Olaf Blanke is founding director of the Center for Neuroprosthetics and holds the Bertarelli Foundation Chair in Cognitive Neuroprosthetics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL). He directs the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience at EPFL and is Professor of Neurology at the University Hospital of Geneva. Blanke’s neuroscience research is dedicated to the study of consciousness and how bodily processing of the brain encodes the self, including such fascinating alterations of the self as out-of-body experiences and ghost sensations. His work includes pioneering technology research in virtual reality and robotics that is dedicated to the control and enabling of complex subjective mental states (i.e. experience engineering). In his medical research Blanke develops devices and procedures for diagnostics and therapeutics in several neurological conditions, including amputation, chronic pain, schizophrenia, and Parkinson’s disease. Blanke has a long-standing interest in the Arts and Neuroscience and recently published “Lignes de fuite. Vers une neuropsychologie de la peinture”. He has published several articles about self-portraiture and has collaborated with the visual artists Melvin Monti, Luca Forcucci, Nicole Ottiger, Isabella Pasqualini, and Mark Boulos.
From bionic limbs and surrogate bodies to digital selves and out-of-body experiences: Neuroscience, robotics & virtual reality
Modern robotic and haptic technology in the form of surgical robotics, prosthetics and rehabilitation robotics has been widely applied for the improvement of surgical procedures, the training of new abilities, and the restoration of lost sensorimotor functions. Unprecedented advances have also been made in neuroscience and especially our understanding of the human brain. This work discovered the dedicated structure and functions of the human brain, including the neural processes and networks that encode how our represents our body in the brain and how these brain mechanisms enable human consciousness and the self. I will first present our recent work in psychology, neuroscience, and digital technologies (virtual reality) that has linked consciousness and the self to the processing of bodily signals by specific neural processes. Next, I will show how these scientific insights, if linked with engineering expertise in robotics and virtual reality can be applied to the design of powerful bionic limbs, aviation robotics and medicine. I will conclude by sketching the future of the full integration of digital technologies with neuroscience and robotics in order to develop what I propose to call experience engineering of body and self.
Founding director Center for Neuroprosthetics, Bertarelli Foundation Chair in Cognitive Neuroprosthetics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology EPFL — CH