Your devices may be on the cusp of understanding you better than any human ever could.
Interaxon, an Ontario-based startup specializing in thought-controlled computing, has plans to release a brainwave-reading headband, Muse, that will let users track and train their minds. Like Ford's "car that cares" or Nike's FuelBand, Muse is one of a growing number of devices monitoring us in increasingly intimate ways that both offer us insights into how we behave and bring tech companies even deeper into our lives.
Described by Interaxon as a “heart monitor for your brain,” the Muse headband syncs with apps on tablets and cellphones to record a user’s emotions, mood, level of concentration and memory in response to various tasks, as well as provide training exercises designed to improve mental acuity. Sensors touching the wearer's forehead and ears monitor brain activity.
But that’s only the first step.
The creators of the slim, fashion-forward device, which even Anna Wintour would conceivably wear, hope that eventually developers will create apps that use Muse so you can control the app with your thoughts. This would include everything from playing games to adjusting electronics in the living room (Interaxon has already built a chair that you can levitate with your mind, as well as a brainwave-controlled toaster). The company will allow developers to access Muse’s “raw brainwave data” to create their own applications that sync with the headband.
Interaxon also envisions using Muse as a matchmaking service -- singles could be paired based on their “emotional reactions to songs or movies,” says Interaxon founder Trevor Coleman -- or to create the ultimate virtual personal assistant.
Like a human assistant, Muse-enabled gadgets would know when we’re stressed and shouldn’t be bothered with a slew of emails or status updates, or what we need to help us focus on the task at hand. These mind-reading devices would also know which emotions are triggered by which songs, and could create personalized playlists that will make us feel energized, relaxed or focused.
“Computers could definitely understand your emotions and respond to them in a way that makes your life better,” said Coleman, who is also Interaxon’s chief operating officer. “The same way a coach both pushes you to your limits and helps you be your best, a computer could respond to you moment to moment and not just be a piece of technology you have to move your life around for.”
Thought-controlled computing would help devices tap into feelings even we might not acknowledge or even our spouses might not know about. But Interaxon chief executive Ariel Garten stresses she doesn’t see screens replacing significant others.
“Technology is here to support human interactions, not take away from them,” Garten said. “To me one of the important features of future research is to understand what it means to be human and to get barriers -- and tech -- out of the way so we can create as freely as we want to.”
Whatever Muse’s application, Interaxon predicts brainwave-sensing devices will soon be as ubiquitous as their touch and voice-controlled counterparts are today. With that pervasive, mind-reading technology will come a "sixth sense" offering a more complete understanding of who we are and what makes us tick, Coleman said.
“Our brain taps in to five senses -- we hear, smell, taste, touch and see -- and what we’re doing [with Muse] is giving you a new sense,” Coleman said. “We’re letting you detect, understand and see things you couldn’t previously detect. “
“When you start to have millions or billions of people wearing sensors, the amount of data generated and the insights we get from that is when this becomes really transformative,” he added.
Interaxon has launched an Indiegogo campaign that seeks to raise $150,000 to manufacture Muse, which would retail for $199. The company has already developed a prototype and hopes to release Muse by mid-2013.