Ah, sunny California. Brent Fouch's day starts like many other business owners'. He gets to work, drinks his coffee and slips on a high resolution, neuro-signal acquisition and processing wireless neuroheadset. Flipping on his PC, Brent moves the cursor around his computer, opens programs and goes about his day - all with the power of brain waves.
Oh, wait - you don't do that? Well, you could. No, really. And Brent really does do that every day. See, he's the President of Jedi Mind, Inc. - they develop software that links your brain to your PC; it's available now (yes, right now) and surprisingly, blessedly affordable.
Cyberpunk fans go change your pants, we'll wait.
Okay, ready? Here's an exclusive interview with Brent, who can shed some light on how to harness this sci-fi dream come true: DaniWeb [DW]: As of this interview, Jedi Mind sells three mind-controlled programs; Think-Tac-Toe, Jedi Mouse and Master Mind. How hard was it to decide what your debut program would be?
Brent Fouch [BF]: We had to prove to the world that this technology is possible for the first time in history. Therefore, we chose Think-Tac-Toe as an easy proof of concept game that any age could play. We had many other applications that were much more complex and helpful to the world, but we had to start with something simple to let the world know it was possible.DW: While the Jedi Mouse can move the cursor, open programs, etc., Master Mind allows gamers like me to control our favorite PC games with our thoughts. What's the difference between the two programs - why wouldn't the Jedi Mouse work on a game like World of Warcraft, for example?
BF: The two programs have a similar interface and backbone, however, the "Master Mind" application has up to 14 mappings you can set in order to accomplish sophisticated actions in games like World of Warcraft and others. The "Jedi Mouse" has been developed specifically for the navigation and use of the computer, which requires less mappings and more specific features such as the virtual keyboard to compose email and WORD documents.
DW: Although a majority of Jedi Mind's efforts are geared toward helping the disabled and elderly, you made a wise move by introducing this technology to the gaming community. E3 was a little over a month ago, and while Microsoft Kinect says "You are the controller," Jedi Mind might say, "You are the console." How do you think thought-control will stand up against this new trend of 3D and motion-controlled gaming?
BF: I believe thought-controlled technology is the pinnacle of all technology evolution. The desire for humans to control the world around them with only their thoughts has been the Holy Grail of these advancements. There is no more advanced method of bringing the human mind and computers together than through thought-controlled technologies.DW: The Jedi Mouse offers control on three levels - cognitive (conscious thought of a command), expressive (making faces) and affective (emotion). The first two are easy to imagine, but can you give us an example of how we might control a program with our emotions?
BF: In a video game where one becomes frustrated, the software can interpret that and change the color of the screen from green to red (for instance). The Discovery Channel did an experiment whereby they antagonized a person wearing the electrodes that was also hooked up to a running automobile. When the person grew angry, such as in road rage, the sensors picked it up and shut down the car. These are two examples of how emotions play into the technology.
DW: For those of us who did NOT major in Neuroanatomy, and without giving away any company secrets of course, can you please explain to our readers how your products work?
BF: The electrodes pick up electrical signals from your brain. These electrical signals act as "commands" to the computer or any other electrical/ mechanical device. Our software allows the user to "map" what commands they wish to achieve when the specific thought/ electrical signal is produced. Therefore, by creating a specific thought-the user produces a certain action.DW: Since the headset will pick up your subconscious thoughts, do you think it's possible for the software to perform functions you didn't consciously tell it to? If I don't want to work, for example, will it open a video game instead? ;)
BF: The software program written will produce only the action we tell it to. However, we could produce an application that senses when you are bored (emotional state) and perform an action intended to arouse your level of interest. An example would be a Smart House application that let's you open doors, play music, draw curtains, etc... When it senses you are bored with the music (for instance), we could program it to change stations until a relaxed or excited emotion is detected.
DW: Replacing a "click" or "select" with specific thoughts such as "push," "lift," etc., why can't the programs type the words I'm thinking of...or can they?
BF: At this point, we use the standard keyboard to initiate a single click for the letter desired, just like we are all used to doing daily. The method you described would need at least 26 commands programmed into it to produce each letter thought of, which may be available sometime in the future.
Here's one example of how the Jedi Mouse has improved someone's quality of life:
DW: Since caffeine blocks adenosine receptors, do you think consuming it would enhance or hinder someone using one of your products? (For example, if someone was to drink far too many Red Bulls and then tried to use the Jedi Mouse.)
BF: I use the technology in the morning when I am the most amped on coffee and it seems to have no noticeable effect compared to later in the day. Having patience and some level of concentration is key.
(See? I told ya.)
DW: Obviously, in order to use your software, a user must possess sufficient brain capacity to emit the correct signal to the headset. At this stage in development, at what level do you think a person could NOT use one of your programs?
BF: A person in a comatose state or with very little electrical activity in the brain could not use this technology. However, someone that suffered a stroke or who has ALS may have all the cognitive function available to the brain with no means of communicating what they are thinking. These individuals would benefit the most from this technology.
DW: "Neural processing technology" - that sounds like something out of an Isaac Asimov novel. Were you influenced by works of cyberpunk and other science fiction? (Obviously you must like Star Wars.)
BF: Definitely by the powers of the Jedi. The advanced level of simply "thinking" your light saber to move across the floor and into your hand during battle was an awesome concept when first seen in Star Wars. However, my motivation really came from neuroanatomy classes where I discovered this idea could actually exist. From that point on I made it a goal of mine to bring what was taught in theory to the real world.
DW: At this time, your programs are only available for PC. Are there plans to develop these programs later for the Mac?
BF: We love MACs and we hope Emotiv will add this platform to their headset technology. We can write the compatible software as soon as the headset is compatible.
DW: At the 2009 Red Chip conference, you mentioned the "idea that started it all" - a machine that records and plays back our dreams. Do you still feel that your dream machine is possible? If so, and operating on a subconscious level, would you say we could someday communicate with those in a coma?
BF: Yes, my dream machine is possible. I believe in the near future we will be able to read conscious and non-conscious thoughts of humans, whether they are in dream state or not. As long as the person in the coma has semi-normal brain functions, we would be able to read what they are thinking with the advancement of this technology.
DW: What would be your ultimate goal for this technology?
BF: My goal would be what is mentioned above to be able to tap into the human mind and read what they are thinking. This would obviously be beneficial for crime prevention and prosecution, as well as a bit scary if used for the wrong reasons. My ultimate goal is to help enhance the lives of as many people as possible through this technology.
Please use this technology responsibly. DW: Obviously, DaniWeb has a large community of programmers, and I heard you're hiring right now. Can you tell us what qualifications you're looking for and where they can apply?
BF: We hired some of the brightest minds in the field and have solidified our team for now. Upon additional funding and developing several projects at a time, we may need to hire additional programmers. We do however, have some on a waiting list to join the team. They are learning the basics of neuroanatomy in addition to their specific programming skills.
DW: Somewhere out there, maybe even in this community, there is someone with dreams as fantastic and science fiction as your "dream machine." What advice would you give them, as they seek the technology to make their ideas a reality?
BF: Believe in what you're doing! I was faced with an incredible amount of skepticism and slander along the way to developing our first applications. There are more people out there that want to tear you down than lift you up. Stay the course and believe in yourself.
Translation? Do or do not. There is no try. For now, you'll just have to keep pretending to open automatic doors with your mind, but as you can see, doing it for real is not that far off. See you in the future!