What new senses would you like to have available to you?
Often when new technology first becomes widely available, the initial limits are in the collective imagination, not in the technology itself (case in point: the internet). New sensory channels have a huge potential because the brain can process senses much faster and more intuitively than most conscious thought processes.
There are a lot of recent "proof of concept" inventions that show that it is possible to create new sensory channels for humans with and without surgery. The most well known and simple example is an implanted magnet, which would alert you to magnetic fields (the trade-off being that you could never have an MRI). Cochlear implants are the most widely used human-created sensory channels (they send electrical signals directly to the nervous system, bypassing the ear entirely), but CIs are designed to emulate a sensory channel most people already have brain space allocated to. VEST is another example. Similar to CIs, VEST (versatile extra-sensory transducer) has 24 information channels, and uses audio compression to encode sound. Unlike CIs, they are not implanted in the skull but instead information is relayed through vibrating motors on the torso. After a few hours of training, deaf volunteers are capable of word recognition using the vibrations alone, and to do so without conscious processing. Much like hearing, the users are unable to describe exactly what components make a spoken word intelligible, they just understand the sensory information intuitively. Another recent invention being tested (with success) is BrainPort glasses, which send electrical signals through the tongue (which is one of the most sensitive organs on the body). Blind people can begin processing visual information with this device within 15 minutes, and it is unique in that it is not implanted. The sensory information feels like pop rocks at first before the brain is able to resolve it into sight. Niel Harbisson (who is colorblind) has custom glasses which use sound tones to relay color information. Belts that vibrate when facing north give people an sense of north. Bottlenose can be built at home and gives a very primitive sense of echolocation. As expected, these all work better if people start young as children.
What are the craziest and coolest new senses you would like to see available using this new technology? I think VEST at least is available from Kickstarter and one of the inventors suggested that it could be that it could be programmed to transmit any kind of data. My initial ideas which I heard about this possibility are just are senses that some unusual people already have or expansions on current senses. I think the real game changers are going to be totally knew senses unrelated to our current sensory processing. Translating data into sensory information gives us access to intuition and processing speed otherwise unavailable.
My initial weak ideas:
- mass spectrometer (uses reflected lasers to determine the exact atomic makeup of anything and everything)
- proximity meter (but I think you would begin to feel like you had a physical aura or field of influence)
- WIFI or cell signal
- perfect pitch and perfect north, both super easy and only need one channel of information (an smartwatch app?)
- infrared or echolocation
- GPS (this would involve some serious problem solving to figure out what data we should encode given limited channels, I think it could be done with 4 or 8 channels each associated with a cardinal direction)
Someone working with VEST suggested:
- compress global twitter sentiments into 24 channels. Will you begin to have an intuitive sense of global events?
- encode stockmarket data. Will you become an intuitive super-investor?
- encode local weather data (a much more advanced version of "I can feel it's going to rain in my bad knee)
Some resources for more information:
I have tried:
Wearing a vibrating compass anklet for a week. It improved my navigational skills tremendously. I have low income, but I would definitely buy one if I could afford it.
Listening to a 60 bpm metronome on a Bluetooth earpiece for a week (excluding showers). I got used to the sound relatively quickly, but I most definitely did not acquire an absolute sense of time. However, I noticed that during boring activities such as filling out paperwork, the ticking itself seems to slow down.
I will try:
The skills lingered, and for some amount of time, I was able to "feel" where the compass would be pointing in many places I visited while wearing the anklet.
From memory, I'm still able to tell the general direction of the magnetic north in many places.
Upgraded reflective senses would be really cool. For instance:
We already have weak senses for most of these, but they're not always salient. Having a constant sense of them would allow you to do biofeedback-like training all the time.
Being able to "feel" electric/magnetic fields with your hands would be great. Not dissimilar to wifi sensing, but enough to be able to intuit what a circuit is doing just by observing/feeling it.
I also don't think that anyone's mentioned having a true internal clock. Some people can already wake up at a specific time of day just by wanting to - that'd be useful. Also for the ability to time things.
Lastly, while being able to detect neurotransmitter levels in your own brain would be great, being able to detect them in the brains of others would be even better. Kind of a toned-down empathic ability - you could tell who was stressed, who was happy, and so on by the amount of cortisol or dopamine in their brain.
Similar to true north, a sense that always points to a specific person. I think this might non-obvious use for people with poor attachment who can lose, on a deep level, a sense of being connected with someone when they're not physically around, and can need a while to build it up again when that person comes back. Also for young kids, who sometimes experience the sensation of not knowing where their mom is as quite traumatic.
