be legit!

  • by Grond (15515) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:23PM (#31012860) Homepage

    A $10 million prize is absolute peanuts compared to the obvious commercial value of a usable, non-invasive (or at least low-risk) BCI. Just for starters, an effective BCI would largely solve some of the major side effects of a stroke. That right there is a massive, multi-billion dollar market. Another $10 million is not going to substantially stimulate research and development in this area. It's like offering $10 million for a cure for cancer.

    Furthermore, this is an invention with applications in dozens of areas. The company or individual that invents it would be swamped with licensing offers.

    Compare this to the original X-Prize. There a prize was useful because there was no substantial pre-existing market for the technology being developed and there were relatively few areas of application for the technology. Under those circumstances a prize model makes sense.

    But for situations like this one we already have a prize; it's called a patent. Even better, the value of the prize is determined by the market, so there's less of a risk of under or overvaluing the invention.

    • by JSBiff (87824)

      "Compare this to the original X-Prize."

      I've always thought the X-Prize awards were kind of silly in that the offered prize seemed too small given the R&D expenses, and potential market value of the accomplishment.

      Then I realized this is just clever Venture Capitalism. You want to throw $10M into a startup, to help it with a portion of startup costs for bringing the project to market. You don't want to throw a lot of money at R&D in the initial phases when you have no idea if the person/team/company

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Grond (15515)

        Then I realized this is just clever Venture Capitalism. You want to throw $10M into a startup, to help it with a portion of startup costs for bringing the project to market. You don't want to throw a lot of money at R&D in the initial phases when you have no idea if the person/team/company in question will be able to deliver something legitimate or not.

        Actually venture capitalism is usually most valuable at the R&D stage. The X-Prize is a VC who only wants to come in after the idea has already been

  • It will cause a Standalone Complex!
  • ...my brain and computer have been using this interface successfully for years.
    Where's my money. :-)
  • I'll take that reward as a direct-deposit, thanks.
  • ...even a geographical 'sixth sense' akin to a GPS iPhone app in the brain.'

    The possibilities for such an interface are amazing yet I have to say that I really find it distasteful when 'product placement' intervenes in an otherwise fun comment. It casts a pall over the entire comment and denigrates it to marketing-speak.

    • Reminds me of AOL advertising search engines and email, as if their product had them as special features. "Now AOL brings you videos at resolutions and speeds never seen before!!!" as they pan past a clip of youtube. Tagging 'i' to everything or sticking product names everywhere is the same kind of horrible branding. Hell I've seen websites that say they support the iPhone... took me a second to realize they meant small browsers.
  • I'd be very surprised if this technology doesn't already exist.

    Richard Dolan speaks here [youtube.com] about what he terms the, "Break Away Civilization".

    The idea being that black budget technology is so advanced, has been growing of its own accord for so long, and is so impossible to reveal given its nature, the result is that people working within its structure are essentially no longer dealing with the same reality as the rest of us. The slaves get sticks and fire while the master of the house gets to use the current

  • For a commercial takeoff, we need to expand beyond quadruplegic patients and the locked-in. Always loved the idea, but let's be honest -- if typing is faster, typing will still win. And that's just output. For input, I don't think competing with something high-speed like vision is all that important. Just a BCI that would allow for IM rates might as well be freakin' telepathy.

  • Sounds like they expect quite a bit for a paltry 10 million in prize money. Anyone that develops any one of those will probably go public and pocket a hundred times that much.
  • with the MiG-31 "Firefox" [wikipedia.org].

    The web browser was obviously just a spinoff technology!

  • My keyboard and mouse already provide a brain-computer interface.

    What!? Not the same thing, you say?

    I beg to differ. All of the current technologies that might be used for this purpose are just fancy keyboards using some other kind of sensing technology rather than hall-effect switches. The systems don't understand what you're thinking they just interpret the activation of certain neuron groups as on-off switches. You can train your brain to trigger these neuron groups in pretty much the same way you

  • Pfft; if someone solves this, ten million will be pocket change.

  • Microsoft Already patented it!

    http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=6609 [zdnet.com]

    United States Patent Application 20070185697
    Kind Code A1
    Tan; Desney S. ; et al. August 9, 2007
    Using electroencephalograph signals for task classification and activity recognition
    Abstract
    A method for classifying brain states in electroencephalograph (EEG) signals comprising building a classifier model and classifying brain states using the classifier model is described. Brain states are determined. Labeled EEG data is collected and d

  • new bodies to disabled people

    You will be upgraded.

  • I will pay $100,000,000 for a device that does this, and allows things like curing of blindness. The only catch is that I require a measly 20% of the global net profit, and I will only pay the 'reward' once the technology has been 'proven' on the open market for two years.

Many people are unenthusiastic about their work.

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