Mind Control - A Reality? Ft. Dr Noman Naseer | MRS Podcast
We can control computers through brains, and we can control brains through computers, which actually means we can control brains through brains. I feel like I need a minute just to digest what you just said why does it scare you? It has always been really fascinating for me What scares me is that it will take away my autonomy Brain to brain control can be used for brainwashing. If the students out there, they have trouble that from bachelors to masters That they get restless. Do you have any advice for them? there are some people, who are very intelligent they have very good writing skills.
They're not disciplined enough. They miss the deadlines. So everything is multiplied by zero Assalamu alaikum and welcome back to our podcast. I'm your host Syeda Pakeezah Hashmi and today we're going to be talking about something very interesting and very unique. We will be talking about mechatronics, robotics, and AI. To guide us through this conversation, we have the internationally recognized celebrated researcher, Dr. Nouman Naseer.
He has a Ph.D. in Cogno-Mechatronics Engineering (and) has published 120 research papers that have been cited for more than 3000 times. He's a senior member of IEEE and is the chairman of Department of Mechatronics and Biomedical Engineering. He's also the associate professor at Air University. First of all, Dr. Noman, thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate it.
I was going through a impressive list of work, and what I saw was that at the heart of what you do, it's all about mechatronics. So can you please tell me a little bit more about what mechatronics exactly is? Thank you for having me here. Mechatronics actually is automation of things. I did my all degrees masters, PhD, bachelors in Mechatronics engineering.
So mechatronics systems areactually automation systems. All the systems that are automated are mechatronic systems. They have some mechanical components, they have some electrical components or electronics. And then there's a part which, you know, controls it the decision making or the thing that inculcates intelligence in it that comes with AI, the artificial intelligence. So how would you say mechatronics is different than neuro robotics,or is that completely different? You see, neuro robotics is one branch of mechatronics. In fact, I would say robotics is one subsystem of a mechatronic system.
Robotics is a kind of mechatronic system. And neuro robotics is one part of robotics. And neuro robotics, what we do is we try to control robots through human brain signals, through neurons. globally, you're known for having work done in braincomputer interface, right. So can you tell me a little bit more about the brain computer interface? Sure. So braincomputer interfaces aim to control external devices, computers or robots through human brain signals.
What we try to do is we try to extract the thoughts of human beings and translate those into control commands, which can be used to control external devices and robots. Can you give me a little example of it? One of the applications is Prosthesis, Yeah, the exoskeletons. So those people who get amputation because of some diseases or just some disabilities, what we do is we put prosthetic devices on their arms or limbs, and we try to control those devices using neuronal signals so that they get the real feel of the Prosthetic device. So they feel like their arm is even though its not real or prosthetic, they feel like its a real arm. That's right. So they can control it, like in their own arm.
It's very interesting. And in what other aspects is this being used in our everyday life, brain computer interfaces. See, brain computer interfaces go more than just brain computer interfaces, because what we can do is the opposite of brain computer interfaces as well, which is brains controlled through computers. So we can control computers through brains, and we can control brains through computers, which actually means we can control brains through brains. computers, which actually means we can control brains through brains. And we've been able to do that.
I mean, there are lots of ethical approvals that we need to get, but we've been able to do that. I mean, what you just said, that is quite scary maybe it's all the Dystopian movies and series I've seen. Because we usualy say computer will take over the world.
Artificial intelligence will take over human intelligence. So what you just said, gives me that vibe. So what you just said, gives me that vibe. You see AI being strong enough to take over humans is another story. I mean, there are two school of thoughts. One that people believe is
Artificial intelligence systems, will always be intellectually inferior of the human brain and another group believes that they will be intellectually superior Controlling a brain from another brain, the notion or the idea That does scare people as a scientist in this field, want to ask you why does it scare you? It has always been really fascinating for me If a person is sick, or some person needs a therapy I can cure his brain with my brain directly What is there to be scared of? But this is a very specific scenario If you think about it, that this thing work really nicely once and is refined, that you are taking it to everyday life What scares me is that it will take away my autonomy That somone, without permission is inside my brain, is controlling me You see, science is morally neutral. What we do is we invent a knife and a knife can be used to cut the vegetables and that can be used to kill people. So science is morally neutral. What we need to do as scientists is to make that knife. The purpose of using it should be good That's right. Brain to brain control can be used for brainwashing.