Could be fun to be able to see relations between people and tweak which ones show up as different false color lines between them on the fly.
Facebook friends Past/Current romantic relationship Went to school together Coworkers
Though I expect people to find this creepy despite the fact that most such data is publicly available.
Reliable internal senses: in effect, a diagnostic readout of chemical and biological processes, such as blood glucose, melatonin and other hormones, immune responses, calories consumed, hydration, organ function, and so on.
This doesn't have to be a sense as such (that is, directly available to consciousness). It could be a collection of timeseries sent to an external monitoring system.
How about: as a commitment mechanism, a small but nagging amount of discomfort related to your procrastination on a measurable task. I'm picturing this working something like the need to pee, with the difference that it resets at night: the discomfort could build throughout the day and instantly be resolved when you completed the task and reduced as you work toward the task.
For instance, if you committed to exercising a certain amount, accelerameters could estimate physical activity. for every step you took, your discomfort would decrease and for ever ho... (read more)
Another example of this is vOICe. It converts images directly into audio, and people can quickly learn to see with it.
Also Neurofeedback, where you see your own brainwaves and then try to control them. The theory being that you can learn to make your brain focus or relax.
A 'taste' for pathogen bacteriae in food.
Echolocation was the first thing that came to mind for me. Do you have more info about this? I couldn't find anything on google.
I often wished for a little drone, equipped with a camera, some other recording software, and wings to do the legwork for me. Imagine sitting on the edge of a swamp, in your car, with a monitor built in your glasses showing you what the drone sees,and ssending it where you want it by moving your fingers. Of course, it can be done without implanting anything in one's head, but generally, people want to carry as little as possible... It would open new eras in waterfowl population research, too.
ETA: thank you all for your answers!
There are quite a few hacker projects and at least one serious research project for a compass sense e.g.
See also sensory augmentation
Emotion detector/encoder/transmitter/decoder/injector would be quite useful to the less neurotypical of us. The emotion injection part seems the hardest.
For diabetics, a blood sugar monitor.
Interesting that all your proposals look outward. I primarily would want to monitor my own body. I want to detect cell growths of the type that could become cancerous and so on. Essentially improve on the sense of pain, give a "warning buzz" way before a problem grows big enough to affect the pain nerves.
I had never heard of any of these except people putting magnets in their fingertips. Thanks for the post!
Minor typo I noticed:
How about just another vision channel, but mounted on a remote scout, such as a robot, drone, dog, or hawk?
Who should I talk to in a group? I have a bunch of existing "social senses" for navigating this, but they're not very reliable. If a clear You-Should-Talk-To-This-Person sense went off whenever I encountered someone appropriate, that would be nice.
Only if you have a chance for immediate feedback. And I don't see that for any of these three as you can neither influence them directly nor filter to observe relevant parts. The latter might show a way to make this useful.... (read more)
Re GPS, being able to "see" the GPS satellite constellations with the time delays encoded as color shifts would allow the subject to quickly learn to geolocate themselves.
a few of your suggestions can be summarised to "other electromagnetic senses" (being things of other wavelength than visible light), and generally things not in the "sound range" either.
Magnetic sense has been mentioned several times; I am going to look at getting a magnetic ring; never thought of it; and would be keen to try it. (and the non-invasiveness sounds good to me)
Someone mentioned already - internal vs external senses. I would like the ability to sense my own body temperature (possibly at my extremities vs my core, although I... (read more)
Theoretically, the 'Love Hormone Measurement System' has some utility. We form bonds to others with every kind word and familiar touch, it may be useful for many different populations of people to gain a clear sense of how they really feel about "loved ones", and why that is.
Also a general purpose sense of whether a person has spent too long or too little in the sunlight might be very harm reducing. A lack of light can cause myopia, too much is cancerous...
For myself...maybe a sense of polyrhythms?
To feel upcoming seismic events.
I feel like there are interesting applications here for programmers, but I'm not exactly sure what. Maybe you could link up a particular programming language's syntax to our sense of grammar, so programs that wouldn't compile would seem as wrong to you as the sentence "I seen her". Experienced programmers probably already have something like this I suppose, but it could make learning a new programming language easier.
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Can't we achieve the same objective by wearing a magnet ring or a magnet bracelet, without the serious downsides of having an implant?
Nice. Almost a follow-up to my question (When does technological enhancement feel natural and acceptable?)[http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/m4h/when_does_technological_enhancement_feel_natural/]. These are all things that are natural by construction.
See also this sensory vest which is specifically intended to add senses (and it does work for letting deaf hear).
Tunable retinal cones.