New brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are poised to increase
human productivity, advance entertainment and transform social
interactions. A potential catalyst for all the new media that’s
emerging right now, such devices could play a game-changing role in
the near to mid-term evolution of comm technology.
When I first read Emotiv’s announcement of a brain-wave
reading headset my reaction was lukewarm. But then, as my brain rattled off implication after
implication of this new comm device, it all sank in: “This is
telekinesis. And it’s nearly market-ready!”
Subsequently, a quick search through the Future Scanner for similar
material turned up
a helmet that allows Second Life users to navigate their avatar
simply by thinking about walking. Boom. Another BCI that’s nearly usable. And this one’s been around
for three months already.
After a bit of reflection, I’ve come believe that these
technologies have the potential to truly revolutionize the way that
we play games, drive automobiles, learn in classrooms, surf
information and ultimately relate to other people—and not 20 years
from now, more like 5-10 years.
A product that in 2008 lets you control a video game by
adjusting your mental and emotional states is a big, big deal on
the macro timeline of innovations. It heralds the beginning of a
“The next major wave of technology innovation will change the
way humans interact with computers,” says Nam Do, co-founder and
CEO of Emotiv Systems. “As the massive
adoption of concepts such as social networking and virtual worlds
has proven, we are incorporating computer-based activities not only
into the way we work, learn, and communicate but also into the way
we relax, socialize and entertain ourselves.”
Nam Do may be selling his company’s system, but his message
resonates with me.
Imagine what the near-term successors to these early
BCI’s will mean for brain-to-brain
bandwidth. Together with virtual worlds, augmented reality, new
semantic technologies, (etc), they have the potential to “lube”
social network effects in a fashion that no human has ever
Sound the trumpets. Telekinetic interfaces have arrived and are
here to stay.
What potential near-term applications can you envision for
Researchers at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories have succeeded in partially translating brain activity in humans into images. "While the team for now has managed to reproduce only simple images from the brain, they said the technology could eventually be used to figure out dreams and other secrets inside people's minds." They honed the computer to each tested individual by showing them over 400 different images and recording how their brain reacted. While successful tests have been run so far, the images used in the tests have been fairly simple ones such as the word "neuron."
Anyone who saw the movie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within has to remember how the main character was able to record her dreams for later viewing. And, true to fashion, the images were somewhat cluttered and fuzzy, an excellent representation of where the technology might be in 20 years (due to the erratic nature of dreams and the speed at which they occur, we may never be able to record a dream like we see it sleeping). And while it may lead to reading minds entirely, the "secrets" the team refers to, this technology is universally wanted by gadget-hounds everywhere. Controlling things with the mind will always be the end goal for all of these BCIs.
We've already seen thought-controlled avatars, so it comes as no surprise that robotics represents a new frontier for brain computer interfaces (BCIs). Still, the following video of a human controlling Honda's Asimo via BCI marks a profound socio-technological development, offering a glimpse into the future of work, entertainment and security:
Isn't it interesting that this didn't make its way through national media channels? Just a few years ago human-BCI-controlled robotics would have been perceived as revolutionary.
Last week, a colleague of mine at Future Blogger, Alvis Brigis, suggested that the coming reign of online video broadcasting as the "most ubiquitous and accessible form of communication" may be short-lived. In its stead, he suggested that brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) may replaced it.
To many people the idea of brain-to-computer or even brain-to-brain communication might seem a little "out there." I disagree and think that Alvis is on the right track. As evidence, I submit this recent article on the U.S. Army’s plans to invest in a "Thought Helmut" for voiceless communication. And lest anyone think that voiceless communication is some far-off, fuzzy, futuristic technology just check out this amazing video demonstrating an early prototype of this technology.
Until I can read your thoughts directly, I’d be interested in reading your reactions to this possibility and how you think it may necessitate that we unlearn some things—such as, perhaps, how we communicate in the future.
John Callaham over at Big Download reports that Emotiv Systems, the company that was expected to release a brain-wave controller by the end of the year, is delaying its release due to issues of it actually working. The press release where it was unveiled at the Game Developers Conference may be a sign. "The public demo didn't go as planned; the device simply didn't work in front of the media who attended the press conference." And while the company later explained that the product didn't work properly due to "interference from wireless transmitters," it's probably safe to say that the product didn't work because it simply isn't working.
I guess we all should have seen it coming. A Brain Controlled Interface which is good enough to control video game characters seemed too good to be true for a 2008 release, and I guess it was. What Emotiv probably found out was that technology as specific as this, much like Google's Voice Recognition software, takes a lot of time to perfect. Google 411 has been working for years, using hundreds of thousands of voices to finally make a viable product. Emotiv needs more time to do just the same. The real question is how long will it take? 2009? Let's hope.