Archive for 'Neurotechnology'

Subconscious Security – Storing Passwords in Memory with Implicit Learning

A team of neuroscientists and cryptographers have developed a prototype system which uses the concept of implicit learning to store a 30 character password in subconscious memory.

I wish I was reporting that this technology will soon be widely available, eliminating the annoyance of forgotten passwords for good. But if anything, the methods described here are more likely to be put into use at the highest levels of government/military operations. Even so, the concept, and the research pushing the boundaries of what we can knowingly do with our subconscious memory, is highly intriguing:

The system was designed by Hristo Bojinov and Dan Boneh of Stanford University, in partnership with neuroscientists and cryptographers from Northwestern University and SRI International. Their design for subconscious password storage involves the use of a specially crafted computer game (shown in the screenshot above). Before running, the game creates a random sequence of 30 letters chosen from S, D, F, J, K, and L, with no repeating characters. In the training game, the user has to hit the corresponding key for each of those letters when a circle reaches the bottom of the screen. As others have noted, the training game isn’t so different from “Guitar Hero” at a glance. Results of the research so far suggest that it takes about 45 minutes of playing this game to deeply lodge a 30-character password in your subconscious.

To log back into a machine, the user simply plays a quick round of the game, in which some segments are their actual password, but others are randomly created strings of characters. The research team observed that users were consistently able to perform better on the portions of the game containing their password, as those patterns were stored subconsciously. Reliably performing the password sections better than the random sections is what authenticates the user, and allows them to log in.

Because the system is based on performance and speed, rather that rote memorization, it cannot be written down or given away, even to legal authorities or under threat. It is “thousands/millions of times more secure than your average, memorable password,” reports Extreme Tech.

As mentioned earlier, this system isn’t being developed with everyday security needs in mind. Lead designer Hristo Bojinov believes it’s ideal for monitoring access to “highly secure, sensitive physical areas. We see our scheme as complementary to other authentication methods, not as a replacement for them,” he writes.

In the team’s published paper describing their study, they describe goals for future research that would further illuminate the possibilities for making use of implicit learning/subconscious memory in this way. The team hopes to better analyze the rate at which passwords are forgotten after this training, and to more accurately determine when individual users have reliably learned the password. They also plan to test whether sequences as long as 80 items could be subconsciously stored, and whether even more complex structures can be learned implicitly.

Sources

Extreme Tech

Neuroscience Meets Cryptography: Designing Crypto Primitives Secure Against Rubber Hose Attacks (Original research article)

Mattel gets into the EEG business

A new brain gaming toy is coming out later this year, in the same vein as the Emotiv Headset and MindBall. This one is from an established toy company, Mattel. 

Yes, Mattel. From the people who brought you Hot Wheels, you will soon be able to purchase an EEG and accompanying game set.

Check out the video demonstration:

[YouTube]l8STHiP7HZY[/YouTube]

Read more about it here.

The sensors measure theta-wave activity in your brain; the waves are directly related to your level of focus and concentration. The sensors register the theta-wave activity, translate that activity into a signal, and transmit it as a radio frequency to the Mind Flex.

The more theta-wave activity there is, the faster the little fan in the unit will spin. The speed the fan spins at, and therefore moves the ball, is based on how hard you concentrate. The faster the fan spins, the higher the ball goes along the Z axis. Turn a dial and move the ball along the X and Y axis.

What Gamma Can Do For You

For a long time neuroscientists have shown work from poor unsuspecting birds and cats that there are specific critical periods in development important for a functional visual system or a species-appropriate bird song. In humans there have been a few unfortunate cases of horrific neglect of children (i.e. Genie) that have likely been responsible for profound intellectual deficits, which have been informative to scientists interested in the consequences of depravation during the early years. But scientists have not been able to conduct a formal and yet ethical scientific experiment to measure the relationship between a critical period and its function in humans until now, thanks to the ability to measure gamma.

On Oct 21st, the Science Daily featured an article on the exploration of the critical period for language development and other skills in toddlers by measuring their gamma waves on the EEG. The time period between 16 to 36 months is a time of tremendous language growth in humans, where their vocabulary typically expands from about 100 to 1000 words. Dr. April Benasich from Rutgers University in Newark, measured gamma activity in the frontal cortex of toddlers (16, 24 and 36 months) while they sat on a parent’s lap and quietly played. Gamma power (which is determined by the amount of synchronous gamma firing) was associated with language development, cognitive skills, behavior and impulse control. The more advanced a child’s language or cognitive skills, the more gamma power that child showed. And as expected, children who’s parents had a history of language impairments showed lower gamma power.

