Though telepathy is still confined to the realms of science fiction and conspiracy theory, a new technology may allow scientists to extract music from your mind. Composer and computer music specialist Eduardo Miranda has recently developed a computer music system that interacts directly with the user’s brain by picking up the tiny electrical impulses of neurons. Miranda’s computer-aided music composition system uses electroencepthalography (ECE), a relatively dated technique in which electrodes placed on the user’s skull pick up faint neural signals. The advantage to using ECE over more state-of-the-art methods such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is that ECE signals can be processed quickly, cheaply, and require only portable equipment. This technology represents one in a series of brain computer interfaces (BCI’s) that are being developed for various theraputic purposes. Most of these technologies rely on the user’s ability to self-induce mental states that can be picked up using the computer’s brain scanning technology.
Music therapy is based on the idea that music can help slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Many neurodegenerative diseases, however, lead to a loss of muscle movement, preventing patients from doing anything with music besides passively listen. Miranda’s technology represents a major breakthrough in that patients will actually be able to make music simply by thinking.
Most other applications of BCI’s focus on making very simple connections between neural impulses and computer functions. (For example, allowing a user to move a cursor around on a computer screen by inducing particular mental states.) By demonstrating that BCI can be used to perform far more complex tasks such as playing and composing music, Miranda’s technology pushes the boundaries of what was once considered possible in terms of connecting with and providing for patients suffering from severe neurodegenerative diseases. Not to mention that one day we may have similar instruments that can “read” any number of electrical signals from our brains- an idea that is both disturbing and fascinating in the possibilities it offers.