Using a Robotic ‘Third Thumb’ Can Change How Your Brain Works
Using a robotic “third thumb” can change how your brain works, according to a new study published by University College London. Specifically, when using a third thumb, the human brain begins to blend each finger rather than recognizing them as its own distinctive part of the hand. The researchers at UCL and Oxford University behind this study determined this by scanning the brains of those who use a robotic third thumb before use and after five days of training.“In our brain, each finger is represented distinctly from the others; among study participants, the pattern of brain activity corresponding to each finger became more similar (less distinct), ”according to the UCL study.
According to one of the researchers behind the study, Paulina Kieliba, this robotic third thumb study is the first to study the use of an augmentation device outside of a laboratory. Twenty participants were trained to use the robotic third thumb over five days and during those five days they were “encouraged to bring the thumb home each day after training for use in everyday life scenarios,” totaling two to six hours of wearing time per day. ”
These 20 participants were compared to 10 control participants who did the same thing, except their third thumb was static and did not interact with their hand like the robotic thumb did. Study participants first used their thumbs to perform basic tasks like picking up multiple balls or carrying wine glasses.
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In no time at all, participants were able to use their thumbs for much more advanced things, like building a tower of blocks while solving a math problem. The third thumb became something participants no longer needed to focus on in order to use it to the fullest, as it instead became another extension of their hand.
“Our study shows that people can quickly learn to control an augmentation device and use it to their advantage, without thinking too much,” said Dani Clode, designer of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and designer of this third robotic thumb. “We saw that by using the third thumb, people changed their natural hand movements, and they also reported that the robotic thumb was part of their own body.”
While the thumb is just that – an inch – the team is planning uses for similar body augmentation in the future and it doesn’t seem too far removed from something like the one found in the Deus Ex series. Kieliba said that ‘they predicted that bodily augmentation would be valuable to “society in many ways, such as allowing a surgeon to do without an assistant or a factory worker to work more efficiently.” Hopefully the people behind this technology don’t become the next Doc Ock.Clode said in the study that she developed the device to reframe the way society views prosthetics, “from replacing a lost function to an extension of the human body.” Clode’s third thumb is 3D printed and worn on the little finger of the hand. It is controlled by pressure sensors attached to the wearer’s feet, especially at the bottom of the big toes.
“Wirelessly connected to the thumb, the two toe sensors control different movements of the thumb by immediately responding to subtle changes in pressure from the wearer,” the study said.
Participants’ brains were scanned a week after thumb training calmed down and brain changes associated with the robotic third thumb began to disappear, suggesting that previous changes seen in the brain were not necessarily long term.“Evolution has not prepared us to use an additional body part, and we have found that to expand our abilities in new and unexpected ways, the brain will have to adapt the representation of the biological body,” said Tamar Makin, professor at UCL. .
If he wanted. Check out IGN’s 25 Best Sci-Fi Movies list after that, then find out why Deus Ex is number 16 in IGN’s top 100 RPGs of all time.
Wesley LeBlanc is a freelance news writer and guidebook maker for IGN. You can follow it on Twitter @LeBlancWes.