A recent workshop on the BCI X PRIZE – sponsored by Singularity University and held on the campus of MIT – brought together Peter Diamandis (Chairman of the X PRIZE Foundation), Ray Kurzweil, John Donoghue (Founder of Cyberkinetics), Dr. Gerwin Schalk (holds a brain computer interface patent), and Ed Boyden (MIT Synthetic Neurobiology Group). Diamandis’ X PRIZE foundation is just starting to conduct interviews with experts, governments, and potential competitors. The foundation must court donors to make the $10 million+ prize a reality. Once funding is secured, companies and teams from around the world will compete – as Burt Rutan once did with financing from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to engineer SpaceShipOne. The intent is that one or more teams will engineer a BCI solution with “ideas that could be won with a decade.”
During the MIT workshop, Peter Diamandis discussed the history of the X PRIZE. Ray Kurzweil followed with a 36-minute presentation called “Merging the Human Brain with Its Creations.” Here’s a video of the presentation:
After presentations by Donoghue, Schalk, and Boyden, the 50 or so workshop attendees broke into discussion groups on Input/Output, Control, Sensory, and Learning. Software Engineer and Singularity University alumnus Rod Furlan, who attended the workshop, writes about some of the problems discussed at the break-out sessions — for example, communicating with a brain v. implanting memories or skills, non-invasive v. invasive input/output solutions, and the difficulties of using EEG to capture brain wave states. Furlan concludes, “While we still have significant technical and scientific hurdles ahead of us, given the current pace of progress it is reasonable to expect that robust, albeit limited, implanted BCI solutions will be widely available commercially within a 10 to 20 year time frame.”
James Cameron’s trippy vision of a part-alien, part-human body controlled by the thoughts of a marine in the film Avatar or William Gibson's cyber-cowboy Case plugging into the Matrix, as in Neuromancer — if truly feasible — are likely more than 10 years out. But given the incentive of a $10 million+ BCI X PRIZE, who knows what might be possible by 2020?
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