I used to think that sooner or later we’d get rid of clunky computer input devices and use ‘thought control’ instead. It seems crazy that we’re still wiggling mice and pecking away at keyboards.
Now I’m not so sure.
Today I had a go at an EEG-powered brain-computer interface: the Emotiv EPOC headset. I trained it to move a cube on a screen up and down and backwards and forwards. It’s easy to extrapolate going from this to (say) using it as a TV remote control.
The Emotiv headset is a wonderful piece of kit with huge potential.
It’s a relatively cheap device with which, for example, a person with no motor control could (at the very least) change channels on a TV without having to wait for someone to do it for them.
However, after an hour or two with the Emotiv, I began to realise the advantages of physical interfaces.
Some very non-expert thoughts below…
- A lot of our interactions with things works well because they happen sub (un? pre?) consciously and non-verbally — think of typing (if you’re a good typist), or those times when you make a regular car journey ‘without even thinking about it’, or when you can only remember how you do something (like using a computer program) when you’re actually actually doing it. As it stands, BCIs (Brain Control Interfaces) require you to consciously *think* about what you want to happen. There is, at least as I understand it, no way yet to use this kind of interface to control a computer in the ‘unthinking’ way you type or move a mouse.
- BCIs are inclined to lots of false positives — signals that you didn’t intend — especially if you’re not concentrating 100% on using the BCI controller!
- BCIs require a change in behaviour and, in my experience, interfere with the flow of thoughts.
- At the moment, BCIs are relatively slow — whereas, especially for experienced users, interactions with physical interfaces can be remarkably fast.
- BCIs are difficult to use in environments that are perceptually noisy, or if you’re distracted — let alone when (say) interacting with media which, by their nature, are desgned to evoke sensory responses, thoughts and feelings.
- In our interactions with things, we can do lots of different things (almost) at the same time — for example, in a car: check street sign, indicate, brake, check for pedestrians, change gear, check for traffic, turn. As yet, BCIs require one thing at a time.