Tired of getting calluses from incessantly strumming along to 'No Woman No Cry'? Just hook up to the brain-music system and use your brain power to play a tune instead. I'm not talking—humming along in your head. The machine, created by composer and computer-music specialist Eduardo Miranda of the University of Plymouth, UK, is composed of electrodes taped directly onto your skull that pick up tiny electrical impulses from neurons in your brain and translates them into musical rhythms on a computer.
The user sits in front of a computer screen on which there are several possible buttons to push to make sound, like a virtual piano. All you have to do is focus your eyes on a button, and the computer makes the sound for you. Focus your attention harder on the button, and the sound comes out louder. Just glancing at the button makes the sound come out softer. It takes just about as much focus training to play a tune as it takes practicing on a real piano to play a ditti. This handy technology was developed for paraplegics who still want to enjoy the pleasure of making music.
Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are not a new thing. The brain-music system uses electroencephalography (EEG), one of the oldest such technologies. But, it's the first system to allow for differences in intensity of button-pressing or note-playing. EEG picks up faint shifts in brain waves when attention is directed at one thing or another in your environment, records information about where you are focusing spatially, and the computer translates this to the action of pressing a button.
Other BCIs like electrocorticography and BrainGate allow users to preform similar actions but are more invasive; electrodes must be implanted in the brain tissue so that you can move around a cursor on a screen. But, EEG machines are light, extremely portable, and non-surgical, making it easy to just tote around for whenever you need it.
Photo by Neuroimaging Laboratory