Angela Natividad's Live & Uncensored!

19 December 2011

Interaxon + the Evolution of Thought Computing

In April I wrote an article on how mind control technologies are worth keeping an eye on because they fall in line with how technology must become more intimate and less visually invasive. At Le Web, CEO Ariel Garten of Interaxon summed this up nicely and provided a roadmap to where "thought computing" is headed (included at the bottom of this article).

Thought computing is the process of eliciting responses with the power of your mind. It's still in its early stages, in the sense that the hardware can't yet detect words or specific commands, but basic interactions are now possible. We can also play with their possibilities via providers of low-cost headsets, like eMotiv.

These headsets work "by reading the electrical signals on our heads," Garten explained. "When you think, or engage in anything mental, your brainwaves change."

Among other things, Interaxon experiments with producing musical interactions and even levitation (example: as your alpha waves rise, so does a chair that's wired to respond to your brain signals). It also built a thought-controlled computing installation at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

"Once you have a system with a human and a computer in the loop, the computer starts to know something about you. And you can participate in the experience together … you can be inside the experience and it'll respond to you," said Garten.

She used Loic Le Meur's wife, Géraldine Le Meur, to give us a live demonstration. By projecting a screen reading signals from a small headset attached to Géraldine's head, she showed us how the signals changed when Géraldine did small things, like blink.

"These responses can be plugged into games," Garten said, and the screen changed to reflect an ambient game setting, which changed in small ways when Géraldine sent subtle signals into the system. She blinked, the clouds moved; she grinded her jaw, and a boat rocked.

Games like Zen Bound 2 are taking these capacities to another level. This iPhone/iPad game tracks your level of focus and meditation with a small, ever-changing ticker on the side of the screen. The more you focus, the faster an object of your choice rotates, for example.

In practical terms, this technology can help us do things like chart unwanted symptoms (like chronic fatigue) or alleviate stress. You can begin understanding how to be in an optimal state, how to avoid being chronically exhausted.

"We can begin to see the underlying narratives that propel us forward," said Garten, who explained that tracking when you're more focused, and less focused, helps you optimise your work and play time.

The Zeo Sleep Trainer, for example, tracks your brain waves while you sleep. You can review its data later to make educated choices about improving your sleep quality.

There are also huge implications for helping children with ADHD: showing them what happens in their own minds can empower them to optimize their abilities to focus -- without Ritalin. They can be encouraged to access and manipulate these states in a gaming environment.

Garten wrapped by providing a roadmap for how thought computing technology will evolve.

  • Development of monitoring and performance tools
  • Sharing and communication tools. Once critical mass hits, functionalities that enable sharing, emotional tagging, dating, and parental monitoring will develop.
  • Responsive technology. Once mainstream, this technology will be as ubiquitous as smartphones are today. Your home, sensing you're cranky or stressed upon walking in, will be able to adjust the environment to relax you.
"This helps technology fit into our lives so that it virtually disappears," she said, observing that technology should not detract, distract or intrude (as it often does today). It should support our mental and spiritual pursuits without cluttering our existence.


Jimmy Little said...

I think the roadmap's missing the obvious use for technology like this. "Responsive technology"? It's a natural for instantly-tailored immersive advertising, no? The future's so bright...

Angela Natividad said...

Advertising will underwrite plenty of great stuff as we explore this technology, too. It'll be fine! It always is.