Image credit: Mindball
Technological innovations can sometimes seem so far-fetched that they appear out of reach, resigned to only a theory or an idea, with just the faintest glimmer of hope that one day they can become real.
We can speculate on future tech as much as we like, sometimes it will just never be feasible. An elevator to the moon, human photosynthesis and teleportation devices have all long been thought of as (technically) possible, yet so far beyond our comprehension that it could be decades or even centuries until we make the breakthrough. Maybe we never will.
However, in some cases, distant dreams can become present-day realities.
Is Neuralink the future?
Elon Musk, no stranger to far-flung technological pondering, recently announced Neuralink, a brain-machine interface which aims to give us a “superpower” by vastly increasing the speed at which we take on and offload information.
Musk calls it bandwidth, and, according to the serial entrepreneur, we have very little. Using our “low bandwidth” two thumbs we tap away on our smartphones gathering and inputting information. We can speak in many languages, refined over centuries for precision and detail. You could say that we’re sufficiently capable, right?
To us, the way we retrieve and distribute information, our input and output, seems lightning-fast. We feel that we have reached peak human. Musk disagrees. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO argues that we are not the last step in evolution and that there is a long way to go if we are to keep up with technology, which is advancing at an exponential rate. Soon, it will be out of our reach. “Time is running out,” he says.
So how do we keep up? Neuralink might be years away from becoming a reality, but there are some technologies already on the market which aim to augment humankind. These novel ideas based on an old technology tap into our true abilities, if only briefly, to give us a glimpse of a future when brain-machine interfaces will be more commonplace, supercharging us and, in theory, unlocking our limitless potential.
Mindball has developed a peripheral that uses an EEG (electroencephalogram) monitor to capture electrical signals from the brain through sensors in a headband. The game is simple, really. The player moves a physical ball across a table using their mind alone. On the other side of the table, an opponent seeks to do the same. Unlike traditional games of adrenaline and activity, Mindball requires concentration and focus. Players must relax and hone in on their thoughts, so the headband can convert those electrical signals into action.
Epoc+ by EMOTIV
Another EEG-based device, the Epoc+, also reads brain waves. In this case, however, its creator EMOTIV aims to harness the data collected through the use of the headset to gain marketing insights. The Epoc+ claims to be able to “bypass traditional methods of market research that rely on what people tell you, and go straight to the source – the brain.” In reading true, unfettered emotions directly from brain waves, EMOTIV believe that the insights garnered from the use of its innovative headset give a more well-rounded and accurate representation of opinion. One could imagine real-time data streamed directly from the device of a user watching, let’s say, a movie screening. What did they find funny? When were they less attentive? What parts excited them? In theory, the Epoc+ can tell you exactly.
Necomimi by Neurowear
One of the more tongue-in-cheek examples of a brain-machine interface is Necomimi. Created by Japanese company Neurowear, the Necomimi reads human emotions through brain waves, sending the responses to a tail affixed to a user’s behind.
“People think that our bodies have limitations, but just imagine if we had organs that don’t exist, and could control that new body?”Neurowear
Mimicking a cat’s tail, this off-the-wall device can convey complex emotions with unique movements corresponding to shame, excitement and fear. The same company has also produced a set of cat ears, which sit atop the user’s head, working in much the same way. Neurowear’s devices can hardly be described as “unlocking our true potential”, but this quirky way of communication could be applied to other technologies in the future.
The common thread running throughout these innovations is EEG. Discovered over a century ago in the late 1800s, the EEG is an old, yet still accurate, way of recording electrical signals in the brain. In 1988, an EEG was used to remotely control a robot for the first time, and many companies developing brain-machine interfaces today use these same basic principles.
Elon Musk’s Neuralink looks to take the EEG one step further affixing implants, called “threads”, directly to the human brain. Whether the project fulfils its lofty ambitions and is successful remains to be seen. We could still be decades away from knowing if Neuralink, and innovations like it, will be commonplace one day.