But we should always have this hope and what we should do that it should be utilized with the point of view of therapy and that it could benefit other people So according to you, what steps should be taken that (God Willing) this notion suceeds in future and we can move board and have this brain to brain as you said, in an ideal world is used for therapy and anything of that nature. So what system should be in place to keep it in that specific field? You see, first of all, there should. Be a regularity authority. It should be regulated, just like the AI policy. Unfortunately, does not exist in Pakistan. But it exists in other countries The same way, brain computer interface should have a national policy.
and people should be obliged to use them according to those policies Be it anything, any gun or any armours They have a national policy for their utilization Who are allowed to use them and who are not In which circumstances, are they allowed to use it or not It should not be open for all. In specific cases it should be open for all. For example, it can be used for gaming as well. For now you are gaming with with joysticks or keyboards.
But then you will be thinking from the brains and gaming simultaneously so that technology should be open for all gaming. It's not very harmful. But the other technologies there should be a regularity authority. They should be regulated through a proper platform at national level. This is how it should be controlled.
Do you think, this regulatory authority It's in process of being made. No, not yet.The artificial intelligence policy is being made. In fact, few drafts have been made, but it has not been finalized yet. But the brain to brain interfaces or brain computer interfaces That policy till now, does not exist You said till now its not ethical either So, do you think in the near future. It will be granted as the authority are working towards it You see, getting ethical approvals are hard We have done experiments outside Pakistan we had to go through lots of presentations and explanation of the work. Why are we doing so? What do we want to achieve? And then we got some ethical approvals.
To do experiments on monkeys, rats and some humans as well. Non invasively, but for invasive. Invasive methods are those in which you open brain and then implant electrodes. For this method, permission is not granted yet.
What are the dangers that you foresee in these experimentations? See, the implanted electrodes, that major issue faced is that Surgery is involved and whenever surgery is involved, there are complications. like cuts, scars and stitching Brain itself is not a solid and neither its is a liquid, it's a jelly type substance. In which the electrodes can move from their place This, you know, can also be an issue and the scarred tissues they can build up to be cancerous as well. So these are some of the things which might happen, but the chances of those happening is quite low. But don't you think the gravity of what can happen, even if the chances are low, kind of offset, like an intense thing like cancer? Again, I would give you the example of XRays.
Whenever the doctor tells you to get an XRay done The doctor usually rates what is more harmful, getting an XRay or not getting one If not getting the XRay done is more harmful He'll go for that option, otherwise the other way around. I'm assuming that this is happening on its initial stages this is still like you said, we haven't done these on humans yet this is done all animals, So, according to you how far is it that it becomes into your everyday life decades, The noninvasive one? Maybe next ten years it will be in every house. the invasive ones will take more time You see the basic difference between the both is The closer you are to the source, the better the signal is That's natural So when we put the electrodes above the head Then the signal is not very strong Which effects the processing pipeline and due to this the algorithm needs to be stronger But the non invasive ones involves less health risk We can use them for gaming , general purpose you know just to turn off the lights and fans you just think of doing that and you'll do that. It will be here in next 10 years in sha Allah.
So apart from home automation and you said, in therapy, are there more everyday examples where you see this happening? Home automation, gaming, therapy, prosthesis and there can be many military applications I think that's all. Very interesting. I feel like I need a minute just to digest what you just said So we've talked about the future. Let's talk a little bit about your past. What made you go into mechatronics? I mean, so, automation always fascinated me.
I mean in late 90s. I was, you know, I was a young kid 90s was the era, when you saw these mobile phones coming up and you know the televisions become slimmer and all those things So these things were fascinated me, automation. One way in Pakistan to achieve automation, to do something in automation was to get into mechatronics. That motivated me to do my bachelor's degree in mechatronics engineering Did you face any setback, because mechatronics is a very unique field, from your parents or relatives In Pakistan, it's very normal for everyone to be involved in children's decision about future especially when it comes to studies though So, did you face any setback where people were like what is this field? Not from my parents, my parents were well aware of it but yeah, other family members and some friends and their parents etc as well They could not even pronounce mechatronics well Some of them said, Mega Electronics. So it's kind of a mega electronics or something like that, that's it.
No, it's mechatronics more of an automation and related to robotics so yes initially because I started my degree back in 2001 Yeah. At that time you know no one knew about Robotics and Automation and mechatronics so It took time to make those people understand And some people also said, this isn't a degree, It's a diploma It's just you're not doing is you know, particular degree like civil engineering and mechanical. Such kind of small setbacks did happen. But, we handled it well. So after that, why did you choose neuro robotics? I didn't go into neuro robotics on my own will I got a scholarship in South Korea to work When i went there, my professor had three fields available One of them was mobile robotics, the other one, this vibration control of, you know, overhead cranes and the third one was neuro robotics So he told me that he had three labs and i should spent one month in each one of them and see which one do you want to pursue In each? In each.
