In five years, we’ll simply be able to think something, and a computer will respond. That’s the vision from IBM, which just published its “5 in 5″ forecast, which attempts to predict five technologies that have the potential to significantly change our lives in the next five years. One of the more surprising candidates: machines that will read our thoughts.
Well, not exactly, IBM Senior Inventor Kevin Brown told Mashable. The idea is a little more down-to-earth — and less scary — than the science-fiction scenarios of mind-reading robots that the description evokes. IBM’s vision is this: a person wears a headset (shown above, worn by Brown) that can detect general electrical signals from the brain, and sends them to a computer. Sophisticated software interprets those signals and, in turn, tells a machine what to do.
“One of the common misconceptions is that this headset is reading your thoughts,” says Brown. “It’s not. It’s just reading a level of excitement. It’s not understanding.”
The technology behind the idea has existed for a while. The headset, which costs just $299 and is made by a company called Emotiv, is able to detect electrical signals in the brain (via electroencephalography, or EEG) as well as muscular movements (electromyography, or EMG), both well known in the medical community.
Once you have those signals, Brown says the real magic begins, which is the ability to map signals to different actions. By doing so, the user is effectively teaching the machine how to read a specific mind. In much the same way speech-recognition software gets tailored to an individual’s accent, inflections, and pronunciation, the mind-reading software can adapt to a person’s unique “thoughts.”
The next step is mapping specific thoughts to specific actions, analogous to programming a universal remote control. The key here is that the thought and action don’t necessarily have to be the same. For example, if you want to use the headset to, say, turn on a TV, you might program the headset to perform that action when you think about kittens.
“Any device can take that [headset] data and do something with it,” says Brown, “So you might have a fan come on or you might have a room light change color based on certain excitement level.”
The idea of walking around your house wearing an elaborate headset (you can see it here) has unfortunate echoes of another technology that was supposed to change our lives but flopped: 3D. However, the tech has already come a long way from the hospital-level EEG devices, which needed gels applied to the skin and hard-wire connections. An Emotiv competitor, NeuroSky, has a sleeker (though less capable) headset. Brown is confident progress could make it even more compact.
“At the moment there’s a little bit of trade-off between technology looks,” Brown admits. “But one of the key things is finding a really use that actually makes people want to wear it.”
Brown’s alluding to the mind-reading tech finding a “killer app.” As far as what that could be, he says it’s only limited by what you could connect the headset to, and — if the tech is cultivated into a full-fledged platform with developers, apps and iterative updates — that could be a lot. Thinking big, Brown suggests large-scale data about how people are feeling could become a tool for marketers and sociologists.
“If you also think about smarter cities,” Brown writes in a blog post. “If everyone is wearing the device and open to sharing their thoughts, city heat maps could be created to see how people are feeling to create a picture of the mental health of a city. Or musicians could create elaborate pieces based on what they are thinking about.”
What are your thoughts on reading thoughts? Would you wear a headset to control things with your mind? And what about sharing your real-time feelings in some kind of public network? Let us know in the comments.
Article source: http://feeds.mashable.com/~r/Mashable/~3/HSg5o85wmek/
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