Worries over electrical control headsets needed?


Creative Writer
Whilst the idea of controlling computer games is one individual step to automation. Where we could see all home appliances, transport or even allow internet access and media on the move controlled by similar equipment envisioned by scifi greats. Should we be taking time to think on just how automated we want to make our lives?

There are risks involved. From megalomaniacs building in reverse controls to take over the populace, advertisers using subliminal messaging, down to the simple depersonalisation that the technology could cause. After all, we don't want to see people moving around on the streets more interested in what's going on in their own world than what is around them.

Loss of our humanity has to be the greatest worry in our lives. Not merely the uncomfortable feeling you get walking past peoples houses and seeing them wobbling about, swinging their arms whilst playing on their Wii's through their windows. That is taking sports into houses and not socially in sports centres and parks. But do we really need to make that step that takes away all human interaction in the day?

Thought control: it's the computer world's latest game plan

An official version of Scrabble on Facebook could spell the end for its popular but unsanctioned alternative

Despite widespread scepticism, pre-release tests have suggested that the technology works. “This is the tip of the iceberg for what is possible,” said Tan Le, another of Emotiv's co-founders, during a recent press demonstration. “There will be a convergence of gesture-based technology and the brain as a new interface - the Holy Grail is the mind.”

Mr Iwata, in Los Angeles for the video games industry's annual E3 conference, is credited with a revolution of the video games industry with his Wii remote, many of which have been hurled at television screens or living-room walls after overenthusiastic players lost their grip amid virtual tennis tournaments or boxing rounds. He did not comment on Emotiv's headset but said he believed that fully thought-controlled games were still years away: “We don't have that kind of technology right now, but when we're talking about a 20-year time period, anything's possible.

“If you look back 20 years from today, things that were thought impossible are now the reality - for example, it was a distant dream that we would construct a 3D world with computer graphics.”

The US military has been working on thought-control technology for years. Most of the projects that it has made public, however, have focused on thought-reading systems rather than, say, thought-guided missiles.

Last month the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), an arm of the US Defence Department, said it had awarded a $6.7 million contract to Northrop Grumman to develop “brainwave binoculars”. The binoculars use scalp-mounted sensors to detect objects the user might have seen but not noticed - in other words, the computer is used as a kind of brain-aid, giving the user superhuman vision.

Explaining the technology, Dr Robert Shin, an assistant professor of neurology and ophthalmology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said: “There is a level where the brain can identify things before it ever makes it to the conscious level. Your brain says, ‘it may be something', but it might not realise that it is something that should rise to the conscious level.”

Another defence contractor, Honeywell, has been working on a similar technology known as “augmented cognition” to help intelligence analysts to operate more effectively. Based on the same principle as the binoculars, it has been shown to make analysts work up to seven times faster. It can also detect when they are getting tired. In other tests, soldiers have been kitted out with headsets that detect “brain overload”, allowing commanders to know if they can process new information under the extreme pressures of the battlefield.

Until recently such technology was beyond the reach of video games companies. But simplified thought-control systems are now emerging from the likes of Emotiv, and Moore's Law - which dictates that technology improves as prices fall - means that they will become cheaper.

Gamers will not be the only ones to benefit. Police forces and other law-enforcement agencies have shown an interest in using thought-reading technology to replace lie-detector tests. Similarly, medical researchers believe that the technology could be used by patients to control the next generation of prosthetic limbs, or to give stroke victims new ways to communicate. Emotiv says it is encouraging such applications by giving third-party programmers access to its software development tools.

All of which represents a new era for video games, according to Mr Iwata. Once regarded as the enemy of society for encouraging violence, games will continue to become more mainstream, competing more fiercely with Hollywood film studios and other traditional forms of entertainment for consumers' time and attention.

“With the launch of Wii we began to expand the definition of the video game. Stroking puppies, training your brain, cooking, even measuring your body weight - all of this we've included in the category of video games.”
Most analysts agree that Wii's success has changed the industry: a year after its launch in November 2006, it had become a phenomenon of pop culture, largely because of Mr Iwata's strategy of trying to win non-gamers as customers.

“The reason why Wii has been given so much appreciation is not because of technological superiority; rather, it must be due to the fact that we have been able to provide customers with unexpected and unprecedented entertainment value,” he said, referring to Wii's lower price and more extensive basic specifications than its main rival, the Sony PlayStation 3.

Wii's biggest selling point has been its motion-sensing remote, which has usurped the joystick and led to players using the system for sports training. It is now possible to buy a plug-in balance board as part of a “Wii Fit” software package.

Mr Iwata says that video games, far from being the mindless toy of today's youth, will soon be regarded as a crucial part of a child's development. Nintendo's hand-held DS product, along with the software program Dr Kawashima's More Brain Training, has been used as part of a trial in Scotland to improve children's concentration.

“I think the video game might be able to cultivate the curiosity and the concentration of children - that's something I personally I believe as a father,” he said. “In Japan, schools are using English-language training software and they're showing results.”

In the meantime, however, Mr Iwata is focused on rather more mundane concerns - in particular, continuing product shortages.He said that the current levels of demand ruled out any price cuts, but denied vehemently that limiting the supply was a deliberate marketing ploy. “

The customers we're approaching aren't just those interested in video games, but also those who have never had an interest, or who have never played games for any reason.

“Those people might be willing on one day to go to a store and find out, sorry, Wii's out of stock, but the next day they might have forgotten about their interest. So the product shortages, we don't think they can give us any opportunity. Actually, it's an opportunity lost for Nintendo.”

A history of playing games
Spacewar! - 1962
Arguably the first video game as we know it, Spacewar! was developed by ambitious student hackers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A simple two-player battle game, it ran on a gigantic mainframe computer and was stored on reels of paper tape

Multi-User Dungeon - 1978
Created by an Essex University student, MUD let people all over the world adventure in the same game for the first time. It sowed the seeds of modern phenomena such as World of Warcraft - and entranced the engineers who developed the internet

Home Computers - 1982
Sold to parents as educational devices, computers such as the Sinclair Spectrum truly succeeded because of their early prowess as gaming systems. In the end education won out - a whole generation of kids became computer literate and went on to turn Britain into a game-development powerhouse

3-D Graphics - Mid-1990s
There was an explosion in the Nineties in the development of 3-D technology, fuelled by consumer demand for increasingly complex 3-D games. Prices tumbled and performance improved exponentially - and the knock-on effect opened up 3-D imaging to a host of medical and military applications

PlayStation - 1995
Sony's entry to the video game market precipitated a huge change not only in video games, but also in youth culture as a whole. Games escaped the schoolyard and started being promoted in nightclubs - and the new obsession with Tekken, WipEout and Final Fantasy has fuelled trends in fashion, music and cinema ever since

Nintendo DS - 1997
With its sights set firmly on new markets, Nintendo's ground-breaking handheld console featured an intuitive touch-screen interface - and a host of software designed to break out of gaming's existing congregation and provide entertainment to young and old, male and female. It worked. The diminutive system is set to sell its 100 millionth unit this year