Monday, April 23, 2007

Telepathy UIs

Here is a rundown of "brainwave" game controllers. (bonus idea included)

I first heard about an implementation of one of these in the early 90s by a company called "the other 90%" run by former Atari founder Ron Gordon. AFAICT, very few were sold. Anyway, I still believe it worked. So I had a discussion with someone about this last night. He didn't believe it. Here is some history on the topic:

1974 - EEG control (Sobell - VA Neuropsychology Lab) - Still looking for the actual research study.

1996 - CNN reporting on The other 90% (Atari's Ron Gordon) MindDrive application:

2004 - BBC reporting on MIT implementation

2006 - MSNBC interviews Don Clark of Wall Street Journal reporting on Emotiv game controller.

The reason this works is twofold. First, the composite electrical activity of your brain can be measured and decomposed by frequency and a half dozen clean signals can be discerned. I would call these brainwaves but, according to wikipedia, that is frowned upon for some reason. Second, these patterns change according to thought activity, which is under our control.

Anyway, if one reads about non-invasive brain computer interfaces, it becomes apparent that there is plenty of research in the area. There are also several successful and useful implementations. Not all of them EEG based.

Bonus Idea:

Wouldn't it be cool if:

My jabra bluetooth headset could also send composite brainwave activity to my wildly powerful cell phone, or maybe even my uber-powerful computing cluster at Name_Your_Favorite_Company? In that case, I could generate messages by thinking, while the headset reported the current character.

I have heard somewhere that these game controllers allow you to manipulate 6 tokens based on training them to understand when you think in certain ways.

The first idea that comes to mind is the concept of scrolling through groups of tokens. Lets try sending telepathic messages to each other with just the thoughts Up/Down. (After taking a look at some EEG decompositions, two tokens is, for some reason, quite believable to me.)

Me: Think Up
Headset Audio: "A through E"
Me: Think Up
Headset Audio: "F through L"
Me: Think Down
Headset Audio: "F through L it is - F"
Me: Think Up
Headset Audio: "G"
Me: Think Up
Headset Audio: "H"
Me: Think Down
Headset Audio: "H is the first letter."

You get the idea. So you form some text, which gets sent to whoever you are configured to send this stuff to. This gets converted to speech and played back in their headset. They, in turn, send you text with their bluetooth audio/telepathy headset.

Not at all the best UI, but if you can really train yourself to manipulate six binary tokens, the sky is the limit. Can't you just see schoolteachers spectrum-jamming bluetooth signals?

I would appreciate a study that shows a Non-Invasive BCI that was reliably trained to a larger number of tokens. Until then I'll limit my imaginings to two.

Even with two, it is easy to see that the combination of mic/earpiece/brainwaves is powerful. Imagine setting the context with voice: i.e. saying "computer doors" or "computer radio volume", then just thinking up or down to lock or unlock the doors, or control radio volume.

I hope that no one patents this crap and charges exhorbitant amounts of money for this type of tech.

Update: I have to add this link to a cool open-source EEG hardware project:

You would be surprised what you can find in Open Hardware these days. I will post specs of all the components of the device I describe if I have time. There should be prior are for every component.