Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Developing Real Life Learning Implants

While CCP is developing a new set of implants that improve a pilot's intelligence and perception for delivery during the holiday season, researchers at Boston University and ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto are working to turn our game play into reality.
"For the first time, researchers have been able to hack into the process of learning in the brain, using induced brain patterns to create a learned behavior. It’s not quite as advanced as an instant kung-fu download, and it’s not as sleek as cognitive inception, but it’s still an important finding that could lead to new teaching and rehabilitation techniques.

"Future therapies could decode the brain activity patterns of an athlete or a musician, and use them as a benchmark for teaching another person a new activity, according to the researchers."
Unlike in the future universe of New Eden in which pilots' brains receive hardwired devices, today's researchers are looking into something called visual perceptual learning (VPL) in which repetitive training improves a person’s performance on a particular task.  The study used "decoded functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to induce brain activity patterns to match a previously known target state and thereby improve performance on visual tasks."  Or, in simpler terms, subjects were able to learn stuff without traditional study.  According to the press release:
"What's more, the approached worked even when test subjects were not aware of what they were learning.


"'The most surprising thing in this study is that mere inductions of neural activation patterns corresponding to a specific visual feature led to visual performance improvement on the visual feature, without presenting the feature or subjects' awareness of what was to be learned,' said [lead author and BU neuroscientist Takeo] Watanabe, who developed the idea for the research project along with Mitsuo Kawato, director of ATR lab and Yuka Sasaki, an assistant in neuroscience at Massachusetts General Hospital.
"'We found that subjects were not aware of what was to be learned while behavioral data obtained before and after the neurofeedback training showed that subjects' visual performance improved specifically for the target orientation, which was used in the neurofeedback training,' he said.

"The finding brings up an inevitable question. Is hypnosis or a type of automated learning a potential outcome of the research?


"'In theory, hypnosis or a type of automated learning is a potential outcome,' said Kawato. 'However, in this study we confirmed the validity of our method only in visual perceptual learning. So we have to test if the method works in other types of learning in the future. At the same time, we have to be careful so that this method is not used in an unethical way.'"
Unlike other advanced technologies in Eve Online like cloning, the hydrostatic capsule and interstellar travel, CCP does not have a story about the history of implants on its official game website.  In November I wrote about work done at the University of Pennsylvania on non-intrusive brain-computer interfaces.  Now we have successful experiments in advanced learning techniques.  Perhaps if we want to learn about implant technology all we have to do is read the newspapers (or at least the Internet).

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