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Lecture on brain mapping scheduled for Wednesday

Sunday, November 12, 2000

By Dave Zuchowski

John Norseen is involved in some pretty esoteric work on futuristic brain research, so much so that his upcoming lecture "Where Brain Mapping Can Lead Us" at Waynesburg College promises to be stimulating and provocative.

During a recent phone interview with Norseen from his home in Bucks County, I learned he'd returned recently from a conference in Russia where he read his latest paper, "Mathematics, BioFusion, and Reflexive Control for Sentient Machines," to a group of colleagues. The conference in St. Petersburg addressed the issue of how humans and machines interrelate and the methodology for putting human understanding into a machine.

Norseen lived in Mt. Lebanon until he was 21. He graduated from Penn State in 1976, then earned a master's degree in management systems science at the University of Southern California. Since then, his work in understanding the way the human brain works has led him to create the term "BioFusion."

The concept involves measuring the brain's electromagnetic activity using a variety sensors to put together a composite model of the human brain. From this model, Norseen hopes to create software that will help machines mimic human thinking.

"The result is that if we introduce something like a sound signal to the software, the mathematical display of electromagnetic activity output would be indistinguishable from that of the brain," says Norseen, 46.

Norseen says he's developing thought equations analogous to those that describe the effect of wind on an airfoil to produce lift. Instead of mathematically describing the aerodynamic processes that form the basis of today's aeronautics, he hopes to come up with equations that describe how information interacts with the brain structure to produce thought. In the near future, it may be possible to take mathematical "pictures" of our memories via brain prints and interchange them with other humans and machines.

"Eventually, machines will begin to mimic human activity, including emotions," he says. "For instance, a machine might get upset if you fail to pay attention to it for a protracted period of time."

During his lecture, Norseen plans to demonstrate some of his research by engaging the audience in experiments. For instance, he'll ask someone from the audience to close their eyes and think of a number. By looking at the mathematical display that's produced, he should be able to tell what the number is.

"Eventually, it should be possible to place a brain-monitoring device near an ATM machine and read someone's pin number code," he says. "Other devices could monitor airport passengers' brain waves to scan for terrorists or someone who might be potentially violent or suicidal and therefore not able to safely travel on the public domain."

Just as we have fingerprints, each individual also has a unique brain print. The ability to "read" the prints will have useful applications to law enforcement agencies. Eventually, the technology might also have applications for the judicial system by using it to determine who's telling the truth and who's lying and to spot inconsistencies in trial testimony.

The new technology might also come up with software for brain prosthetic devices that will help people recover abilities lost when nervous systems are damaged. The devices could also make normal brains function even better.

According to Norseen, one of the most important concepts regarding human and machine intelligence working together centers on the concept of steganography, the ability to hide information within information. For instance, technicians can stack up to five images within a television program the conscious mind perceives as only one, but which the brain can relate to simultaneously.

The remaining four consciously "unperceived images" can still cause physiological responses such as sweating, increased heart rate, a rise in excitation levels, stimulation of the adrenal glands and other hormonal flow.

"Studies in Sweden show that someone usually happy can be clinically depressed simply by looking at a series of images," Norseen says. "On the other hand, a sad person can move in the opposite direction by looking at the appropriate imagery."

In his lecture, Norseen hopes to get the audience to realize that humans have many areas of the brain that interact and compete with one another for our attention. He hopes to empower people to get in touch with their brains to control their innermost thoughts. Those unaware of the source of their thoughts are susceptible to control by others.

"In the future, we're going to have a synthetic society in which humans and machines will share wisdom and knowledge," Norseen says. "By the year 2050, science will probably complete the coupling of the human genome with machine intelligence. One need only look [at] the patent office, where the rash of new discoveries and devices indicates that this trend has already begun."

John Norseen's lecture, "Where Brain Mapping Can Lead Us," is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Waynesburg College's Performing Arts Center. Call 724-852-3289.

Dave Zuchowski is a free-lance writer. He can be reached by e-mail at :

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