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The X Prize – From Exploring Space to Exploring the Brain

The human need for knowledge is overwhelming. There is truth in the phrase “knowledge is power”. Knowledge of the world around us and how it works has led to all the great discoveries. And with knowing how the world works, we can make it work for us, through technology. Where would we be right now without electricity, computers and the internet. Definitely not here.

Applying what we know of the world by creating beneficial technology is, in my opinion, one of the greatest uses of our knowledge. And although the incentives are great, certain groups offer rewards to those who can accomplish certain technological goals. For example, Charles Lindberg won the $25,000 Orteig prize in 1927 for his New York-Paris flight.

In 2004, the ten million dollar Ansari X Prize was given to the first non-government organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks.

Well the X Prize is back. And this time it will be awarded to the first team to develop an advanced brain-computer interface (BCI).

The Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) 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.

During a recent conference on the BCI X Prize, Ray Kurzweil gave a 36 minute presentation entitled “Merging the Human Brain with Its Creations”. Here is it:

I think the first step though is to more fully understand the human brain. We already have a great understanding of it, but we need to step it up a notch to get to the actual implementation of a sensory GPS implant for example.

I haven’t read Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near yet. It’s definitely on my short list of books to read next. But if you’re interested in this sort of thing, I imagine that this is the book for you.

In my opinion, the implementation of such an advanced BCI idea is the next step we will take as humans. I’ve seen many awesome movies that take advantage of such an interface, The Matrix, Johnny Mnemonic, Avatar, etc. I know, they’re just movies, but imagine going into a room, hooking up, and waking up 15 seconds later turning your head and being able to say… “I know Kung-Fu.”

5 comments to The X Prize – From Exploring Space to Exploring the Brain

  • As someone who has studied martial arts for seven years, I don’t buy the ‘I know Kung-Fu’ part. The Matrix school of learning might work for some things, like acquiring a language or gaining technical skills, but not for something that takes muscle training.

    It’s like the old Karate Kids movie, which I enjoyed until I started taking martial arts myself. Now, I think, ‘Wax on, wax off for two weeks and he can defeat the black belts? No way!”

  • Oops, should have been ‘Karate Kid’.

  • eean

    @KathyO you realize when we say muscle learning its not actually the muscles that learn anything? :)

    Though in general this technology is so out there in the future, it seems early to speculate on what will work or not.

  • eean

    Well it should be noted that Kurzweil is fairly controversial. He takes 250 supplements every day and has been accused of being another immortality peddler.

    Personally as a loyal Vernor Vinge fan I have to be a singularity believer. ;) At the same time if we look at something like Machine Translation we can see that some problems become much more difficult the more you work on them. So I do think increased computing power will open up new realms of research that we haven’t thought of yet, but as the last 50 years of computing have shown, things don’t go as planned always.

  • @ eean

    Yes, I do realize that, which is why I said ‘muscle training’, as in strength training and repetitive usage.

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