Is NeuroTech/BrainTech the future of Human Computer Interaction?

Is the future of HCI — something like a virtualised Google Glass or an enhanced bluetooth headset?

About 18 months ago I posted about the “Post App” era — when we move beyond using separated silo’d apps to where computing enriches and simplifies real life experiences. Several things have happened since then — the launch of Amazon Echo and other similar devices, discussion of a world beyond smart phones and most interestingly — Elon Musk’s Neuralink announcement.

Whilst society pretty much rejected Google Glass — as a concept it probably indicates the longer term future of human computer interaction? I buy into the what Musk says about using a smartphone — that it is clunky and slow and in addition it interrupts human interaction — and is likely to be superseded.

Google Glass (pictured above) surely failed partly because people don’t like looking stupid and standing out. Vanity and the look of the glasses put people off. Additionally for voice based interaction — talking to your phone or Alexa right now just feels a bit silly — and of course your input is not always private.

So I think the next development will be a form of link between your phone and your head. This may be what Musk is working on with Neuralink, but crucially I think whatever this device is it will need to be non-invasive. As in it should not require surgery to get it setup — at least not for the first few versions of the device anyway. Think about it — would you want to go under the knife to have such a device fitted? Certainly not for a beta version!

“They cut the Hard Line, its a trap get out!”

Given the amount of warnings about AI, Sci-fi films and TV such as the Matrix, and Star Trek (i.e. the “Borg” — the hive mind species) I would be really surprised if many would want to go under the knife. How many will really want the internet permanently wired into their heads? And I talk as a fairly early adopting geeky person here! The ability to disconnect is surely a very important requirement. This is akin to someone taking a digital detox today — where they might uninstall social apps from their phone or go on holiday somewhere with no phone signal!

Therefore I think it will probably need to be an evolution of a hands free kit or bluetooth headset. But the difference will be that it will be able to read your thoughts in some way (surely not too far-fetched given the examples of reading brain activity that have already been demonstrated — but I am happy to be corrected by experts in this field!). I suspect the first version will be very crude and will probably talk back to the user via the ear piece rather than attempting to inject feedback directly into the users thoughts (which I am guessing will be extremely hard to do).

So the evolution of HCI looks something like this?

  • 0.1 — Ticker Tape, Punched Cards (stuff before my time) etc!
  • 1.0 — Keyboards, Old style CRT Screens — Command Line Interfaces
  • 2.0 — As per 1.0 but the introduction of colour GUI (Graphical User Interfaces) and Mice
  • 1.5 — Touchscreens (virtualised keyboards), LCD/LEDs, Hands free kits
  • 2.0 — Speech, Video / Interactive Agents and Conversational Interfaces, Wearables — Health and Fitness trackers
  • 3.0 — Brain to Computer interfaces (bypassing the need to use limbs for input, and more advanced bypassing human senses for output back to the user)

Your thoughts?

What do you think? Is this all hype or does it indicate the future of how we’ll meld with tech — and achieve Intelligence Augmentation (IA)? We also need to contemplate the impact such tech will have on society. How will we know when people are paying attention to us vs an online feed (although this is no different to people not listening today I guess!) with a phone or tablet it is very clear when someone is distracted! Will this also lead to a further digital divide — raising the barrier of entry to tech and increasing inequality? Please do leave a comment or send me a message!

Some Further reading on this topic:

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/534206/a-brain-computer-interface-that-works-wirelessly/

I have previously posted about TransHumanism — which is potentially where NeuroTech leads.

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/604037/meet-the-guys-who-sold-neuralink-to-elon-musk-without-even-realizing-

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603771/the-entrepreneur-with-the-100-million-plan-to-link-brains-to-computers/

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on April 11, 2017.