We’re not talking about the kind of social games where participants screw with each others’ heads for lack of better things to enjoy. We’re talking about troop rearrangements in Microsoft’s Age of Empires without lifting a finger.. Well, that’s at least what Emotiv Systems and NeuroSky, two new California startups promise us, according to The Economist:
HOW would you like to rearrange the famous sarsens of Stonehenge just by thinking about it? Or improve your virtual golf by focusing your attention on the ball for a few moments before taking your next putt on the green-on-the-screen? Those are the promises of, respectively, Emotiv Systems and NeuroSky, two young companies based in California, that plan to transport the measurement of brain waves from the medical sphere into the realm of computer games. If all goes well, their first products should be on the market next year. People will then be able to tell a computer what they want it to do just by thinking about it. Tedious fiddling about with mice and joysticks will become irritants of the past.
Controlling things by mere thought is a staple of science fiction. That fiction, though, is often based on a real technique known as electroencephalography (EEG). This works by deploying an array of electrodes over a person’s scalp and recording surface manifestations of the electrical activity going on under his skull.
At the moment, EEG’s uses are mostly medical. Though the output of the electrodes is a set of crude brain waves, enough is now known about the healthy patterns of these waves for changes in them to be used to diagnose unhealthy abnormalities. Yet, because parts of a person’s grey matter exhibit increased electric activity when they respond to stimuli or prepare for movements, there has always been the lingering hope that EEG might also manifest someone’s thoughts in a machine-readable form that could be used for everyday purposes.
To realise that hope means solving two problems–one of hardware and one of software. The hardware problem is that existing EEG requires a helmet with as many as 120 electrodes in it, and that these electrodes have to be affixed to the scalp with a gel. The software problem is that many different types of brain waves have to be interpreted simultaneously and instantly. That is no mean computing task.
The Economist: Mind games