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Mind-Controlled Computers on the Horizon

Technology has come a long way from mainframe computers housed in behemoth-sized refrigerated rooms with keypunched programming. Touch screens and voice recognition are newer advances. However, in ten to twenty years, anyone will be capable of programming a computer … with their mind.

Dr. Frances Van Scoy, Associate Professor of Computer Science in the Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at West Virginia University, says,

Once human thought can communicate directly with computers, a new world will open before us.

Dr. Van Scoy’s laboratory, the Virtual Environments Lab is at the forefront. Her research is to monitor people’s brain activity in real time and to recognize specific thoughts. She calls it, “computing at the speed of thought.”

Dr. Van Scoy says,

My own research hopes to develop the next phase of human-computer interaction. We are monitoring people’s brain activity in real time and recognizing specific thoughts (of “tree” versus “dog” or of a particular pizza topping). It will be another step in the historical progression that has brought technology to the masses and will widen its use more in the coming years.

Open BCI is a low-cost, open-source project that allows people to assemble their own non-invasive neuroheadsets that capture brain activity. In time, these hardware/software systems could recognize nouns you thought about within a few minutes. These thoughts could also be replayed.

Headsets will one day translate thoughts directly to the computer.

Headsets will one day translate thoughts directly to the computer.

Dr. Van Scoy adds,

Once low-cost motion capture becomes available, I envision new forms of digital story-telling.

This technology could be a boon to writers. A writer could imagine characters, their environment, interactions and dialogue. These thoughts could translate to the first draft of a short story. Even more exciting, the thoughts could become a video file showing the scenes and dialogue as generated in the writer’s mind/imagination.

For gamers, this technology could allow players to write their own games by developing characters and scenerios with their minds. For instance, a group of friends could act out a story and capture their actions to 3D avatars that can reinact the details in a virtual world. Multiple perspectives could be presented. Thus, ideas conceived in the mind can be translated into virtual experiences.

Actually, this concept is already becoming reality with a game developed from a partnership between the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and Australian-based tech firm, Emotiv.

Emotiv uses headsets that are embedded with sensors that record electrical activity in the brain and are attached to the wearer’s scalp, forehead and above the right ear. Sensors measure and monitor brain waves. Patterns are converted into commands using a brain-computer interface.

Emotiv's latest technology

Emotiv’s latest technology

The car chase game has a “driver” wired up to Emotiv’s electroencephalography headset and a device trained to read “driver”/wearer’s unique brain patterns. The headset learns the wearer’s “neutral state” and the wearer is asked to think about the repetitive tasks involved in driving a car. After the headset is trained, the game begins. As brain patterns are being recognized, the wheels on the car begins to spin. Brain waves move the small car around the track. Two players are wired to headsets and race the cars.

What begins as a simple game will one day lead to newer and greater innovations. There is such a thing as “mind over matter.”