Thursday, May 10, 2007

Neurofeedback Gaming Interfaces

Lately I've noticed a renewed interest in neurofeedback interfaces. Yahoo News reported on "mind reading toys" and mentioned Silicon Valley gaming companies such as NeuroSky Inc and Emotiv Systems Inc.

Electroencephalography, or EEG, is the basis of these technologies. It measures the brain's electrical activity through electrodes placed on the scalp. Mostly these techiques are used in clinical contexts to help patients with migranes or kids who suffer from ADD. Beyond that there have communities obsessed with neurofeedback technologies since the 60s, claiming to achieve optimized mental performance.

Steven Johnson's book Mind Wide Open from 2005 describes his own encounter with neurofeedback devices. He says: "After the initial amazement had worn off while I was playing the space game at Seiden's office, I couldn't help noticing that I couldn't control the ship with nearly as much accuracy as I could have with a joystick or a keyboard. There's a fuzziness to interaction that would be unpleasant were I actually interested in having an efficient conversation with the computer."


"The almost unthinkable complexity of the brain's information network is necessarily compressed down to a crude language when a machine listens to the collective rhythms of brain waves through the skull."

NeuroSky is about to unveil a headset with brainwave "dry" sensors that won't require a conducting gel to pick up brain activity.

While looking futuristic and usable I wonder how much brain activity they will be able to pick up, when scientific instruments with a lot more sensors produce "crude" results.

Emotiv Systems Inc. "Project Epoc" headset resembles more the know EEG instruments and interface wirelessly with all gaming consoles.

The company's wiki states: "Emotiv uses proprietary, patented algorithms to formulate detections of activities from the reading of EEG signals. These detections can determine a user’s expressions, feelings and thoughts." Apparently the technology picks ups the player's muscle twitches and thus facial expressions. The player's character would smile in synch with the player or "react" to the player with a range of feelings like surprise or anger. In other words interaction with an artificial intelligence.

Last but not least I found a "brainwave dance performance" on youtube. There is an introduction on how the sensors attached to the dancer work followed by pretty bad dancing:)

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