Arm electrodes to electrify your guitar skills?

Device out of Japan uses electrodes to stimulate hand movements, theoretically accelerating the speed at which humans learn precision skills such as playing instruments.

PossessedHand
A user sees what PossessedHand does for her koto playing. The Koto is a traditional Japanese stringed instrument. Rekimoto Lab

You can't learn to play the guitar like Eric Clapton by doing nothing, but a new system that controls the muscular movements of your hand might be a step in that direction. The question is, will you want to use a device called "PossessedHand?"

Developed by the University of Tokyo and Sony Computer Science Laboratories, the "hand gesture manipulation system" electrically stimulates muscles in your arm that move your fingers. Once specific movements are programmed into a computerized unit kept in a forearm belt, impulses travel through wires to electrodes attached to the arm. Those charges move the necessary muscles and control hand movements--reportedly more accurately than the human brain alone can guide the fingers.

playing guitar
PossessedHand could help players get accustomed to which finger to use when playing the guitar and other intruments. Morguefile

PossessedHand stimulates each muscle with 28 electrode pads, and muscles at different depths in the forearm can be tapped by varying the stimulation level. Developers' experiments indicate that PossessedHand can control the motion of 16 joints in the hand.

The device is being hyped as a way to teach students how to play the guitar and other instruments more accurately. But it could seemingly also help surgeons and other professionals who need to improve finger dexterity as PossessedHand can automatically calibrate for individual uses and specific skills. However, it's still in the experimental stages.

The question here will be how many people want to enslave their hands to a machine.

"I felt like my body was hacked," one person who tried playing the traditional Japanese koto with the help of PossessedHand, told New Scientist. Researcher Emi Tamaki of the University of Tokyo thinks people will get used to the idea: "We believe convenient technology will overcome a feeling of fear."

I'm slowly learning to play the guitar now in my pseudo-adulthood, and if I get a vote, I would probably pass on the PossessedHand.

First, I tend to resist slaving any part of myself out to anything or anyone. Second, when I can eventually play my guitar, I want to know it was my work and skill that enabled me to make a pretty sound and not a machine that did the playing.

About the author

Crave freelancer John Scott Lewinski covers tech, cars, and entertainment out of Los Angeles. As a journalist, he's traveled from Daytona Beach to Cape Town, writing for more than 30 national magazines. He's also a very amateur boxer known for his surprising lack of speed and ability to absorb punishment. E-mail John.

 

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