Arrival of Neural Interfaces
Neural interfaces had already arrived and it offers the potential to support a wide range of activities in a wide range of settings. Mudra, for example, has created an Apple Watch band that allows users to interact with the device simply by moving their fingers — or thinking about moving their fingers. That means someone using the device can listen to music or make phone calls without having to stop what they’re doing. It also opens up enormous possibilities for making technology available to people with disabilities who have difficulty with other user interfaces.
Think of this technology as using your fingers, voice, or eyes to control a computer or play a game. It sounds like science fiction, but it’s becoming more real by the day thanks to a few companies developing technology that detects neural activity and converts those measurements into signals computers can understand.
NextMind’s Journey in Neural Interfaces
One of those companies, NextMind, has been shipping its version of the mind-reading technology to developers for over a year. First unveiled at CES in Las Vegas, the company’s neural interface is a black circle that can read brain waves when strapped to the back of a user’s head. The device isn’t quite yet ready for primetime, but it’s bound to make its way into consumer goods sooner rather than later.
NextMind has invested heavily in virtual and augmented reality. Scott Stein, a tech journalist, paired the $399 device with an Oculus Quest. He described the experience of using his mind to play a game in which he used only his thoughts to make alien heads explode as “rough, but also mesmerizing.” NextMind indicates what a user can select by gently flashing sections of the screen. The user selects one of the flashing sections by “clicking” on it. In this case, clicking entails focusing, sometimes for an extended period of time.
Stein describes NextMind as a “imperfect attempt at creating an input,” but he also claims the device was fairly adept at determining which section of the screen he was attempting to select. “This really knew what I was looking at out of a field of five or so on-screen flashing ‘buttons,'” he said.
Whether you like it or not, machines that can read human brains are making their way into consumer electronics. With this, the question is how far can Technology go?