What if we could change TV channels just by thinking about our favourite programme? Or drive a car with the power of our minds, leaving our arms and legs resting? The human brain is made up of billions of active neurons. When these neurons interact, the chemical reaction emits an electrical impulse, which can be measured. By observing the fluctuations in electrical impulses and how groups of neurons interact and then shift rhythm to coordinate with other subsets of neurons, we can glean some insight into the emotional and cognitive states of a person and even deduce his or her facial expressions.
This idea led to the creation of Emotiv and developing our EPOC neuroheadset, which reads and interprets your brainwaves. The headset’s multisensor “arms,” which extend to the front and back of your head, pick up electrical signals from different functional parts of the brain. Both subconscious and conscious mental states can be detected using advanced algorithms, allowing the computer to react more naturally to the user’s mental state and even to accept direct mental commands.
A device like a neuroheadset can determine what movies, photos, and music make you happy or sad, for example, by picking up your brainwaves. It observes electrical fluctuations while you’re experiencing them, then uses mathematical algorithms to apply emotional tags to them. So if you happen to come home feeling down after a long day at work, you put on the headset, and it picks up on your mood and then begins playing songs it knows will make you relax and feel better. Or, if you want to search for that particular part of a movie that makes you laugh out loud, the device can easily find it when you recall that happy moment.
Taking the technology to the higher levels a fundamental shift is happening in the way in which brain data is being collected. Each of these neuroheadsets is a high-resolution, multi-channel EEG system, taking in more than 2,000 samples of data every second. They’re not patients going into hospitals or clinics to get their brains imaged; they’re simply everyday people, in the comfort of their own homes or workplaces, doing everyday tasks and activities.
And they’re contributing brain data at a much greater frequency and a wider range of circumstances than what is feasible in a clinical context. This opens up immense potential for longitudinal monitoring and observation of neuroplasticity and development, and also for users to improve aspects of their mental performance through monitoring and feedback. EEG signatures for focused activity, concentration, relaxation, memory, learning, and linguistic skills already exist and can be used to help users to improve their mental performance. One of the most humbling aspects of being a pioneer in this area is seeing the steady and gradual adoption of this technology from all fields of endeavour, from psychology to psychiatry, from computer science to machine learning, from artists to musicians, from tinkerers to hackers.