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article imageOp-Ed: Painting with thought — And perhaps a massive new problem

By Paul Wallis     May 27, 2013 in Science
Sydney - The story is sad but fascinating and frightening. A woman in Germany with Lou Gehrig’s disease has been able to paint using thought waves. Think about what might be. Think a bit more, and you’ll see possibilities you won’t like at all.
Sydney Morning Herald:
Heide Pfutzner, a former teacher from Leipzig, Germany, has Lou Gehrig's disease - a form of motor neurone disease - yet she has managed to produce a series of the paintings.
Mrs Pfutzner has been trained to master a device that uses brainwaves to take control of a palette of colours, shapes and brushes to produce digital artworks.
Note: The name is pronounced fewtsner, the German spelling below is correct-PW.
Decades of knowledge about the meaning of the tiny electrical impulses created by the brain during thought, scientists have created a computer program that translates thoughts into electronic images.
Take this a step further, and get Adobe, Corel and Disney graphic artists and code writers on it. Instant art, with all the trimmings. The basic working principle is that the brain selects its tools from the palette. Add a few Mandelbrots and add the ability to turn photographs into elements of visual art.
I found a translation from a German site called from last year on the subject of Ms Pfützner’s paintings:
Raabe: What the Brain Painten mean for your life?
Pfützner: Brain Painting has enriched my life incredibly and means a lot to me. As I have previously been "amateurish" created images, there is now a real pleasure to be creative, since the new year.
Raabe: How the Brain Painten choose a color?
Pfützner: To select a color from the eight available for selection, you have to focus on the letter while Red 40 icons in eight seconds flicker. I am pleased each time the color will light. Otherwise, there is of course to choose not only color, but also shapes, sizes, opacity, and positions.
Raabe: Plan the design of their images, or rather they arise spontaneously?
Pfützner: I consider before getting what I want to paint a new well or how to proceed with an unfinished picture. This is sometimes, but in a completely different direction. I try color compositions, must find out what fits together, what kind of mood I am, or if maybe I should rather stop after two hours.
As you can see, Ms Pfützner has a level of expertise, and the software has to kick in properly, which apparently isn’t all that easy, even with experience.
The was kind enough (unlike its dopey competitors) to provide not only a view of Ms. Pfützner’s recent painting but some insights into the existing technology:
The current technology uses a cap with electrodes embedded in it. These detect tiny changes in the electricity coming from the user’s brain that occur as they think.
The cap is folksy enough, a simple skullcap. Apparently this is enough to get the images required, but you actually have to stick electrodes into the cortex to get HD quality. Not quite the wild artistic gesture, is it? “Yes, I was inspired by an electrode” seems to lack that Van Goghian flair, doesn’t it?
Again, not a word about privacy, human rights and brain research
More than a bit disturbingly the Telegraph article included this:
However, the researchers behind the technology are now working on a new device that can be implanted directly into the brain to allow computers to directly translate a person’s thoughts.
They hope that it will make controlling computers faster and easier by simply giving commands by thinking.
It might also make human privacy impossible. I would love to be able to say that this research is absolutely harmless, but the potential for abuse is obvious. There has yet to be the slightest attempt to put any sort of restriction or demand for safeguards on research into digging around in people’s heads. If this technology can be used to extract information from someone, it’s a form of oppression, not art.
Old science and “thought leaders” never mention this subject. It’s apparently off limits. We can forget the politicians and courts, of course.
…Which leaves those extremely unlikely saints, the public, as the receivers of the ball. Exactly how long is it going to take for the deliriously irrelevant texting generation to wake up to a real risk heading straight at its head? Generation Y may be the first turkeys at Thanksgiving.
Put it this way- Art, yes. Instant mind reading equipment, no.
(Note: To be fair to this technology, also read the article on the other benevolent uses of it. Doesn’t make me feel any better about the future, but it’s interesting medicine and science.)
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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