The X-Wave headset is a funky little gadget for Apple devices that a story yesterday on Huffington Post (referencing a Mashable piece from Sunday) claims offers “Mind Control” for the iPhone. A piece back in September on Switched.com said the same thing. These guys clearly haven’t got the faintest idea what is meant by the term “Mind Control” — but then, who does? When I think “mind control for the iPhone,” I think “Mistress Hortencia commands you to make a donation via PayPal,” not “Think really hard and you can make the little sphere dance around the screen.”
For what it’s worth, during the September round of coverage for this baby, Engadget got it partly right, by not headlining their story with anything about “mind control.” What they did say, however, is that the X-Wave ap lets you “control your iPhone with your noodle,” which is equal amounts of bullshit. What it does, supposedly, is let you control the X-Wave ap with your noodle. If you could think a phone number and have your iPhone dial it, that would be far more impressive. Check out these bizarrely perky promotional videos for the thing:
Feel free to vote in the comments on which one is creepier (my vote’s for the first one, by far).
Here’s what Engadget had to say about the X-Wave back in September:
As you might expect, the headset makes use of the NeuroSky technology that we’ve seen several times through the years and will be made available with a number of apps upon its release next month including a game, dedicated training app, a music controller (which will let you compare brainwaves with other XWave users, interestingly), and an “Om Meditation Timer.” If none of those titles have captured your imagination, you’ll be able to write your own apps with the device’s SDK.
According to an unreferenced statement on Wikipedia, NeuroSky uses “small electrical neural impulses generated by thought and mental state,” which makes it essentially an electroencephalograph. You can find out more about Neurosky as it’s used for medical applications at the Neurosky Brain-Computer Interface Technologies website.
Emotiv launched a similar device last year, the Emotiv EPOC Neuroheadset. Retailing for $299, it uses 14 sensors instead of what appears to be eight on the $100 X-Wave. Also, the EPOC is wireless (the X-Wave headset is wired).
While the EPOC was covered heavily in the gaming press, it also claims to offer “Life changing applications for disabled patients,” and, disturbingly, claims as one of its potential applications:
Market Research & Advertising – get true insight about how people respond and feel about material presented to them. Get real-time feedback on user enjoyment and engagement.
Got the Orwell Chills, anyone? I’m not sure what freaks me out more — the idea of comparing brainwaves with other X-Wave users, or of having a market research company strap me screaming into an EPOC so they can know what I really want from a soft drink before I do.
Once the OKCupid interface gets written — that’s when we really have to worry.
You can get a sense of just how hard the Emotiv headset is to control in this video, via a PCAuthority interview with the Emotiv co-founder Nam Do, where a guy tries to rotate Stonehenge:
…nonetheless, since all EEG-based devices reportedly get much easier to use with practice, the experienced user will likely have a different experience once a practical ap is used.
Strangely, I remember stuff like this from my childhood, when Mr. Spock promised me that biofeedback could “reduce muscular tension, redirect blood flow, and perform feats previously thought impossible”:
Biofeedback as a class of skill-building activities, by the way, doesn’t just rely on brainwaves, but also involves the control of such things as muscle tone, skin temperature, heart rate, perspiration, etc — mostly involuntary responses that can become slightly voluntary with practice.