Brain + computer = image search at the speed of light

Sounds like something right out of Star Trek.

A team of scientists at Columbia University have developed a new technology that promises to turn the human brain into a super-fast image-identifying machine. This “cortically coupled computer vision system” is intended to boldly go where only science fiction has gone before—by combining the brain’s sight with a computer’s processing power.

The marketing term is C3 Vision, and it’s the invention of Columbia Professor Paul Sajda. The theory behind the device is that the brain, as we all know, can recognize an image much faster than it can identify it. The problem so far has been that our brains have to wait for our senses to catch up.

A person hooked up to Sajda’s device, however, can speed through thousands of images, marking the important ones for later study. Technically, this is a series of electroencephalograms, or EEGs, that mark things the brain wants to remember. The device can catalog these and present them to the brain, saving lots of time.

This kind of technology would be especially useful to detectives and law enforcement officials, who routinely examine boatloads of images a year in the pursuit of catching criminals. These investigations usually miss the boat by requiring much more hours than needed to find the clues or identify the people or things that can help solve a case.

After all, if you are looking for one face in a stack of a thousand images, you might have to look at nearly all of those images in order to find your target. You might find what you’re looking for in the first hundred or so, but you also might not. C3 Vision, as envisioned by Sajda’s team, can make that process much less time-consuming.

Mr. Spock and Mr. Data would be proud.


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