Mind Games: Designing with EEG


Friday, December 21, 2012

EEG — electroencephalography — is almost a century old, and it’s creeping out of the research lab and the neurologist’s office. Headsets embedded with electrodes to read electrical activity in the brain are commercially available, and designers are using that information for all sorts of purposes. On the one hand, experimental wheelchairs can now be guided by brainwaves; videogame companies, inevitably, are exploring game control without a joystick.

Exciting as that may be, Henry Holtzman, the Chief Knowledge Officer of MIT’s Media Lab, feels that EEG has a larger potential. “When people are trying to create these whizbang, EEG-based interfaces, I think they're reaching in the wrong direction, where they're trying to make you excited about the power of mind control,” he tells Studio 360’s reporter, Mark Anderson. “I think about its abilities to do things for you implicitly — to figure out what's going on with you and how you're reacting to things and then take that signal and feed it into how the system works.” One of Holtzman’s students, Arlene Ducao, developed a bike helmet called the MindRider that indicates its wearer’s state of mind with a simple color code. On-task, or reaching a point of road rage?

“This is an entirely new level of social signaling,” says Ariel Garten, of the Canadian technology firm Interaxon. “This is a way for someone to get a signal and open a channel to you that wasn't there before. So in some ways it's easy to write off fuzzy ears or levitating balls” — two new toys that use EEG — “as gimmicks. But they're pretty fundamental shifts in what we can do, and what we can communicate.”

Mark Anderson also spoke with the creator of The Ascent, an interactive theater piece. The participant wears an EEG headset and is hooked up to a theatrical winch in the ceiling. If she can achieve a relaxed state of mind, she levitates off the ground, dozens of feet into the air. But the piece also tries to distract her with light shows, thunderous music, and sound effects. “The kernel of the gaming mechanic is that you need to get into a bona fide meditative mental state in order to make it work,” says Yehuda Duenyas, the creator. “Anything you can throw on top of that only adds to it. I feel like it only benefits from getting more and more ridiculous.” The Ascent uses EEG technology to make high drama out of how hard it is to keep a clear mind. It might be the perfect artwork for 21st century life.


Slideshow: The Ascent

Andrew Federman

For The Ascent, participants wear an EEG headset that is hooked up to a theatrical winch in the ceiling. If they can achieve a relaxed state of mind, they will levitate off the ground. Steve Cuiffo tries to meditate at this performance of The Ascent in Brooklyn.

Andrew Federman

Participant Lucille Ascanio begins her ascent.

Andrew Federman

Ascanio at the mid-point of her ascent.

Andrew Federman


    Music Playlist
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Mark Anderson

Comments [3]

Steve Podobinski from Pittsburgh

I see great potential and great concern. The great potential example - I have to type this, but what if I could just think about it and have the text appear? Or if I couldn't speak, but thinking about what to say and having a voice generated. Or what if you could replay that important thought you just had...if it could be a 2 way system.

On the other hand, could it lead to reading thoughts by developing a device that can focus on someone's brainwaves and possibly hear or see what the person is thinking...

Lots of possibilities and unfortunately the money driving research will likely come from gamers and government.

Dec. 26 2012 03:43 PM
Cavan Power from St Louis, MO

I really wanted to see images of the products discussed on the program so I made sure to visit the website. The problem is that the images and story confirmed my initial impression. The products and uses of EEG are stupid, superficial and little more than mental masturbation of the most self-congratulatory nature. The only people these products would benefit are? Oh wait these products would benefit no one. The gadget-tastic, proto-nerd couch potatoes who would want this stuff should realize the greatest joys of life are essentially low tech: a walk in the park during a beautiful sunny day, a conversation with a new friend, a sexual encounter with a new lover, opening up your favorite book, dropping your children off on their first day of kidergarten. EEG only serves to suppress and distract us from the real joys of life. Our society does not need another excuse to ignore each other. An emotive bike helmet, are you kidding me? I had a mood ring when I was ten and it didn't work.

Dec. 23 2012 06:18 PM
Kevin Roy from Bronx, NY

I'm interested in learning more about the commercial products that you mentioned in your show.

Dec. 22 2012 09:31 PM

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