Here Comes The Wetware
Jon Evans
Dec 4, 2010

Throw out your touchscreens, kibosh your Kinects: thought-controlled computing is the new new thing. Brain-computer interface technology has been simmering for years, and seems finally ready to bubble out of research labs and into the real world.

Earlier this year, friends of mine at the Toronto art space Site3 built a thought-controlled flamethrower, for fun. (Don’t you hate how it’s always the friends you least want to have the power to project torrents of flame with a flick of their mind who always get it?) Toronto has long been a hub for brain computing, in part because legendary cyborg Steve Mann is a University of Toronto engineering professor. Mann also cofounded the thought-controlled computing consultancy InteraXon, which built the neural installation at this year’s Olympics.

Both InteraXon and my pyromaniacal friends use brainwave-reading headsets made by Neurosky (whose promise was noted by TechCrunch five years ago) and Emotiv. Today’s sets handle much more than mere alpha/beta wave measurement: Emotiv’s, in particular, can track eye motion, facial expressions, emotional state, and even directional thoughts.

The potential applications go way beyond flambés. Ariel Garten, InteraXon’s CEO, ticks off a laundry list that includes advance warning of epileptic seizures, headset-controlled airline entertainment systems, and a company that approached her hoping to build a thought-controlled welding system. Meanwhile, Columbia University’s Paul Sajda has scored $4.6 million from the Department of Defence for his EEG cap and machine-learning algorithms used to improve image recognition and classification.

Gaming is also a big market (making the Kinect seem so five minutes ago) but the ability to connect neural headsets and mobile devices is even more interesting. Garten—who will be speaking at Le Web next week, and at CES in January—sketches a compelling vision of stylish headsets growing more common than Bluetooth earpieces today, and their users interacting with phones, kiosks, and other devices without so much as twitching a lip or finger.

InteraXon, which is self-funded and profitable, already connects neural headsets to iOS devices over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Both Neurosky and Emotiv have made SDKs available for developers, and have app stores up and running. Their futures look ripe with potential—until and unless someone like Apple decides to play in this space. iMind, anyone?

We’re still a long way from real wetware (direct brain-computer connections) . . . but last week an NYU professor had a digital camera implanted in his head. It’ll be many years (if ever) before that goes mainstream, but the line between the mind and its tech is growing finer. “It can be a transformational experience,” Garten says, of the moment users first don a headset. “For the first time, you’re consciously interacting with your own brain.”

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  • You have to root your brain first.
    But you will lose your warranty from the creator.
  • Even if I have the GodCare pack?
  • "If ever" is a big, most likely inaccurate statement. It's only a matter of time until everyone who can afford it will have a digital camera embedded.
  • There is also the OpenEEG Project ( ) which has some interesting open source based eeg projects.

    Also the next big issue in this field appears to be who owns/has access to the data stream coming from your brain. Most of the headsets have proprietary formats and require you to use purchase the SDK, which might not be so bad, except you still don't have access to all aspects of the data. On the Emotiv that has been temporarily circumvented by "Reverser/Hardware Hacker" Cody Brocious.

    Just like the mobile phones being locked, unless something changes this area will also have the data stove piped and locked, which at present maybe not so bad, but in the future it will be, especially if bi-directional happens.
  • Akeelahskye 1 day ago
    i think what lebethel is tryin to say is man is still tryin to play God
  • Our technology is too fast for us to catch up. We haven’t even enjoyed Kinect yet to the fullest and now here comes another technology that can directly wipe out Kinect.
  • Aw that's an overoptimistic yet quite pessimistic view. The technology behind the Kinect is old (remember the Eye toy), it has just been perfected over time. The e-Motiv and stuff are just the "eye toy" of BCI, we have yet to wait a few years before we can see truely impressive stuff, and I personally can't wait to have a BCI + Kinect + 3D Screen combo.
  • Yea, this with a nice library of pre-programmed AI will be awesome for porn. It will be virtually the same as sex, just no actual physical sensation/heat/pressure/weight/feeling of the other partner.
  • At least for the first versions. I'm pretty sure if there is "sex on demand with whoever/whatever you want, as long as you want" at key, we will very soon see a lot of different ways to have "physical sensation/heat/pressure/weight/feeling of the other partner."
  • Awesome, now I will have no reason to move, sweet!
  • Um...What he means here is -cyberware-. Cyberware is direct brain/computer interaction; electronics that becomes part of us. Wetware It's the ironic cyberpunk term for human beings, with usage being stuff like "a direct neural connection between your wetware and your deck [portable computer]".

    It's called "wetware" because it's wet -- filled with blood and stuff!

    (Edited by author 2 hours ago)

  • Interesting I've never seen a definition for WW. Some of that wetware would probably be the equivalent of 'electronics'. I could see for example having some DNA wetware that codes for rods & cones normally found in the Retina, re-purposed to talking to a computer with light.
  • it is techlepathy...
  • The NYU Prof who had the camera implanted in his head was doing it for "art", however questionable. I doubt he is able to control the camera by his thoughts. This has nothing to do with the wetware the article talks about.

    Find an interesting companion for your next flight on Facebook

    (Edited by author 18 hours ago)

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  • Shadowlayer 20 hours ago
    Sounds great, all I want is a HUD with controls that actually work, no need for fancy stuff like laundry lists or flamethrowers

    Although a thought-controlled bigass robot would be pretty cool...
  • Take a try first when have chance.

    IC expert:
  • Well, there are brain-computer connections out in the real world already. They are usually used for disabled people. These people get an invasive surgery that connects their brains to a computer that gets better at reading the particular subject's neuronal firings and brain waves.

    I have been talking about this a lot recently. I truly cannot wait until we are able to interact with computers at such an integrated level. I think that at one point we wont need any sort of surgeries but will interact with them with brainwaves alone.
  • Georgekane 22 hours ago
    lol..just worked it out G-g is god! :P
  • what if gd was only a couple years away from mass production?
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  • Jérémie Clos 1 day ago
    Steve Mann may be cool, but when it comes to this domain he isn't worth sh*t compared to Kevin Warwick, my personal hero.
    If you have any doubt, look up his work:

    (Edited by author 1 day ago)

  • Agreed, no need to look further! bi-directional functionality, now that is a sensation..
  • Well here comes the cybertronic age... Perhaps we get neural pathways for direct web links or at least accessories to stimulate that...
  • i wonder what uses could be found for this for people who are paralysed? sounds interesting anyway.
  • They are the main targets of this kind of technology. It will eventually derive for mass user consumption, but the original idea was to help those people to regain essential motricity.
  • MrGamma 1 day ago
    Are they giving away free cans of AXE at the door? In any event, I thought the headsets had to learn your neural behavior, and that is something that is more less in continual drift?

    How does anyone know this isn't a repeat of the Virtual reality arcade games of the 90's? Asking because I don't know...

    (Edited by author 1 day ago)

  • Man is STILL trying to play G-d!!!! :-(
  • Is this a new game? GD? I have not heard. Who else would play if not us? I do not understand the comment. Explain.
  • What is GD? does that mean the headsets are pretty much garbage? Or does it mean they serve Axe at the door?
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