Mind Training Blog

Can’t read German? …WirtschaftsWoche article in English

WirtschaftsWoche, Germany's leading economic weekly

Many people who can’t read German have asked us to provide an English translation of a recent interview with our CEO in WirtschaftsWoche, Germany’s foremost economic weekly magazine. We are happy to oblige (with help from Google Translate)!

The original article can be found here.

Mind-Controlled Games Are a Billion-Dollar Market

– by Michael Brächer –

U.S. researcher Deepa Iyengar is designing computer games for mobile phones which are controlled by mind power. This is a fun, new opening in the market for the results of high-tech brain research.

(Deepa Iyengar is a cofounder and CEO of the Icelandic software company MindGames. She is a 39-year-old American who studied brain and cognitive sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.)

WirtschaftsWoche: Ms. Iyengar, can you tell me what I’m thinking?

Iyengar: I must disappoint you. We cannot read minds, though we are always asked. The technology does not yet give us this power.

However, MindGames promises games which players control with the power of their thoughts?

A year ago we published our first mind-controlled game. With the current, simple brainwave sensors for everyone we cannot read minds, but rather states of mind. For example, in our upcoming Facebook feature, “Gods and Mortals,” you have to concentrate and relax alternately in order to keep opponents at bay.

Perhaps this mind-game interaction is not yet very sophisticated?

That’s true, but in the next few years we expect better EEG devices with which we can get more information, allowing further insights into mental processes. This will in the end enable us to completely change the way we interact with computers. And we are not the only company that is working in this field. Large companies like Microsoft are working to make the technology usable for everyday life.

So the mouse and keyboard have had their day?

Not quite yet. With the keyboard, you can enter input very quickly and accurately. With the mind, it is not yet so simple. There are already systems which allow you to select letters with your mind, but the maximum speed so far is eight characters per minute.

So thought control is far inferior to the traditional touch methods…

But … for people suffering from paralysis or other motor disorders, “mind control” will soon provide a way to communicate and control using computers. Unfortunately, the technology is still cumbersome, involving user training to master the controls. This is analogous to the situation with dictation software: for the software to understand you, you need to adjust how you speak.

That doesn’t sound very entertaining.

It can be! With our games, players can have fun while learning to control their own emotional states.

So actually, your games are supposed to control my thoughts?

Yes, but only indirectly, by training you in how to voluntarily regulate specific mental states (like relaxation and concentration). We are planning a pilot project with children who have ADHD, to see if our games can help them to focus and relax better.

How would this work?

With EEG, we can measure brain activity and give players immediate feedback. For example, if a player is sufficiently relaxed, he can accomplish the current task in the game and move to the next level. EEG videogames could become a great alternative, drug-free, fun therapy for at least some children to manage their ADHD with less, or no, medication.

Many adults might like to use this method for stress reduction.

Of course. Millions of people suffer from stress and insomnia. And that’s not the only application I can think of.

What else?

How about software that keeps you from writing Facebook entries, if you are feeling strongly emotional? The computer might warn you: “Listen, you seem to be very very angry. Are you sure it’s a good idea right now to send a message?” Or, imagine a game that enables you to voluntarily induce a state of “creative flow.”

A what, please?

A state in which creative activity is effortless and intuitive. Perhaps we will be able to offer a game that can train you to voluntarily generate this state of mind.

The technology sounds fascinating, but also prone to misuse. What if the government can one day read my thoughts?

You and I will not be able to stop the development of the technology in this direction. For example, the U.S. Defense Department is investing millions today in the technology. There are, for example, projects to enable soldiers to communicate mind-to-mind with EEG. Also, insurance companies and intelligence agencies would like to know what is going on in our heads.

Sounds like a lucrative market for your company.

I can only say that our company would never accept money for such purposes. But that probably cannot be said of every company. We urgently need an ethical debate about how we as a society want to deal with these new technical possibilities.

Speaking of ethics: In one of your games, the player has to save himself from a zombie who wants to eat his/her brain, by bending spoons with his/her concentration. Is this not a bit morbid?

It is true that our games are full of black humor. And, of course, gods and mythical figures also play major roles. The aesthetics of our products are definitely influenced by the fact that most of our employees are Icelandic. But I’m innocent. I moved here because my husband is from Iceland.

When will you be able to see with your smartphone, what your husband is dreaming?

Today, I can at least tell if he is dreaming. I would guess it will take at least another ten years before we have the hardware and algorithms to analyze what people are dreaming.

Would you want to know?

Never! I’m happy with my delusions.