Promising AI

It's a breathtaking idea that appeals to the science fiction fan in me.

Another excellent interview by Terry Gross, host of NPR's "Fresh Air" program, caught my ear on Nov. 29. She was talking with Michio Kaku, whose 2011 book "Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100" was a bestseller. Kaku, a physics professor at the City University of New York, was bubbling over with optimistic predictions of Internet-enabled contact lenses, autonomous cars, and human-controlled robots exploring the landscape of Mars.

They talked about artificial intelligence (AI). Kaku said researchers at Brown University have implanted computer chips into the brains of paralyzed stroke patients, who then learned to move a cursor on a computer screen by thinking certain thoughts. The learning process takes several hours, but then the patients can use a computer just like anyone who has no disability –- to "read e-mail, write e-mail, surf the Internet, play video games, guide wheelchairs," he said.

It's a breathtaking idea that appeals to the science fiction fan in me. Imagine what this ultimately could mean to disabled people. It promises much greater self-sufficiency in transportation and daily living. It could open a new world of opportunities in work, family life, and community involvement.

CanAssist, an organization at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, offers external tools -- electromyography switches -- that do much the same thing. Worn in a headband by the paralyzed person, the switch is activated by contraction of the facial muscles and can be programmed to control computer functions.

In the world Kaku foresees, will human miners work deep underground, or will they sit comfortably in topside command posts as they direct automated machines? Why can't humans' most dangerous occupational exposures be eliminated in this way?

Try these websites for more information about Kaku and his ideas:

This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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