Saturday, September 12, 2015

hacking brainwaves

Fast Company | I’m wearing a piece of 3-D-printed plastic headgear that looks like a bicycle helmet designed by Buckminster Fuller. Tiny metal pins inside it poke lightly into my scalp. On a screen in front of me are the electroencephalogram (EEG) readouts of signals picked up by the metal pins. And beyond the monitor is a wall of windows giving this dilapidated Brooklyn office building the sweetest view of a Manhattan sunset I have ever seen.
That lovely view makes it easier when Conor Russomanno, a self-described neurohacker, asks me to close my eyes and relax. After a few seconds, he tells me later, the screen showed a slight spike at around 10 Hz—a rise in the alpha waves that indicates a restful state. Russomanno seems as pleased with the electrical feedback as he is with my verbal feedback (when I tell him the headgear doesn't hurt). This was his latest, but still not final, version of the Ultracortex—a low-cost, research-grade EEG headset set to hit Kickstarter in the fall. It will allow fellow hackers to start peering inside the workings of their own brains.
It's also one of the tools for crowdsourcing EEG data to a repository calledCloudbrain, where artificial intelligence machine-learning algorithms will scour the raw data for patterns that might help explain how we speak or perceive color or allow our minds to directly control machinery like motorized prosthetics. They might even expand understanding of mental illness and cognitive impairments.
These DIY brain scientists, or neurohackers, aren't sure how deep they will be able to go; but they are excited that they finally have cheap tools to start looking. That's what brought about half a dozen of them to this Brooklyn lab for the NeuroTechNYC meetup. Together with groups in San Francisco, Montreal, and Toronto, they formNeuroTechX, a new international collaboration of researchers and inventors (some still in grad school) building an open-source project to investigate the mysteries of the mind. Since it was formed two months ago, NeuroTechX has already drawn about 1,000 members.

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