For the many superheroes that use high-powered gadgets to save the day, there’s an equal number of villains who use technology nefariously. From robots that plug into human brains for fuel in “The Matrix” to the memory-warping devices seen in “Men in Black,” “Captain Marvel,” and “Total Recall,” technology that can control people’s minds is one of the most terrifying examples of technology gone wrong in science fiction and superhero films.
Now, progress made on brain-machine interfaces, technology that provides a direct communication link between a brain and an external device, is bringing us closer to a world that feels like science fiction. Elon Musk’s company NeuraLink is working on a device to let people control computers with their minds, while Facebook’s “mind-reading initiative” can decode speech from brain activity. Is this progress a glimpse into a dark future, or are there more empowering ways in which brain-machine interfaces could become a force for good?
Penn Today talked with Konrad Kording, a Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor whose group works at the interface of data science and neuroscience to better understand the human brain, to learn more about brain-machine interfaces and where real-world technologies and science fiction intersect.
Konrad Kording is a PIK Professor in the Department of Psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences and in the departments of Bioengineering and Computer and Information Science in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania.