It turns out that it’s not just some humans that think they can read minds. Today, there are a number of researchers across the world developing smartphone apps that are controlled using brainwaves. According to an IBM and Xerox paper, who are looking at this area, the accuracy of such systems is currently around 70%, indicating that we’re not that far off mind-controlled smartphones.
As ZDNet points out in its article, this could be used to trigger an action such as dialling numbers, messaging people or calling contacts. Whilst it’s likely that mention of brain controlled apps will make many think that it’s the ultimate invasion of our privacy, if we think about people who are unable to use their bodies, the potential application for such technology could be life changing.
How does this all work you ask? Well, it’s quite simple really. The software simply listens for specific patterns of brain activity known as P300 signals which are detected by an Electroencephalogram (or EEG if you want to really dumb it down) headset and turns your thoughts into action.
It’s clear that perfecting this type of technology and interaction could have a life changing impact on people who have been paralysed or suffer other debilitating illnesses. Currently, people who suffer from paraplegia, or other similar issues, may use wink-controlled interfaces.
As it stands, wink-controlled interfaces manage a 92 to 95 percent accuracy, whilst the best EEG devices achieve a peak accuracy of 70-80 percent. In one example, a brain-controlled app allows people to write messages in Chinese using a virtual keyboard.
One of the big issues currently facing the accuracy of the technology, according to reports, is that users need to be entirely focused on what they are doing. Any distractions, such as performing physical tasks, reduces focus and lowers accuracy. To help improve accuracy, it’s likely that any systems that make it to market would use other inputs to augment the brain activity, such as head or eye tracking.
With face-based wearables such as Microsoft Hololens and the next generation Google Glass, or even virtual reality headsets, it’s possible to imagine the future application for EEG in enterprise. This type of control could eventually help to further improve the ways in which field based teams operate, or could even have military applications. It’s possible to see this also being applied to the medical industry, where medical professionals need to be completely hands free.
One of the big challenges facing voice-controlled interfaces is that they remain socially awkward. EEG technology could be a way in the future to interact with our mobile devices, though of course there will be huge privacy concerns — physical, active input is one thing, reading your thoughts is another.
All of this can be possible as a result of the more advanced mobile devices we now have, with faster computational power, in addition to cloud storage and processing. We’re still a long way from seeing this type of technology come into the mass market, but it’s clear a lot of thought is going into it.