This new finding is consistent with what is already known about gamma in adults and from work in animals. Gamma heightens during the processing of linguistic information, during the formation of ideas and memories and during other abilities. Furthermore, gamma fires between 2 regions of the brain during associative learning, when a new concept is linked to one already known.

Low gamma coherence within different hemispheres is associated with ADD and learning disabilities. In fact Dr. C. Njiokiktjien from the Amsterdam, Netherlands compared intrahemispheric coherences of various frequencies (including gamma) of children with non-verbal vs. verbal learning disabilities(1). Their results suggested that children with non-verbal learning disabilities had less connectivity in the right hemisphere, which is consistent with the idea that it’s the right hemisphere that manages spatial skills, as well as other non-verbal tasks.

Dr. Hermann from Magdeburg University in Germany presents a model of gamma based on its power under various psychiatric conditions(2). Too much gamma firing is associated with ADHD, positive associations in Schizophrenia (i.e. hallucinations) and epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s disease, negative symptoms of Schizophrenia (i.e. blunt or flat affects) are associated with too little gamma.

So can we benefit from using brainwave entrainment to help us enter gamma states? Or are there risks associated with having more gamma power?

Dr. R. Olmstead, a clinical psychologist from Sunrise, FL, found benefits with gamma training in children with non-verbal learning disabilities, ages 6-16(3). She exposed them to 35 min brainwave entrainment sessions twice a week for 6 weeks. The sessions alternated between excitatory sessions (increasing from 14 (beta) to 40 (gamma) Hz), and inhibitory sessions (decreasing from 40 to 14 Hz). She found that her training enhanced various non-verbal cognitive abilities such as processing speed, freedom from distractibility, arithmetic and coding.

But what about the rest of us?

I think there is good reason to hypothesize that gamma training might also benefit many with other learning disabilities as well. But I am concerned about the fact that ADHD is associated with too much gamma firing. Thus if you have a learning disability and ADHD, or just ADHD alone, or even if you didn’t have any signs of ADHD, would gamma training enhance your distractibility or impulsiveness? 

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough research done to answer these questions at this point. However, there is good news. Brainwave entrainment for most of the population is a very gentle stimulus, and it takes time for cognitive benefits to take effect. Thus training with gamma (or any other stimulus) is done slowly. All such training should be conducted mindfully, and if you start to develop any unwanted symptoms, you can simply stop your training, and the effects will likely to go away. The higher the gamma power, the more severe the symptoms, so ignoring milder unwanted side effects could be dangerous.

The study by Olmstead might also be a good example as to how to safely train gamma. She trained students to progress into gamma with the excitatory protocol, and to leave gamma and return to beta in the inhibitory protocol. I would imagine that such training is good for leading our brains in and out of gamma as needed. And thus it might be teaching our brains to self regulate.

Nevertheless, there is an element of adventure in using gamma to potentially enhance your cognitive skills, and if the idea makes you queasy, I’d stand back and wait for more research to be done.

References:
1 Njiokiktjien C, de Rijke W, Jonkman EJ. Children with non-verbal learning disabilities (NLD): coherence values in the resting state may reflect hypofunctional long distance connections in the right hemisphere. Fiziologiia cheloveka. 2001; 27: 17-22.
2 Herrmann CS, Demiralp T. Human EEG gamma oscillations in neuropsychiatric disorders. Clin Neurophysiol. 2005; 116: 2719-33.
3 Olmstead R. Use of Auditory and Visual Stimulation to Improve Cognitive Abilities in Learning-Disabled Children. Journal of Neurotherapy. 2005; 9: 49-61.

TED Talk On Biofeedback

If you haven’t viewed any of the TED videos, you’ve been missing out. There are some really stunning and thought-provoking ideas floating around.

Released this month is a short talk by neuroscientist Christopher deCharms, on the future of biofeedback technology. More specifically, he talks about the use of a rtfMRI, or “Real-time Functional MRI.”

Mental drumming

The Scientist released article today about a show in New York called “Trio for percussion and brain waves”.

The show consisted of three percussionists using their thoughts of drumming to create the performance. Their brain activity was measured, and certain spikes in that activity caused the instruments to play.

The fascinating part, to me, is that this was a trio – three people on stage, harmonizing with each other, using nothing but brainwaves.

From the article:

As a rapt audience watched, sounds issued from three laptops connected to the drummers by Bluetooth technology. The musicians’ brainwaves traveled through the air, triggering tones from the computers before leaping to life on the 12-foot-high screen hanging behind them.

