July 10th, 2008 by Kenan Farrell
At what point do we know that technology has gone too far? Looking back at historical waypoints, the answer is easy…when it’s too late. The latest in the line of totally amazing and potentially scary products has emerged. Emotiv, a San Francisco-based (take that, Silicon Valley) tech company has created the new EPOC neuroheadset, which allows computer users to use their thoughts to move an avatar and manipulate onscreen objects.
We’ve envisioned this technology for quite awhile, but it appears to now be getting very close to reality.
The EPOC neuroheadset features 16 sensors that press against a user’s scalp to measure electrical activity in a brain using electroencephalography. A built-in gyro tracks head movement. The sensors can also register users’ moods and facial expressions, merging the data in computer software that “learns” to match readings with what people are thinking.
The platform includes three components:
- The Affectiv™ suite measures discreet emotional states.
- The Cognitiv™ suite detects conscious thoughts.
- The Expressiv™ suite can identify facial expressions in real-time.
Currently, the neurohandset is showcased in a new martial arts fantasy game, where an animated “master” leads players through exercises in a rural Asian setting that include lifting mountains with their minds. But, as Emotiv co-founder Tan Le points out, “There is no natural barrier [to the technology] from what we can see.”
Where there is no natural barrier to technology, you’d better believe some unnatural things will arise. How will the legal community apply its laws to the unbridled depths of the human psyche? Throw cognitive reason, often our last line of defense before doing something terribly stupid, out the window and see what happens.
What if I fall asleep wearing this neuroheadset and my dreaming mind creates some innovative, new and highly copy-worthy object in Second Life? I’d likely still have a valid claim of ownership since copyright law has no intent requirement that would preclude protection (how do you quantify or even qualify the “creative spark?”). But what if instead my naughty dreaming mind decides to recreate something it had seen earlier, in other words make an unwitting “copy.” Is this infringement or an avenue for some new “my mind made me do it” exception? What about creations made under the influence of mind-altering substances?
On the other hand, how about the wonderful new applications that could arise for physically-challenged individuals? Or the potentially bizarre consequences of hooking this up to a mentally-challenged individual? We could come up with interesting possibilities all day long — in fact, if you’re a software developer, you probably should be, the kit for third-party software has reportedly been downloaded from the Emotiv website more than 1,000 times — but the bottom of the rabbit hole usually comes as a complete surprise.
How about this little bit from the article: “Even law enforcement agencies have expressed interest in the headset’s ability to read people’s minds.” Apparently no longer fully satisfied with the cellphone-tapping, camera on every corner, omnipresent surveillance approach, now the fuzz even want inside our minds. Super. Thoughtcrime, anyone?
I just want to be the brainiac who figures out how to farm gold in WoW while he sleeps. It’s all really neat stuff, but we must never forget the poignant warning of Total Recall: “Don’t f*** with your brain, pal. It ain’t worth it.”
VB readers, what concerns or excites you about this new technology?
By the way, for those readers located in San Francisco who enjoy fracking with their brain, you can help with the Beta Testing for the new EPOC neuroheadset. Ongoing sessions are being conducted in July at the Emotiv offices. In true Dickian (Philip K., not Andy) fashion, these sessions will involve brainwave recordings and non-invasive product usability testing. If you are interested, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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