I am writing this article in late July 2020. It has been 150 days since I have interacted closely with anyone other than family members without the precautionary measure of using a technology platform of some kind—be it e-mail, phone, Webinar, or amateur radio (yes, I am a licensed operator). Following social-distancing protocols, my social interactions are relying heavily on personal interactions with technology.
Every now and again, I find myself exhausted from looking at, and responding to, little faces on the screens of my devices. Apparently, my video-based interactions are causing me to work harder to process the body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions of my colleagues, friends, and family. This is what is sapping my energy—so-called “Zoom fatigue.”
What’s really going on in my brain? And how might technology evolve in this space to alleviate that fatigue?
My search for answers to these questions invited me down an interesting rabbit hole, which ultimately led to brain-controlled interfaces (BCIs). BCI research has been going on since the early 1900s, evolving alongside digital technologies, with prominent application in the medical industry. Current breakthroughs in this space, however, have many tech entrepreneurs banking on the idea that one day (soon), we will use these types of devices to interact with and control our everyday technologies using our thoughts.
Sid Kouider is a cognitive neuroscientist and founder of NextMind. According to one of its pitches, NextMind is a “fast-growing tech startup that has developed a first-of-its-kind, brain-sensing wearable delivering real-time device control using just a person’s thoughts.”
In November 2019, the NextMind device was unveiled at the Slush startup event. This small device can sit on the back of your head (advertised to fit into the back of a baseball cap) and captures data from neuron activity in your visual cortex. Then it uses machine learning algorithms to transform that data into signals that control your devices. We’re talking TV controls, computer input devices (keyboards, mice, joysticks), and even Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as that smart refrigerator you have in your kitchen. Fascinating!
My brain waves are encouraging me to convince you to consider how this device might impact the training and development industry. Get your brain waves moving, please. This one is going to be big.
How might we deliver training on a device that is brain controlled? What do instructional designers and developers need to learn in order to understand this interface? How will we demonstrate ROI on the introduction of devices like these into our training and development practice?
The tagline in one of the NextMind promotional videos is: “What you think is what you do.” Imagine how that would play out in a new hire training scenario. Or how it might streamline just-in-time learning on a production line.
The device is not plug-and-play. It takes time to calibrate and train the device software to the user’s neural profile. Because it is tapping into the visual cortex, the user needs to focus his or her attention on visual elements to control devices.
The NextMind device was slated to be shared with the public at the 2020 Consumer Electronic Show (CES), which was canceled due to the pandemic. The team has developed a series of demos and currently is looking for what they call the “killer” use case. This exploration involves shipping out kits to developers who are interested in partnering with NextMind to find that use case. For just $399, you can develop your own brain-enabled applications.
Anyone want in? Of course, I can think of hundreds of things that could go terribly wrong. Imagine what might happen when that Zoom fatigue hits me while I am in a meeting and my brain waves have control of my devices. Oops. End meeting for all?
You can preorder the developer kit at: https://www.next-mind.com/preorder
Phylise Banner is a learning experience designer with more than 25 years of vision, action, and leadership experience in transformational learning and development approaches. A pioneer in online learning, she is an Adobe Education Leader, Certified Learning Environment Architect, STC Fellow, performance storyteller, avid angler, aviation enthusiast, and currently training to be a private pilot.