Does your PC know what you’re thinking? Would you like it to??

Check out this video at TED.org.. I tried to embed it here but couldn’t figure out the right incantation. Here’s the exec summary from TED:

Tan Le’s astonishing new computer interface reads its user’s brainwaves, making it possible to control virtual objects, and even physical electronics, with mere thoughts (and a little concentration). She demos the headset, and talks about its far-reaching applications.

Here’s another video that I can embed, though I like the one at TED better. The demo starts around 12:00 in, if you want to skip ahead.

The company is Emotive and they actually do sell these things for US$299.

I tell ya, I almost ordered one of these yesterday. Not just because she’s so cute but because it looks like a really cool product. Hey, I’m single; I can live on rice for a couple weeks if it means some new ubertoy. Sadly, $299 gets you just the basic package – if you want the developer edition, it goes up to $500. Research editon: $750. Enterprise edition: $2500. Enterprise+ edition: $7500.

I confess to only having browsed quickly through their website but it seems like these are mostly differences in software – the hardware is basically the same. Being a bit of a hacker, I can’t imagine being content for long with just the basic deal. Sigh..

Today, I was thinking about what I’d do with such a thing. I was heading down to Ikea with my friend Bob and his son, Tom. Bob’s driving a little agressively – nothing crazy, though, and nothing I’m not used to. I have to think for about 30 seconds to page in the theme song for Speed Racer before I can start humming it.

In another 10 (or 5 or 20) years, will my cell phone (which is probably still criminally difficult to use) be able to pick up something like “trying to remember; speed racer; theme song” and prompt me with a few bars as we’re driving along?

Or how about having a tune stuck in your head that you can’t remember the name of? Not a problem – just do a quick brain scan. Or how about being able to compose music with such a device. Brain dump straight to a MIDI file, anybody?

And what about places like Pandora and Netflix? They constantly encourage you to rate music and movies so they can do Big Math on your preferences and suggest things you might like. Will we all, someday, constantly be feeding data back into The Machine?

The possibilities really are endless.

I like that car, but not in that color. The girl in that ad is cute. Good grief, is that cologne or did he step in something? This coffee tastes funky. These shoes are comfortable. What’s that new noise my car is making? I’m a frickin software engineer so why can’t I figure this damned cell phone out?

Will, as I wander through the grocery store, the smart-ink price tags in frozen foods think “Oh.. Dave is seriously thinking about that pint of Cherry Garcia but he’s also got a lot of A27 brain waves going on so he’s having a hard time rationalizing it.. I’ll drop the price by 10% and see if I can push him over the edge”?? Or no A27’s happening – Dave has a sugar craving and it’s 2AM – price goes up by 20%?

That’s getting a little scary. I don’t like the amount of data people farm off my activities today – having people be able to farm my actual brain waves is a bit much. The more I think about that (which is hypothetical and not likely to really even happen. Probably not. Not soon, anyway. Or not really soon.) the more creeped out I get.

I’m no longer sure what I think about this product. I guess it is, like most truely new technology, something that’s got huge potential for fun and creativity (not to mention being ginormously helpful to the disabled, in this particular case) while at the same time being pretty damned scary if you follow the potential to the extreme.

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2 Responses to Does your PC know what you’re thinking? Would you like it to??

  1. Sven Hecht says:

    the different editions mostly differ in licensing there are 2 types of hardware. The developer and the research headset.
    The developer edition should be sufficient for everyone who “only” wants to “play” with it.

    The whole thing isn’t that new. Emotiv was founded 2003 and made some news splash because of its founders: Allan Snyder, Neil Weste and Tan Lee.
    Also its first demo in 2008 at E3 got some crazy news coverage.

    There is some competition but Emotiv seems to be the only product capable of somewhat precise input.
    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_consumer_brain-computer_interface_devices

    • Dave Durant says:

      I thought the whole tech sounded familiar but I never really followed it. I think I may have heard that it was a lot lamer than it sounded (like, that it was actually measuring skin/muscle tension or something) and lost interest pretty quickly. Actually seeing the video of this stuff in action was pretty impressive – not at all as cheesy as I thought.

      Thanks for the wikipedia link! I’m going to have to pay attention to the open source stuff happening in this area..

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