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It's here: a headset that allows computers to read your thoughts—so you can control machines with your mind.

How's this for a big word of the day? Electroencephalography.

Before our proofreader has a heart attack, let’s shorten that to its acronym, EEG. EEG refers to the recording of the brain’s electrical activity. It’s been around for some time, and usually involves placing a maze of sensors around a person’s head, often for neuroscience research, and usually in a lab.

But here's what hasn't been around for a while: it seems that one company, neuro-engineering firm Emotiv, has managed to take EEG technology into the realm of handy everyday device via a "neuro headset" that translates that brain activity into computer commands.

Put differently, the headset, called the EPOC, allows the wearer to control machinery simply by thinking about, or feeling emotionally about, what he or she wants those machines to do.


"EPOC is one of the first technologies allowing machines to understand human emotion in real time," explains Emotiv CEO Nam Do. "Wearing the headset, you can control computer applications or even chat with another person using an avatar showing your real expressions."

That means, in theory, anything digital—desktop computers, smart phones, online games—to anything mechanical—heavy machinery, wheelchairs, even automobiles—can potentially be wired for mind control. And it’s now for sale.

The idea for EPOC first surfaced in 2003 when Emotiv’s cofounders, Tan Le, Allan Snyder, and Do, met for a dinner that led to a lengthy conversation about humans and machines.

"It occurred to us that, since the beginning of mankind, communicating between humans and machines has always been in a conscious form," explains Do. "From turning on a switch to programming computers, we are consciously telling machines what to do."

What the three wanted to explore was making this intercommunication more like "human-human" interaction, says Do, because human communication is much more complete: despite all the chattering, laughing, yelling, and high-fiving, humans also rely, without really thinking about it, on nonverbal communication such as subtle body language and readable emotions.

"We felt it was time that human-computer interaction moved toward that," say Do.

The result, the EPOC, is a work of wonder. For starters, it's elegant, maybe even techno-fashionable; the design looks like an advanced, albeit more spider-like, set of headphones rather than something that belongs in a medical lab.

What it's able to do is read your "Cognitiv" intent, as in your conscious thoughts; if you think about moving an object on a screen, the object will move. It's also able to read your "Affectiv" self, aka your emotions—excitement, boredom, engagement. Finally, it's also able to read your "Expressiv" self—the headset picks up on your facial expressions and can translate them to a digital avatar, in real time.

How it works: the headset has 16 sensors that sort of embrace the sides of your head, reaching out from a unit that curves around the back, which fits just over the ears. Each sensor measures the natural electrical activity of your brain to detect your thoughts, feelings, and expressions, and then wirelessly transmits those signals to a computer, which right now means most PCs, thanks to apps designed to pick up the signals.

For example, one application offered by Emotiv is a Mind Photo Viewer, which allows users to index and find their digital photos by thinking about them. Another, the Windows-based NeuroKey demonstration app, allows the headset wearer to control keyboard characters with brain activity, while yet another app plays music based on the EPOC owner’s mood.

The apps, like the age of mind-control devices such as the EPOC, are still in their infancy, and the headset still has limited availability in the U.S. But, says Do, a community is building up around the technology, and "already we have 3,000 developers creating applications for the EPOC, everything from medical uses to market research to online gaming."

But the real excitement lies in the possibilities, and this is where Do really sees his company's neuro headset taking off: "Imagine a world where a physically impaired person can freely compete on a computer game like Street Fighter, a completely paralyzed person is able to communicate with their loved ones, or a Lexus plays the right music to calm you down when it realizes you’re stressed."

Now that's using your head.

Reprinted Courtesy of Lexus Magazine



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