It's the stuff of sci-fi movies -- mind control, where you just direct your mind to make something happen and it does, such as using your thoughts to mentally control a space ship. But more and more your brain waves have the power to actually manipulate and move objects.
The early work on mind control goes back nearly 100 years with the discovery of electroencephalography (popularly known as the EEG) by German psychiatrist Hans Berger, who made the first EEG recordings in 1924 and first reported on the rise and fall of alpha and beta waves. Then, in the 1970s, biofeedback became a big craze, and I went to numerous workshops at Esalen and in San Francisco, where the goal was to relax to increase one's alpha waves, associated with calm meditation and creative thinking, and reduce one's beta waves, associated with the everyday awake state and logical thinking.
Now new mind control devices are taking this ability to a whole new level, though rather than scientists taking the lead, the gaming industry seems to be leading the charge. While the equipment could have other uses for doctors, psychologists and other professionals working with the mind, developers are creating equipment that gamers can use to play with their minds.
For example, one developer, NeuroSky, based in San Jose, has created a MindWave Mobile headset with a forehead sensor that recognizes electrical signals from the brain, as Benny Evangelista describes in "NeuroSky Expands Games with Your Mind." Ironically, this sensor uses the same EEG technology already used in hospitals, but with a high-tech twist, since the headset transmits the EEG signal via Bluetooth to an app, so you can play the game. Among other applications, the company has already developed a game to help children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) focus their minds more. Other app makers have created games where you drive a virtual truck or control a toy helicopter with your mind.
The way the technology works is that you think really hard to control a game piece or character. For instance, in this Gajitz.com article "Four Games You Control With Your Brain," gamers wear a head set and concentrate to move a tiny ball through a 3D plastic maze. The more you concentrate, the more a fan blows so the ball floats higher, so by controlling the intensity of your brainwaves, you can raise and lower the ball to push it through the maze. With the Star Wars Force Trainer from Think Geek, you concentrate to send the flow of air to Yoda and move up the Jedi ranks.
And other mind control technologies provide even more complex applications. For instance, the Neurosky Mindset includes a "Brainwave Visualizer" that lets you control on-screen shapes with your mind. A Math Trainer enables you to answer math questions with your mind. The company also has a MindHunter game in which you can fire a weapon by concentrating hard enough, or you can use the Mind Labyrinth where you travel by meditating through 52 levels of an ancient temple as your relax more and more.
And Emotiv has its own headset to play a variety of concentration games on a Windows PC, including one where you push and pull boulders, levitate objects and engage in other telekinesis-like activities. For instance in "Call of Duty" and "World of Warcraft" you use your thoughts to control a computer instead of a keyboard or mouse.
And in still other applications, you can use the technology to express your mood, such as moving catlike-ears to show if you are more focused (ears up) or more relaxed (ears down), an application developed by NecoMiMi, a Japanese partner of NeuroSky. You can even change the outcome in a movie by concentrating and relaxing to choose alternate plot lines and endings, in a device developed by MyndPlay Ltd., based in London.
But while these developments are just for fun, the technology has applications for doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and others to improve mental health, since the attention and focus to control a game can calm the mind, according to a Wall Street Journal article by Timothy Hay citing psychiatrist Michael Brody, a psychiatrist teaching at the University of Maryland.
Also, the data can be used for tracking and sharing with others. For instance, the Muse, developed by InterXon, has an app which collects data and beams it to the cloud, so an individual or others sharing this data can look for patterns of brain activity. Plus you may be able to use the Muse to get feedback on the state of your own mind and train your cognition, so you become more productive, increase your memory retention and break bad cognitive habits that might contribute to depression and anxiety, improving your mood and your thinking, according to an article by Taylor Hatmaker, where Erica Dixon, a member of the American University's Center for Behavioral Neuroscience lab, cites the "distinct advantage" of the "portability" of such devices.
One danger of controlling your brain activity through digital devices or tracking it in the cloud is that others can tap into this information, so they can learn about you by picking up your brain waves. It's a potential danger to personal privacy as Andy Greenberg describes in a paper presented at a Usenix security conference.
A group of researchers from the University of California at Berkeley, Oxford University and the University of Geneva studied 28 subjects using the NeuroSky and Emotiv brain devices, and could use the electric signals from the subjects' brains to reveal hints of personal information, "including the location of their homes, faces they recognized, and even their credit cards and PINs," by noticing what their EEG data signaled about what they recognized or didn't, according to an article by Andy Greenberg in Forbes Magazine.
In short, a mind-control revolution is coming in which people can increasingly use their minds to control objects, moods, and assorted devices. But while this has all kinds of positive uses apart from fun game play -- such as potentially improving cognition and memory, relieving depression and mental illness, and showing patterns of thought -- it might also be used to obtain information about us that we may not want known. On balance though, I'd say bring it on. In fact, one day I might even write this article by just imagining myself typing certain letters -- or perhaps someone else might write it themselves by picking up what's going on in my mind!
Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D. is the author of over 50 books with major publishers and has published 30 books through her own company Changemakers Publishing and Writing. She writes books and proposals for clients, and has written and produced over 50 short videos through her company Changemakers Productions Her latest books include: The Very Next New Thing: Commentaries on the Latest Developments that Will Be Changing Your Life and Living in Limbo: From the End to New Beginnings