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Emotive EPOCAt 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:

Emotive GameCurrently, 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.”

Emotive LogoVB 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

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10 Responses to “Commentary: Neuroheadset Technology Lets Your Mind Control Your Avatar, Commit Thoughtcrimes”

  1. on 10 Jul 2008 at 2:00 pmDoubledown Tandino


    ( I just thought that wow, I didnt even type it, in fact, I’m not even typing this, wait a second, I missed an apostrophe, how do I go back, I need to get a grip on myself, where is my life going, what is the meaning of this, hit submit before my mind rambles on more, hit sumbit HIT SUBMIT )

  2. on 10 Jul 2008 at 2:36 pmMichael Donnelly

    It doesn’t seem that exciting from a legal perspective. It just removes the “meat” step in the “mind -> meat -> mouse” flow. The ramifications of using it while asleep or on drugs are the same as using a regular mouse under similar circumstances. It’s still the person causing the action.

    It is very exciting from a technical development standpoint. I firmly believe that technology can’t go too far. I’m ready for Neuromancer/Snow Crash today, as my hands can barely keep up with my mind – and that’s at 90wpm!

    Also count me in on the chilling in unison at the prospects of law enforcement going in there.

  3. on 10 Jul 2008 at 2:55 pmBenjamin Duranske

    Yeah, sometimes we wedge the legal stuff in because something is just too awesome-scary-cool not to talk about. There was no way I wasn’t going to run this once Kenan spotted it. Like Doubledown said… “WOW!!!!!” There are some real legal issues here though. One is that there’s a good argument that this is an accurate polygraph (lie detector) at least in specific circumstances. The company even pitches this in the linked article. Apparently, if you’ve seen an image before, your brain fires differently than if you have not. Admissible evidence?

  4. on 11 Jul 2008 at 6:25 amYak

    Xcite! add ons for this headset must be in the making…

  5. on 11 Jul 2008 at 6:43 amAdz Childs

    Impulse control is a valuable skill.

  6. on 11 Jul 2008 at 8:54 amDoubledown Tandino

    Yeah, I mean, as we can see… the neuroheadset gets introduced and the everyman computer nerd (all of us) thinks about gaming and porn uses…. so once again, I am glad laws and ethics will take a long time to catch up to this…. Someone’s gonna have to do some sort of crime with it before it seems to be at “potential crime” stage.

    To be perfectly honest, I hope this technology gets geared towards interpreting and reproducing visuals of dreams and REM sleep…. that sounds cool as hell… and once someone goes around thieving other people’s dreams and selling bootlegs, then my dreams for the future of this technology might get tread upon.

  7. on 13 Jul 2008 at 6:38 amcyn vandeverre

    Also to wonder about is the use for the military — see Wired’s recent article:

    Kestrell, a blogger who writes about disability and technology, notes that “The Wired article briefly mentions some of the brain-computer interface research being done in the U.S., but doesn’t mention that almost all such research, along with research into other sorts of external or internal (i.e., brain) prosthetics, is funded by the Department of Defense.

    This was one of the patterns which emerged in my thesis work on disability and technology: while the development of new technologies is often contextualized as a means of “helping” the disabled, it is often primarily intended to help the military.”

    Kestrell’s blog post:

  8. on 13 Jul 2008 at 10:39 amRakyth

    Just a little reminder. I read about this on another website, and in fact, it’s very primitive(as far as I know), and sometimes mis-reads a thought. That being said, you would ‘move mountains’ by activating certain parts of your brain(Like doing 2+2=4 and some other thing would make you move forward or kick in right in front of you, more math might equal more power in the kick, taking the martial artist game as a likely example.)

    Though, I’m not thoroughly convinced it’s accurate enough for them to tell *exactly* what you’re thinking, just the feeling behind it.

  9. on 16 Jul 2008 at 11:30 amDoubledown Tandino

    has anyone been tested for brain cancer or radiation poisoning yet?

  10. on 16 Jul 2008 at 1:15 pmKenan Farrell

    Doubledown, that’s what beta is for!

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