When I was growing up I was a big fan of science fiction. A lot of the books that I read had some sort of flying car as standard. By the year 2000, we were supposed to have flying cars everywhere. Instead we got a computer bug which never happened and really small phones.
The other technology which featured in the books I read was something that nobody expected but which has appeared as a tech trend this year – telepathic technology. We already have technology that can track changes in human physiological systems and respond in ways that change behaviour. Wearable technologies and the monitoring of personal data (transactional, physiological, behavioural or emotional) already allows for that feedback.
Monitoring technologies are not new. Since about 1200AD we have been using crystals that were set in bone or leather frames to enhance what we focus our attention on. We use clockwork and digital mechanisms to measure the passing of time. Today we have Nike sportsbands, Pebble watches, Google Glass and the rumoured Apple smartwatch is supposed to be on the way. All of these technologies are designed to monitor the personal data which arises out of our activities and to use that to feed back into more relevant content.
The big leap has been in feedback technology. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) allows us to see what is going on in our brains by measuring the blood flow. It is now used by courts in America as a way of detecting if someone is telling the truth or not. Electroencelography (EEG) taps into the electrical resistivity of our scalps. Combine the two of these and you have telepathic technology. Last year, two researchers divided by the Atlantic but linked by EEG caps managed to use thought to communicate. There was no external signal that was sent by one and acted upon by the other. This was an internal thought from one brain to another which caused an involuntary physical action to occur. One guy imagined pressing a button while the other guy felt his finger move downward in a button pressing motion.
Anything related to the human mind and psychology will be of interest to those in a number of different fields, most noticeably affective computing (Techtarget, 2013), HCI, medical health and the military. DARPA are currently prototyping an early warning telepathic system to ease the strain on soldiers by using radar and camera technology to detect danger on the horizon. In the past this would often miss possible threats but the combination of an EEG helmet is returning a 100% success rate because it utilises the inbuilt mechanisms of the brain while also ensuring that the soldier remains alert and calm (Darpa, 2012). Stress reduction is an area where telepathic technologies are already being used. New headbands like Muse and Emotiv train the brain and relax the user. By linking to an app, the user is connected to audio content of a storm and by calming the mind, the wind will die down in their ears (The Spec, 2014).
MIT have developed telepathic technology for addicts and sufferers of PSTD which incorporates wearable technology that recognises crisis moments and intervenes with appropriate digital content and social networking messages designed to calm the patient (MIT, 2013). Autism researchers are also utilising it to help children make connections and communicate in different ways.
While telepathic technologies are expensive at present, they are starting to come down in price. Toy manufacturers were quick to use them for gaming. MIT have developed a gesture guitar which allows musicians to manipulate sounds. There are also audio headsets that plays music that mirrors the mood it is reading from your brain. Game manufacturers are creating brain wave games. Mattel have a mind powered ball game called Mindflex which moves a foam ball along a path by concentrating. There is also a “Force” trainer which used the mind the turn a fan which floats another foam ball in the air.
Retail were quick to see the benefits of monitoring emotional reactions to products and layout. They can see what users like, how they react to choice, when they get overwhelmed and when they respond with wonder. This helps create more engaging experiences for the customer.
The combination of personal data from the user combined with targeted products has already allowed designers to create highly personalised experiences such as mind controlled cars or the ability to change digital objects which reflect the user. Perhaps the biggest impact will be on people rather than products. Our ideas of access, privacy and surveillance are changing as it is. What happens when communication is done through thought? What will we do with all this hardware we carry around in our pockets? Will it become obsolete? Will our children look back and laugh at the thought of when we used to stop what we were doing, pull out a cumbersome old fashioned smart phone and start to tap and swipe at it like a woodpecker. With this sort of technology they should be able to bypass all that hardware. Will telepathic technology turn us all into our own computers? Why bother with pesky design software? Why not just imagine what you want and then print it through your 3D printer? The potential future uses of telepathic technology are limitless.
JWT Intelligence accessed http://www.jwtintelligence.com/2014/03/10-overriding-themes-sxswi-2014/#axzz2wvQ62ehm March 25 2014
The Spec accessed http://www.thespec.com/living-story/4422069-muse-headband-may-help-you-relax/ March 25 2014
Techtarget accessed http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/affective-computing March 25 2014
MIT accessed http://affect.media.mit.edu/projects.php March 25 2014
Darpa accessed http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2012/09/18.aspx March 25 2014