Saturday, January 10, 2009

BCI for the kids

Yup, it's finally happened. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is going on in Las Vegas, NV and I'll post a research/cool gadget wrap up later. But, I thought it was worth noting that there are not one, but TWO BCI devices being marketed towards children. Both use EEG, so I'm sure they won't offer a frustrating and imprecise experience (note the sarcasm).

The most notable is the Mattel MindFlex. The user wears a headband with what looks like electrodes over the temples (+ ground to the earlobes), and navigates a ball around an obstacle course. The folks over at Switched (part of the Engadget universe) tried it out and found it almost completely unworkable. More coverage here, here, and a video here.

The second is marketed as The Force Trainer, a Star Wars toy, and all it does is train you to raise and lower a ball in a tube. Wheee! Ball goes up! Wheee! Ball goes down! What will your child will do after he or she 'masters' this game or decides that it's boring? I don't know, but whatever it is, I'd bet you could find out within 5 minutes of giving them this. These Gizmodo reader comments pretty much sum it up:
simi510: does it work or is a gimmick? IMO both. It works as a gimmick.
hofmann: My kids would honestly play with that for 5 minutes and then beat each other with it, and they actually like Star Wars.

What IS interesting about these toys is that there will be a generation of kids that have this idea of using neural signals to control external objects. If you read this blog, you probably grasp the basic concepts behind BCI systems pretty 'natively', but ask your average Joe on the street, and chances are you would have to explain the most basic ideas repeatedly before he/she could wrap their head around it.

The second interesting bit to come out of this is that no one knows the long term impact of 'training' yourself to repeatedly activate particular rhythms. I'm not being alarmist - oh noz! Johnny is dead from over training his brain! - but if you had a kid play with one of these for days, weeks, months, what changes might occur? We know that repeatedly engaging in 'mind altering experiences' (meditation, drug use, chronic stress, etc) can alter behavior significantly. What happens when a kid eats, sleeps and breathes The Force Trainer is unknown. Would it make them more docile and calm, or unable to focus on critical thinking? I guess we'll find out!

1 comment:

black said...

"What happens when a kid eats, sleeps and breathes The Force Trainer is unknown."

They become graduate students.

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