Can VR aid in Neuroscience Research? How about Driverless Cars

I came across an interesting podcast that got me thinking about potential applications for using AR/VR and providing new insights for Neuroscience.

To really understand what I’m talking about, you’ll have to listen to the “Driverless Dilemma” podcast. In a short summary though, the car industries and AI programmers are facing tremendous difficulties on how to handle dilemmas when death is an inevitable outcome…the question should the AI program decide who lives? For example, imagine driving down a road, and a situation occurs where you turn a blind corner and find a family standing in the middle of the road. A collision, and thus killing them, is unavoidable unless you drive off the cliff. You’re only given two options and death is certain with either decision. Theoretically, a family is greater than 1; thus you should drive off the cliff…but who’s going to buy a car that is willing to kill the car owner for the greater good. Especially in a case where the family was in the middle of the street illegally. In the podcast, they talk about trying to extract this type of decision making from humans. The experiments use brain scanners to monitor brain activity as they ask their host’s multiple scenarios/dilemmas like my example. The findings are truly amazing. They find there are essentially three main regions of the brain;

Region 1 (the Accountant) – Makes calculation type decisions (5 is greater than 1, thus choose 5),
Region 2 (the Philosophical region) – Which makes decisions based on thousands of years of prehistoric brain training (basically what differentiates us from apes).
Region 3 (the Judge) – Located in the prefrontal cortex; activated when the Accountant and Philosophical regions are battling a decision for too long.

This is where I finally get into the practical application (if you’re still with me). Many people would probably butcher, contest, argue, and even challenge the validity of the experiment, and thus whether the findings/hypothesis holds true. In fact, I do! Just because of the fact that imagining a situation is not the same as genuinely experiencing it. Of course, that would mean connecting a brain scanner to their head and putting them in a real-life scenario where people die…which definitely isn’t a viable option. But what if we can trick the brain into thinking they’re in the situation using VR! For example, in the car example I explained earlier you can create a VR experience where the host believes they are remote-controlling a real car. Maybe even have them move one back and forth in front of them on the show room floor. After they believe it, kick it up a notch by having them test-drive it off the lot. Once it’s ‘out of sight’, have the car park itself or turn off. However, the VR experience can continue and eventually put them in a scenario like we had above. Using a VR diode headband, you can monitor the brain activity. Based on the human decisions, I’m certain you’ll get some interesting data and maybe even be able to prove the brain region hypothesis (Accountant, Philosophical, Judge, and more).

You’re probably speculating if the brain-controlled VR headband is even possible. Fun fact, it exists! They’re already starting to come out with mind-controlled VR games in 2018. Recently I had the privilege of attending a Virtual Reality Conference which hosted fascinating new technologies/capabilities in the AR/VR world. Among them included cool new games and innovative ways of interacting with your AR/VR experience. One company that really caught my attention is Neurable, which is the first to show me the new EEG sensor tech that enables brain-controlled interfaces for VR.

It’s a no-brainer that this new application can provide great new discoveries for carrying out experiments to better understand our brains. As well as proving many existing theories in neuroscience. I, unfortunately, don’t know squat about how the brain works. Other than how Neural Networks work in Machine Learning and that it’s a methodology derived from how the brain trains its neurons. The neuroscience research can also play a huge role/input into the world of Driverless Cars and the dilemmas they are facing with Artificial Intelligence.

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