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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 October 2006, 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK
Science has designs on your brain
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Cassie Yukawa. Photo Credit: Arlen Figgis
Cassie's brain function was monitored
How could your brain be developed in the future?

Should technology be used to stimulate and improve the brain - improving grades for instance?

These are just some of the questions posed by a new exhibition at London's Science Museum: NEURObotics - the future of thinking?

It investigates how medical technology could boost our brains, read our thoughts or give us mind-control over machines.

Creativity

It will also show how a shock to the brain could improve creativity, how a scan could reveal your deepest thoughts, or how your brainwaves could enable movement in a virtual world.

Visitors will be able to use some of the interactive exhibits.

I just think it was an invaluable pursuit to explore your 'creative zones' whilst free from the physicality of playing the piano
Cassie Yukawa

One of the exhibits shows how classical pianist Cassie Yukawa significantly boosted her performance - and creativity - by undergoing EEG (electroencephalogram) neurofeedback treatment.

This monitors brainwave activity, and gives the subject instant feedback about changes they could make to reach the next level of achievement.

Professor John Gruzelier, professor of psychology at Goldsmith College, London, found after studying 97 students from the Royal College of Music that the technique, which involves you seeing your brain activity on a screen represented as sound and then trying to influence it, had improved performance by as much as 17%.

Cassie, who was a student at the Royal College of Music when she took part in the research, said it had been a very interesting experiment - and had helped to enhance her awareness of the creative process.

"I was monitored for about a year and it was fantastic because it gave me invaluable time to think about performance.

"I was wired up to electrodes and they did two different types of monitoring.

"I just think it was an invaluable pursuit to explore your 'creative zones' whilst free from the physicality of playing the piano.

"It allowed me to draw on a myriad of resources, and after using it I would have a much larger palette to explore when performing and it helped make things more fluid."

Ethics

The Science Museum will also be launching a debate about how technologies like these are used.

Emma Hedderwick, exhibition manager, said: "Researchers have already been able to use today's technology to diagnose and treat many conditions that affect the brain, allowing new insight into how our brains work.

"But in the future, could it become common to use these technologies for personal enhancement?

Berlin Cap
The Berlin brain cap with over 100 electrodes

"This new research is both exciting and fascinating, but it is important to consider the ethical issues of using it to better our brains.

"This technology is here and has the potential to radically affect what it means to be human in the 21st Century.

"We have to think about where we want the boundaries to be, both morally and in terms of legislation."

Uses

Anders Sandberg, research associate at the Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford, said that although the technology is still often crude, neurobotics is very much a reality.

But he agreed that increasing applications would necessitate ethical debate, particularly if children were using the techniques for enhancement as they are unable to give informed consent.

He added that in some cases people might be found to be negligent if they didn't use the new techniques to enable them to do their work more safely.

"If we are talking about a doctor working in a hospital, would he not be being ethical if he did not take something to improve his attention."

The exhibition, sponsored by Siemens, will also look at fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans which can show whether a person is lying, simply by scanning their brain activity.

If proved to be accurate, this has the potential to be used as evidence in court cases.

But the exhibition also asks whether this form of modern mind reading could effectively end the centuries' old tradition of a defendant's right to remain silent.

And shows how a TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) machine can be used to activate, or knock-out, part of the brain with magnetic pulses. This technology has been used to give ordinary people a glimpse into what it would be like to have extraordinary brain powers.

The use of brain chips and brain caps - including the highly advanced 100 electrode plus Berlin version - which allow people to control objects with their brain power, will also be showcased.

Rachel Bowden, of the museum, said one of the most fun exhibits would probably be the Mindball game, which allows users to play a ball game with their brain waves.

"People can have a go and see how they can move the ball with the power of their mind," she said.

The exhibition runs for six months until April 2007 and is free.

The museum, in South Kensington, London, is open between 10am-6pm.


SEE ALSO
Museum hosts mental masterclass
10 Sep 06 |  London
If one crawls across the carpet...
03 Oct 06 |  Science/Nature

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