The performance was part of an experiment designed by David Sulzer, Columbia University neuroscientist. It demonstrated Sulzer’s idea that thinking about an action could stimulate the brain in much the same way as actually carrying it out. 

 

When one of the three musicians started a mental music piece and the other two tried to accompany it, the brainwaves of the three synced up intermittently. “That was because they constantly needed to catch up with each other,” said Sulzer.

Here’s the article: http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/54510/ 

David Sulzer explains the process behind this more in a video here: http://scienceline.org/2008/03/26/video-intagliata-brainmusic

Thoughts on Mind-Gaming

Mind-based gaming is all over the news lately. The concept is being met with equal parts excitement, skepticism and downright paranoia. Who likes the idea of Microsoft “reading your thoughts”?

Of course, to those of us in the EEG industry, “mind gaming” is nothing new. On this blog I’ve written many posts about EEGs being used to play games, or move online avatars. You’ve seen Canadian Idol judges spar at MindBall. You’ve read about light-sabers coming to life using the mind alone. In fact our latest product Mind WorkStation is even capable brain-gaming by controlling on-screen visualizations. For example, one game involves starting a fire with nothing but brainwaves!

But, what this area has lacked thus far is a brain-computer interface that avoids the messy paste and exhaustive setup that most EEG units require. We need something that can just be slipped on and off. The device that looks like it will spearhead this new movement is the EPOC Neuroheadset from Emotiv.

Mind Hacks has a great write-up about the Emotiv technology here: http://www.mindhacks.com/blog/2008/03/playing_mind_games_.html

He brings up some good points about EEG gaming. Gamers expecting this headset to instantly transform them into Jedi masters will likely be disappointed. EEGs are measuring very minute electrical signals that have to first pass through the skull, and other biofeedback technologies have delay issues that will render them useless for the fast pace of most games.

These issues have caused some problems already, as shown in a recent Emotiv demo in San Francisco, where they had to resort to using a handheld controller in order to complete the game. 

You can get an idea of the problems involved by looking at some demos uploaded to YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDpmSiMiscA&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59hgJlQ0tJI

Here is a better demo, but still illustrates how hard it is to use an EEG as a complex game controller: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxMux4uEkLI

Despite these problems, I do think mind gaming could be very successful if it is used in a way appropriate to the limitations of the technology. For example, it could easily be used to enhance the powers or abilities of certain characters in the game. In a Harry Potter game, the magic wand could be more powerful if the gamer produces a specific brainwave pattern. In a sports game, the team could run faster and score more if the gamer is in the “zone.” These types of uses, although less sexy than “moving things with your mind”, would actually be a much more realistic use of the technology.

Using neurofeedback-like technology for recreational gaming does bring up some concerns. Suppose, for example, a popular feature of a game – such as using objects or weapons - is triggered or enhanced by the production of theta waves. Given the addictive nature of games, I could easily see avid gamers developing ”brain fog” or other problems associated with excess slow-wave activity.

It will be interesting to see what happens when this technology is released to an unsupervised mass market. Perhaps the algorithms used, and the way the games are structured, will help mitigate any problems that could occur. I admit that the geek in me wants to get one of these things immediately.

A year of research and development. Dr. Huang’s work, Mind WorkStation and more.

From an outside perspective, 2007 has been a quiet year. We’ve been focused so much on research and development that we’ve neglected to release any new products.

Behind the scenes, it has been our busiest year to date.

At the beginning of 2007, we were preparing for the Windows Vista launch, making sure our products were compatible. Additionally, we attended a conference where Dr. Huang (Tina) presented her findings for the first time.

Tina has been continuing to work very hard on her study, along with psychology professor Christine Charyton, PhD. We’ve had a lot of emails asking what is taking so long. Research takes a while. If you want a paper to pass peer review, get published in a reputable journal, and have a big impact, it has to be well written and based on solid science. It is a slow, laborious and expensive process.

But this study is worth it. It is packed with useful information. The effects of brainwave entrainment (BWE) on a variety of tests have been analyzed, yielding some very interesting results and answering some important questions. Which protocols affect verbal performance over non-verbal? Which protocols are best for certain types of memory – auditory, visual, sequential, and so on? Which protocols enhance immediate recall, and which reduce it? What types of headaches can be relieved using BWE? (muscle contraction, sinusitis, migraine, etc).  What protocols have the greatest effect on attention, impulsivity, distractibility, and so on? I found one instance particularly fascinating, where there was an improvement in anger control but no effect on aggressiveness!