So i spent a little time in every one of them , maybe 3 weeks And after that i was sure, that Neuro Robotics is something that i would like to work on That's very nice. So, what are the other subfields for mechatronics? One is neuro robotics, You see, in the subfields of mechatronics, robotics is very famous Industrial Automation is very famous. Smart Homes Energy, Systems, Energy Management, these all, come under the umbrella of mechatronics.
I mean, these days energy crisis, you know, in the country. Then automobile, the lots of, you know, automation in automobiles nowadays. Automobiles are no more mechanical anymore, they are complete mechatronic systems, A lot there more sensors in an automobile then there are in our entire house. So do you feel, that in this field, when you go in to actual real life experience or when you are doing a job, there is alot of scope for it? Absoloutely, absoloutely. Dr. Noman, We have a lot of students who watch our videos
They say they want inspiration,they want guidance So if they want to pursue mechatronics or pursue AI , what advice do you want to give them? You see engineering in general is very fascinating field. You get to build things and mechatronics engineering, I believe is the future. because in mechatronics you have automation and automation is everywhere in the world.
From your house to the watches that you're wearing to automobiles, eveywhere mechatronics exists. Students of our country should choose engineering In engineering, they should definitely choose automation. Whenever you do automation, you want something that is doing a decision making.
Like for a car or home. That decision making comes under artificially intelligent systems. In mechatronics, when you come, you will get to know about artificial intelligence as well. You will get to know about building things, mechanically controlling them, electrically and controlling them through artificial intelligence So all these three things are very fascinating and need of the future.
Future belongs in mechatronics and artificial intelligence. Very fascinating. And you mentioned, one of the future applications in mechatronics is home automation. True. So, can you elaborate a little bit on that? You see, controlling the lights and fans through voice, through hand signals and gestures.
Through, just thinking alone, you know, neuro robotics. This, this is very, you know, fascinating field. And also, you know, sometimes someone can be bedridden because of some temporary or permanent reasons He should not, you know, have to depend on someone else to turn on/off the lights for him. So in this case, home automation here and it would be very, you know, important.
Controlling your house appliances from outside of your home is also very important. Many times, you are not home. For example, you know, when I came back this morning from running. And when I sat in my car, I realized I should turn on my geyser I have to take a shower and the geyser was not on.
And from right there from my mobile, I turned on the geyser. When I reached home, there was warm water. You know, this is very fascinating.
You see, I was giving this example to someone else yesterday. That if we, today, bring someone to this room who died a hundred years ago. He would get confused, he would look at it and say, what is this? How is this light turning on? What is happening? How is this aeroplane flying? and he will ask what is this and how does this work? Maybe even you dont know how it works. But, you know, you would be curious enough. We also dont know how many things actually work.
So once the technology is there, or we are accustomed to it. You live with it, then you become fine with it. I suppose you're right, its not that it is going to that extent tomorrow. It's going to be slowly executed, and you are use to the phase one The process evolves. That's true. So, looking back at your career, is there anything you would do differently, or you wish you had done anything like that? You see, I used to love to play games, but the pressure of society and friends I used to get less time to play and pressure on studying was more Back when i was doing Matric/Fsc in the 90's There was a competition to get more marks in tests, which exists till date And why do you want to get more marks? "Because my friend Taimoor got more marks so I have to achieve that level" Because of this, I couldn't pay more attention to my physical health, sports, games and athletics.
I wish I had done that. I would've taken care of my health simultaneously. Should've been more active in sports. When i look at the children now, who are in their early twenties and active in sports they are doing great actually. So at my age 40, 40 above, I mean I don't have capability to do as much good as they are doing, you know.
So, I would say that the physical activities make that a part of your routine necessarily and give a lot of attention to it. Take an hour out maximum in a day, and whichever sport you love, stay active in it. It affects your body, It affects your mind and it makes you more productive for sure. And this improves your academics journey rather worsening. And this improves your academics journey rather than worsening. Okay, how are you translating all of this into your children? Because will you direct them to a specific field because it has scope now that you have passion for running and passion for being an athletic.
