It’s All in Your Mind

599px-WeirdTalesv31n3pg281_Thing_on_the_FloorOne of the most interesting new technology developments are devices that work with mind control. This field of research and technology is generally referred to as brain-computer interface (BCI) or sometimes as mind-machine interface (MMI). The technology got its start in trying to get prosthetic limbs that the wearer could control as if it was a natural limb. That goal has not yet been fully achieved but there has been a lot of progress made.

Like many new technologies, this one is seeing the first commercial successes in the area of toys, games and personal electronics. The end-game hope is that this technology will probably let us think commands to our personal computer assistants instead of walking around muttering to ourselves. The technology is moving off the drawing boards and is now being used in devices designed for the masses.

To me the most interesting of these devices is the Muse from InteraXon. This is an updated version of a biofeedback machine. I first used biofeedback in the late 70s and there were some primitive EEG machines that could tell you when you achieved a brain state of either alpha or theta waves. I personally played around with this as an aid to help learn to mediate more efficiently. And it took a while, but eventually meditating using biofeedback helped me to recognize the targeted states of mind I was seeking and it did make me better at meditation when I wasn’t connected to the machine.

The Muse is a small headband that gives instant feedback to your cell phone or tablet. Rather than just being a device that can help you mediate, it can be used during the day to understand how your environment affects your state of mind. We are all different and the Muse can help you understand what the effect is on your brain or running up a flight of stairs or having that second cup of tea. You can finally see those activities that either put you into a better state of mind or that dull your mind. So the device becomes a personal brain trainer where you can chart your states of mind to help you understand how you personally can best achieve focus and mind clarity when you need it. We are all different, and this will tell you what affects you personally in a way that has never been available until now.

But Muse can also be used for gaming and there is a software developer’s kit that is allowing coders to develop apps for using the headband in many ways. Some simple applications already in use have the Muse giving you the ability to change the song you are listening to on your music service. There are also apps which let you control the movements of computer avatars. The potential for making games based upon the headset are almost endless.

But the real potential for the Muse and other BCI devices is in the medical field. This technology could provide a way for people with traumatic brain injuries, stroke victims or people with disabilities to communicate with the world. The technology can to give them access to everything a computer can do just by using their mind. There is also the potential for the technology to help people cope with things like rapid mood changes since it will provide visible feedback of the state of the mind.

Of course, as a guy I also must mention the other cool use of the technology. You can now go to Amazon or to various crowdsourcing sites and find all sorts of devices that can be controlled by the mind, including cars, toy helicopters and even a drone. And there are many more such devices under development. What guy doesn’t want to spend an afternoon in a parking lot mind controlling a robot car or helicopter? There is no real social benefit of this kind of toys other than pure fun!

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