Emotion Tech Developer Shares Dreams of Electric Sheep

Few may remember the 1982 film, “Firefox” about the Soviet fighter jet controlled by the pilot’s mind. The film, starring Clint Eastwood, set out on a premise that technology using the mind as its commander would be a weapon so dangerous that “it would change the structure of our world.”

Or, as software developer Robert Oschler has discovered, you can use it to watch YouTube.

Oschler is a pioneer on an emerging frontier—a place where the boundaries between man and machine are less defined, and where technological boundaries fade. Using what is known as an electroencephalogram (EEG), he has replaced a keyboard and a mouse with his own thoughts and emerging notions.

His tool of choice is a consumer EEG headset, the Emotiv EPOC. The device sports 14 electrodes that wrap around the user’s head, a built-in gyroscope, and the ability to detect emotions.

His interest in the technology isn’t based in monetary gain. “It’s fascinating. That’s what it’s really about,” Oschler said, adding that it “can’t even be compared” to writing a Web app—both in terms of capabilities, and unrefined geek-style coolness.

“It opens up a whole new range of software that has never been possible, and a whole new way of working with computers that has never been possible before,” Oschler said.

Like in the book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” that was re-imagined in the film “Blade Runner,” Oschler’s work has merged emotion into the computer system.

Oschler’s first program with EEG technology was a program to control a WowWee Rovio robot that he powered with the emotion of sadness. When it jolted forward, he was hooked. “It was really surreal,” he said.

He soon launched into his second project, EmoRate. The program syncs with YouTube’s answer to home television, Leanback. While watching videos, EmoRate will bookmark parts of the video based on the user’s emotional response.

The user can pull up a menu and see where he became the most happy, sad, angry, or frightened in the video, “and simply by smiling or thinking of something that makes me mad, it takes me right back to that part of the video and starts to play back right at that point in the video,” he said.

Android Future

The U.S. military has already begun looking into EEG technology. DARPA, sometimes referred to as the “mad scientist” branch of the Department of Defense, is working on everything from bomb-sniffing remote-controlled rats, to a monkey capable of controlling a robotic arm using only its thoughts.

They’re currently toying with the potential of using EEG systems with troops on the battlefield. The potential is vast—a single thought could pull a trigger, and a curiosity could spur a human-computer search for information that would be displayed instantaneously to an eye-piece worn by the soldier.

The technology would give immediate access to information, and eliminate the mediators between man and machine—turning the computer into an extension of the individual that could be controlled in the same way as their arms and legs.

It’s the cyborg future, where a user is wired to their mechanical extensions by the power of their own thoughts.

Read the full story here.

Photo Credit: (Robert Oschler)