Would you tell them to pursue this side? True, why not. I always encourage them in sports, be it of any kind. They like to do skating, they like to do, you know, the, what you call it the skateboards and they play badminton and other sports. So not not specifically running but any sports they want to play, I encourage them. I do not encourage them a lot in school level competitions In which positions are allotted, they should not have a lot of meaning/importance You mean academically? Academically. Even when it comes to sports, you should enjoy sports You should be good at it.
I mean, it's, it doesn't matter if you win or not. You see, once I met , you know, the teacher of my son in a parents-teacher meeting. And she told me, that your kid came first in maths and also in English subject. But in Islamiat, he came in thirteenith. So I told her that, It doesn't matter that much according to me.
They are studying and that is fine. it should be, you know, a means of social interaction for the kids. Not really, you know, the pressure building and you know positions. When I was leaving, she said, I want to add another thing I said, yes please ask She said, her mother died and she was on a holiday for a few days When I came back, only one student in the class asked about my whereabouts.
and when i told him, my mother died, he said a prayer for her And I said, he was the first position holder for me. So these are the things that matter the most. Agreed. This is what we have to teach the children, life skills, and rather than what position he should be getting in math or science I agree, because I believe these days there is so much pressure on the children that you have to come first in class But in my house, there is a saying, that we just try our best. We don't leave anything blank, we just try our best. Whatever happens, don't worry, just try your best.
Because I have seen, my friends, who were excellent in their studies. And the ones who were average in studies are at the same level. But the ones, who were excellent, growing up they always use to be in pressure and they were tensed about every little thing. But now they are doing the same thing as people who enjoy life.
So why put so much pressure? So, I completely agree with that. Enjoy, relax, and explore other activties. If your studies are defining you as a person, then that's not okay. Find out your passion, find out your hobbies. Absolutely. And you know , if one should focus on something and that is, you know, learning the life skills, how to survive in this, you know, world. You should know how to talk to others.
You should know how to deal with other people. You will come across many kind of people in your life, good and bad both. There are some children in my family they have studied in such schools and environments. That they can go to a local shop and buy anything. They say they do not understand what they are saying.
That should not happen. So, I think emotional intelligence and then knowing way to set boundaries We don't really teach this, or this is really, blind acceptance of authority That if i have said something, you're suppose to listen. Just listent to the authority figure and do what is said But what is your own thinking? So, i completely agree with that. Absolutely. These skills are more important than math and science. Agreed Agreed.
So, Dr Noman, what is next for you? You see I have achieved so much in, you know, academics and research I've published You know, so many papers, have been around the world presenting my work. I mean doing things. I have transferred my knowledge to my students. In fact, recently in my lab, I made my student the head of my lab So, they're taking good care of this field now.
I always wanted to become an athlete actually. So I'm now trying to, you know, run a lot. I've been involved in, you know, some running clubs of Islamabad. I have been able to do some half marathons.
Two months ago, I did a hundred kilometers of cycling around Islamabad. Yeah, so I think I would like to be more involved in sports, athletics etc. In my life to come, yeah. So I have this one question. I've noticed this as well especially with people who have PhDs specifically.
They're very consistent. because in order to get a PhD you have to really consistent, You have to be very focused. And not let distractions distract you. So, If the students out there, they have trouble that from bachelors to masters That they get restless. Do you have any advice for them? What makes you stay consistent And I am a hundred percent sure, with your athletic career In sha Allah you are going to do wonders because you have that cursed characteristics in you to see it through to work hard and achieve that end goal. So, what would you say? What was, what's your advice practical advice? That the students should do to see through to their core.
You see, you need to be consistent and you need to work hard. These two things have worked really well for me. Discipline is very important. You have to be disciplined in your life. I often tell my students, that, You see, I don't remember a single day from the past 20 years. In which i haven't woken up at 5:00 AM.
I cannot remember a day. Even when i am not well. In our PhD, when we write proposals, we try to win grants So, there are some people, who are very intelligent they have very good writing skills.
They're not disciplined enough. They miss the deadlines. So everything is multiplied by zero me. Me, I'm not very intelligent I believe. But I'm consistent. I apply in every grant to come I'll apply in 10, so that i atleast score 2 you see but I'm very disciplined and never miss a deadline Thank you so much Dr. Noman for all of your time and honestly, I learned a lot.
I really, really appreciate it. Most welcome. Take care. Thank you so much for watching. If you're a student looking into getting into mechatronics, I suggest you take the leap. You might be the next person to change the world.
Please like and subscribe and if you have any thoughts, leave them in the comments below. Until next time I'm your host, Syeda Pakeezah Hashmi Allah Hafiz