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Cognitive Extenders - Julia's Mind Palace

POSTED IN: Cognitive Wingman

For a few months, I’ve been thinking about Cognitive Enhancement, Cognitive Extenders and Neural Prosthetics

The broad theme of how technology can augment human abilities - and amply human potential. A few other blogs here.
But before we dig in, a bit of background on the terminology…
Neural Prosthetics: Neural prostheses are mechanisms that can substitute a motor, sensory or cognitive modality that has been damaged or underdeveloped. E.g. with a brain injury, dementia or autism.


Or put another way, computers, chips and code connected to human brains, to help people live better.
 Although neurocognitive prostheses are not yet in wide use, it’s a reasonable bet that implantable neurocognitive brain-computer interfaces will begin to emerge more widely over the next decade – especially given the work already underway: http://waitbutwhy.com/2017/04/neuralink.html and taking into account the caliber of people with the ‘can do’ attitude that figured out how to do this with a rocket.

But today, my focus is less on Neural Prosthetics for brain injury, and more about Improving memories and recall; building idea frameworks, and sharing Mental Models - Cognitive Enhancement with Cognitive Extenders

This also has the added benefit that there is no need to put holes (or wires) into my head. We use some less invasive (and old-school) experimentation, along with a little imagination.

Method of Loci / Mind Palace: The METHOD OF LOCI is also known as the memory journey or memory palace technique. The method is a mnemonic device adopted in ancient Roman and Greek rhetorical treatises.
Wikipedia has a nice summary:   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Method_of_loci

Fast forward 2500 years, to the modern Sherlock Holmes TV series, the term Mind Palace is used. This Smithsonian Magazine article provides a nice overview:
“To use the technique, visualize a complex place in which you could physically store a set of memories. That place is often a building such as a house, but it can also be something like a road with multiple addresses. In the house version, every room is home to a specific item you want to remember. To take advantage of the mind’s ability to hold onto visual memories, it often helps to embellish the item being stored—the milk you need to buy at the grocery store might become a vat of milk with a talking cow swimming in it. When those memories need to be recalled, you can walk through the building in your mind, seeing and remembering each item.”

Anyway – I thought I’d give it a whirl - so for the last few weeks, I’ve been building a mind palace with my daughter Julia.  Each night at bedtime, after story time, we close our eyes and go to our “Mind Palace” – or rather, return to it. We review, remember and reinforce, and keep building...
 She’s very good at it. The kids have been building quite a bit with Minecraft lately (which is a terrific tool) – and I suspect the spatial and visual practice is helpful to her mind palace construction.

Today I spent a couple of minutes to build a model of what I thought our mind palace looked like. The image below is missing a bunch of pieces, like the rainbow-tire-path (sorry Julia!) but when I showed it to her, she immediately recognized it – even though we had just imagined it in our minds, independently. 
For me, it was a powerful moment– as the mental model of our ‘mind palace’ now exists in three places – in her mind; in my mind; and now in VR in the cloud.


The image above was created in VR on an HTC Vive. The program I used is called Speech Sandbox (IBM Watson Speech and Natural Language Understanding + Unity toolkit) which allows VERBAL COMMAND AND CONTROL inside VR. It's pretty fun - If you want to stack 10 red sports cars then blow them with rocket launcher, while gorillas and dinosaurs cheer you on – just say the word! Magic. ( Tilt Brush is good too)


Why I am Excited about Mind Palaces / Cognitive Extenders:

Johannes Gutenberg's printing press changed the world by allowing for the encapsulation, movement, dissemination of, and access to - IDEAS.
This technology shares many of the same traits - it...
•    Can represent ideas in human imagination and also VR space
•    Is Shareable between 2 or 2000 people - and is scale-able.
•    Is Spatial (additional dimension for my aging brain to hold on to ideas/memories)
•    Is Persistent (when you come back a week later) and 'summon-able'
While it's probably a stretch to suggest influence on par with the printing press (or a great book) it is a new and potentially powerful knowledge vector - and perhaps, we are seeing the beginning of a new period of innovation in brain computer interfaces and cognitive extenders - made possible by a convergence of several powerful technology components.
Image Sources:
•    https://i.ytimg.com/vi/YdfUaydquXs/maxresdefault.jpg
•    http://www.smithsonianmag.com
•    https://www.pinterest.com/explore/minecraft-houses/
•    Sherlock Holmes TV Series - BBC
These opinions are my own, and not of my employer. I’m a technology enthusiast but am not a subject matter expert in neuroscience.


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About the Author

Ryan Anderson

Ryan Anderson

Hi! I like to play with data, analytics and hack around with robots and gadgets in my garage. Lately I've been learning about machine learning.

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Created: December 20, 2016


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