This is vital information that will advance the effectiveness of all BWE products in the future.

It is important to note that not only were positive results analyzed, but also negative results and studies that you will never find in marketing material or even in most books on this subject. Just as it is essential to know which protocols work for a certain condition, we feel that it is perhaps more crucial to know what protocols don’t work as intended, and could act contrary to the goal of the session.

I’m happy to report that earlier this month Tina’s paper was accepted into a prestigious peer reviewed journal with a great reputation. I will give you the details of it’s publication date as soon as I can. It is up to the journal as to when it is published, and I don’t want to step on any toes by releasing too much information too soon.

Tina and I both believe this study will be a major milestone for this field. There has never been a more comprehensive review than this, and it will draw a lot of attention to this technology. Years from now you will see this study quoted in nearly every book and subsequent study on entrainment that is released.

Along with research, we’ve also been working on development. Mind WorkStation is our latest upcoming project. I admit that I expected to have it out by now, having released the beta version in the summer. What’s the hold up? There is a lot in MWS that is completely new. There are parts of it I have been working many years perfecting. I’ve also had to work very closely with others in the field to implement many of the features, such as linking up with biofeedback and EEG hardware. One of the major goals in the creation of MWS is to inspire research. Up until this, it has simply been too difficult and expensive to experiment in this field. It usually involved building a separate device or programming something from the ground up. In MWS, there’s not a whole lot you can’t do. It is built for flexibility. For what you can’t do with the built in features, we’ve implemented a plugin interface that makes it pretty easy for programmers to interact with the application, without having to worry about signal processing or connecting to the myriad of hardware devices on the market. MWS does all that for you. With the help of our beta testers, I think we’ve nailed down a pretty slick and intuitive interface as well.

We’re just finishing it up now and expect to release it in January ’08.

Finally, throughout the year I’ve been working closely with our partners and others in the industry. They are all as busy as we are, researching, developing. Some truly fantastic hardware advances are expected early next year, and we’ve helped develop some of them.

2008 will be an incredibly exciting year for this industry.

Until then, have a happy new year everyone. Cynthia and I are ringing in the new year with sushi and Karaoke!

A music concert created with the brainwaves of the audience

From an outside perspective, this “concert” would look more like a gathering of cyborgs. But for those involved it is the holy grail of audience participation – using the brainwaves of the audience to produce music.

[YouTube]Ff-Dmlreg4I[/YouTube]

Using gamma waves to distinguish false memories from real ones

New research from the University of Pennsylvania has unveiled distinct gamma brainwave patterns associated with memory formation and recall:

Patients volunteered to study lists of words which they were then asked to recall at a later time.  When asked to recall the studied words, participants recalled some number of correct items and also made a small number of errors, recalling words that had not appeared on the target list.  

While patients performed the memory game, scientists observed electrical activity in their brains to determine whether specific brain waves were associated with successfully storing and retrieving memories. Researchers found that a fast brain wave, known as the gamma rhythm, increased when participants studied a word that they would later recall. The same gamma waves, whose voltage rises and fall between 50 and 100 times per second, also increased in the half-second prior to participants correctly recalling an item.  

These analyses revealed that the same pattern of gamma band oscillatory activity in the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex and left temporal lobe that predicts successful memory formation also re-emerged at retrieval, distinguishing correct from incorrect responses, said Per B. Sederberg, lead author and former Penn neuroscientist now performing post-doctoral research at Princeton University.  The timing of these oscillatory effects suggests that self-cued memory retrieval initiates in the hippocampus and then spreads to the cortex.  Thus, retrieval of true as compared with false memories induces a distinct pattern of gamma oscillations, possibly reflecting recollection of contextual information associated with past experience.

Full article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071023163853.htm 

These kinds of advancements in our understanding of memory will be incredibly useful in diagnosing and alleviating neurological problems from epilepsy to schizophrenia.

Here is the full paper: http://memory.psych.upenn.edu/publications/files/SedeEtal07b.pdf

For more on recent work on gamma waves, check out this lecture by Robert Knight: http://www.mindupdate.com/?p=63 

Thanks to Tyler on the forums for finding this.

Brain Video: EEG used to control virtual avatars in Second Life

In this video, an EEG device is being used to control the movement of an online avatar, or digital “you”, bringing us a tiny bit closer to a truly virtualized world (e.g. The Matrix).

[YouTube]KhCBZcq58c0[/YouTube]