We know It’s a trick, but we can’t help being fascinated as an illusionist bends a spoon with his mind. There’s something intriguing about the idea of moving objects with our brains. Now, from exoskeletons to ball games, science is bringing that vision closer to reality. The only trouble is that our fractured attention spans might not be up to the task.
There’s nothing new about the potential of the human brain. Researchers have known for decades that our squiggly lumps of gray matter are one of the most complex, powerful structures on the planet?far faster than the fastest computer. As this Live Science article explains, researchers have found that the world’s fourth-largest supercomputer (with a whopping 1.4 million gigs of RAM) still takes ?40 minutes to replicate a single second of brain activity.?
Harnessing that power has led to some amazing breakthroughs, like the MindWalker. According to this article from New Scientist, the MindWalker is an exoskeleton, a mechanical frame that ?aims to enable paralysed and locked-in people to walk using only their mind.? Its developers plan to refine it, making it smaller and more lightweight, but not even its current clunkiness can detract from the spectacular possibilities.
This type of brain-computer interface (BCI) can power exoskeletons or smaller gadgets, but the common thread is focus. The user has to envision an action, and then EEG sensors (usually in a cap) translate that neural activity and send it to a device. And That’s where BCI’s wonderful potential might run into problems. Because to an alarming degree, we humans are losing our ability to focus.
It seems that just as we’re reaching a point where our minds can control our external devices, those external devices have already altered the way our minds work. Smart phones, tablets, the Internet, television: we’re immersed in a world of competing signals, all of them designed to feed us short, fragmented bits of information at high speed. With every click, every shift in attention, we’re conditioning our attention spans to become shorter and more shallow. No wonder It’s getting harder to focus.
On top of that, the natural decline in our attention span starts a lot sooner than we think. As Slate reports, the ?decline in our ability to filter out distraction and focus attention, unfortunately, begins not in middle age but rather in our 20s.? That’s worrisome news for basic tasks like studying, never mind using laser-like focus to change the TV channel or set our home alarm system with the power of thought.
So how will we do it? How will we manage to exist in a world where our attention spans can barely compete with that of a goldfish, yet science can better our lives by harnessing our focus?
If we want to see the benefits of this research, It’s not too soon to get ready. Turn off the TV, put down your smartphone, and try some of the tips in this Lifehacker article. Because if the future holds the promise of using our minds to control our devices, we’d better get a whole lot better at controlling our minds.
S.D. Livingston is the author and creator of the Madeline M. Mystery Series for kids, as well as several books for older readers. Visit her website for information on her writing.