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Scientist who can move objects by thought alone

Award-winning Nataliya Kosmyna hopes her success will inspire more women to work in the sciences

AN AWARD-WINNING scientist, who has developed the ability to control objects with her thoughts, hopes her success will inspire more women to work in the sciences.

Nataliya Kosmyna, 25, a 25-year old researcher at the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (Inria) in Rennes, was recently awarded a prestigious science scholarship for her work to improve the way computers ‘read’ and react to the brain’s electrical impulses.

She told The Connexion: “After reading that researchers at the University of Minnesota needed two months to train mind-controlled drone systems, I was inspired to do the same thing, but much faster.”

She can now programme and train a drone to respond to her thoughts in just FIVE minutes.

Volunteers wear a headset with sensors that spread across their head. They then focus on a specific thought for a few minutes at a time. Each thought produces an electrical signal in the brain, which sensors on the headset detect and transmit to a computer.

She said: “It is very important to think of a precise thought and to concentrate on it intensely.

“The computer cannot understand or register what you are thinking; it does not care what you think about.

“However, it does know when you are thinking of the selected thoughts, so there is no way of cheating the system.”

Nataliya labels each thought and connects it to a specific instruction that a nearby electronic device should perform – which it will do when the volunteer next focuses on the same thoughts.

“You can programme any device you wish to be susceptible to your thoughts: a drone, a light, the TV ... anything.

“For example, I can suggest someone to think of the sky and label this thought as the trigger for a drone to fly upwards. Then, as soon as they think of the sky, the drone will lift up.”

Although it may be fun to switch on a coffee machine just by thinking about a cup of coffee, Nataliya’s research has particularly significant implications for people with decreased or absent mobility.

She said: “A lot of people in France and around the world are restricted in their mobility, but have a fully functioning brain that would allow them to use of interfaces that respond to their thoughts.

“I hope to help these people use technology and their thoughts to perform everyday tasks by themselves.”

Despite her achievement, Nataliya remains humble about her work. “I train algorithms to create the possibility for a computer to recognise what a person is thinking about.

“I don’t develop them, they already exist. I develop how they are used to be most efficient … The technology is still emerging, error-prone and only 60-75% accurate.
“Sometimes the object does not react at all, even though the person is imagining the pre-determined thought. The electrodes of the headset cannot look into our brain. Barriers like skin and hair do not allow direct access.”

In October, Nataliya and 29 other pioneering female scientists were awarded scholarships at the L’Oréal-Unesco pour les Femmes et la Science event.

She said the award made her even more determined to campaign and promote the role of women in science: “You cannot imagine how many negative comments I received in the past telling me that women have no place in science or technology research.

“It is horrifying that, according to a survey, 67% of Europeans do not think women have the intellect to work in a senior position.

“This can be discouraging, but I hope to work against that mind-set and show women around the world that they can do anything they want to.

“If people consider it crazy, but you enjoy it, then just do it. Follow your dreams, whatever they may be.

“Changing false perceptions about women even slightly would be a huge success for me. In the next two years, I aim to hold presentations in schools to convince women of all ages to take advantage of their talents and to be successful in what they love.”

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