Brain Computer Interfaces

Sorting fact from wishful thinking

Images by TED

At TED2019 Arnav Kapur introduced AlterEgo, a breakthrough wearable AI device that allows deliberate silent talking to be used to get information from computer systems. For instance, you can ask a question silently and a device like Alexa would be able to answer.

The idea of controlling the world around us through nothing more than thought has come from science fiction into reality, and is currently trending with a host of consumer products coming to market. But what exactly can these devices do, and can they live up to the hype?

EEG devices like Myndplay and Neurable use small, non-invasive electrodes to measure tiny electrical currents in the brain through the scalp. The goal is to measure the signals generated by neural activity associated with particular thoughts and intentions. The challenge is the pattern of these signals vary between people. The devices are tiny and can easily be swamped by electrical noise generated by other everyday electronics, and the electrodes can sometimes struggle to make good contact with the scalp due to hair or body movement. The idea of driving your car with nothing but your mind is still a long way off.

Image by Neurable

However, this technology can still make quite an impact, especially in experiential marketing and creative applications. The key to is play to their strengths and carefully choose the applications that benefit from this additional user input. For example, a user’s mental state can be profoundly useful when linked to training. Knowing when a trainee is getting tired or when they are focused and engaged allows programs to respond and adapt to the individual, perhaps presenting different questions or suggesting a rest.

Many other good uses exist, including telling if a user is relaxed when meditating, or distracted when performing a task, or excited when seeing different products.

Another advantage of neural data is that it is objective and produced in real-time. Traditionally the only way to capture this information has been via asking the user questions, like how they are feeling or which product they prefer. Now a user’s mental state can be continually recorded and matched to what they were experiencing at the time.

The obvious link between wearing a VR or AR headset and building the BCI electrodes into said headset is a good fit and makes wearing them more acceptable. There are other biometric measurements that lend themselves to VR/AR headsets as well, like Emteq’s measuring of the tiny subconscious muscle movements in the face, or Tobi’s eye gaze tracking.

Image by Emteq

With more sophisticated EEG devices like those used in clinical research, and with a training period to allow the algorithms to recognise a particular user’s brain electrical patterns, a wider range of intentions can be detected more accurately, but this precision is beyond most of the simple consumer devices at the moment.

At INITION we have been integrating EEG devices into experiences for a while now, focusing on the practical benefits this technology can bring to our customers while cutting through the hype. If you would like to try this technology for yourself at our Insight Studio or discuss how you can use the power of thought, get in touch.

Article by Stuart Cupit, CTO, INITION