Futurology: 5 Ways Society Will Be Affected by Cognitive Technology


We'll Be Able to Move Things with Our Minds

One day a paraplegic may be able to operate an exoskeleton with his or her own mind.
One day a paraplegic may be able to operate an exoskeleton with his or her own mind.
Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

You've probably heard of so-called spoon-bending psychics who claim to possess psychokinesis -- that is, the power to manipulate inanimate objects with their thoughts. Well, while those folks may not actually possess such powers, in recent years scientists have made breakthroughs that someday may give all of us the ability to operate machines not by flipping a switch or manipulating a joystick, but by simply thinking about them.

The key to such power is something called a brain machine interface, or BMI, which essentially is a communication pathway that allows your neurons to send signals to external gadgetry, just as easily as they do to your muscles [source: Nature]. Starting in the 1970s and 1980s, researchers began developing algorithms, or mathematical formulas, that mimicked the brain's control over the muscles [source: ScienceDaily]. By the mid-2000s, they had begun to devise electronic brain implants called neuroprostheses, which picked up and translated human neural impulses into signals that could tell a robotic arm to move or manipulate a cursor on a computer screen. The technology is still in its infancy, but scientists envision someday equipping paralyzed people with neuroprostheses that would enable them to control powered exoskeletons to walk and do other everyday activities that fully-abled people take for granted [source: Nature].

But others envision that someday, not only will we be able to turn the stove off or start the car by thinking about it, but we'll be wirelessly connected to thought-controlled computers and devices that will continually provide us with information -- for example, the names of people whose faces we can't place [source: Aron].