The Exciting New Frontier of Brainwave Control

A few decades from now, the traditional video game controller might be all but obsolete. People might look back at technology like dualshock, Kinect, and the Wii U's Tablet as charming, but entirely outdated. We've already taken our first steps. Valve is experimenting with all sorts of different bio-feedback technologies. Hardware such as Reactive Grip and the Oculus Rift are well on their way towards establishing truly immersive virtual reality.

This revolution isn't just going to change the way we game, however. It has the potential to shake the very foundations of our culture and society; to completely change the way we connect with and utilize technology. Neuroscientists have been interested in brainwave control for quite some time now, and with video games as a proof of concept...

I do hate resorting to platitudes, but the sky's the limit. 

After all, the technology does already exist: it's existed, in one form or another, for at least several years now, in the form of headsets developed by the like of Emotiv Systems and Neurosky, Incorporated. In both cases, a single electrode is tapped down onto the user's forehead, where it reads the players brain-wave information. The level of concentration or relaxation is then measured and analyzed, thus allowing the player to perform a number of different actions. For the time being, it's fairly rudimentary: it's all most people can do simply to move an object or control the path of a vehicle.

As the technology advances, however...

Imagine playing Skyrim and seeing through the Dragonborn's eyes, moving his or her arm with a thought, rather than a controller. Imagine opening up portals simply by deciding that one should be on a wall across the room from you; imagine firing a weapon with brain-waves instead of a mouse-and-keyboard setup.

To that end, we've already seen the first commercial game designed with this new control scheme in mind. It's called Throw Trucks With Your Mind. While quite impressive (and very, very cool), it also shows us how far we've yet to go before we start concerning ourselves with more complex tasks. That such intense concentration is necessary just to accomplish something as simple as hurling a truck or a tank means that the technology - while certainly advanced - isn't quite at the level of true control quite yet. 

"Ware offered a few tips" about how to control his EEG headset to Chris O'Brien of the LA Times: "Stare hard at a fixed point. Listen to the fan on the computer. Anything to still your cluttered mind, clear away the distractions. It was basically, not unlike trying to meditate; actively trying to empty your mind." 

We're not going to achieve fine motor control quite yet. Even so, the technology is absolutely incredible, and, as I've said, could have some very amazing real-world implications. Of course, it could also have some extremely unfortunate ones, as well. 

"If you're not careful," writes Adam Estes; "hackers could manipulate the game you're playing or program you're using and literally read your mind. A new study by a team of researchers from the University of California at Berkeley, Oxford, and the University of Geneva shows how these devices can give unwarranted access to your private thoughts. By taking some backdoor approaches to reading the electronic signals the brain machines pick up, the team gained access to subconscious thoughts, including the location of the subjects' homes and their banking PIN numbers...the attacker simply embeds the attack in an app, such as a game using the interface. In this case, the malicious game designs and knows the visual stimuli the user is looking at and also gets the brain signal reading at the same time. It's like phishing, only inside your skull." 

It's a bit of an alarmist concept - and not one that's likely to carry much weight any time soon - but it drives home the point that in the not-too-distant future, we may well have to watch what we think if things keep developing as they are. See, there's one thing worth noting here: the team had to coach the people they were testing to get them thinking about what they wanted. Chances are pretty good that if you aren't thinking about stuff like your financial info, you're not going to see that data compromised any time soon. 

We're getting off track. 

What we're talking about here - what I've discussed today- seems so absurd as to chiefly belong in the realm of science fiction. The idea that you could control anything with your brain - least of all electronics- seems like the fever dream of some mad scientist. But maybe one day - in the not-so-distant future - we'll look back on today's interfaces and sadly shake our heads at their archaic nature, all while thinking our way through work and play.