Ariel Garten: Redefining Consciousness at TEDxToronto (Transcript)

I’m going to share some of these visions with you in a bit, but first I want to take a look at how we got here. By the way, feel free to check in on my head at any time.

My team at InteraXon and I have been developing thought-controlled application for almost a decade now. In the first phase of development, we were really enthused by all the things we could control with our mind. We were making things activate, light up and work just by thinking.

We were transcending the space between the mind and the device. We brought to life a vast array of prototypes and products that you could control with your mind, like thought-controlled home appliances or slot-car games or video games or a levitating chair.

We created technology and applications that engaged people’s imaginations, and it was really exciting. And then we were asked to do something really big for the Olympics. We were invited to create a massive installation at the Vancouver 2010 winter Olympics, were used in Vancouver, got to control the lighting on the CN Tower, the Canadian Parliament buildings and Niagara Falls from all the way across the country using their minds.

Over 17 days at the Olympics, 7,000 visitors from all over the world actually got to individually control the light from the CN Tower, parliament and Niagara in real time with their minds from across the country, 3,000 km away.

So controlling stuff with your mind is pretty cool. But we’re always interested in multitiered levels of human interaction. And so we began looking into inventing thought-controlled applications in a more complex frame than just control. And that was responsiveness.

We realized that we had a system that allowed technology to know something about you. And it could join into the relationship with you. We created the responsive room where the lights, music and blinds adjusted to your state. They followed these little shifts in your mental activity.

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So as you settled into relaxation at the end of a hard day, on the couch in our office, the music would mellow with you. When you read, the desk lamp would get brighter. If you nod off, the system would know, dimming to darkness as you do.

We then realized that if technology could know something about you and use it to help you, there’s an even more valuable application than that. That you could know something about yourself. We could know sides of ourselves that were all but invisible and come to see things that were previously hidden.

Let me show you an example of what I’m talking about here. I do have a video of an application I created for the iPad. So the goal of the original game Zen Bound is to wrap a rope around a wooden form. So you use it with your headset. The headset connects wirelessly to an iPad or a smartphone.

In that headset, you have fabric sensors on your forehead and above the ear. In the original Zen Bound game, you play it by scrolling your fingers over the pad. In the game that we created, of course, you control the wooden form that’s on the screen there with your mind.

As you focus on the wooden form, it rotates. The more you focus, the faster the rotation. This is for real. This is not a fake.

What’s really interesting to me though is at the end of the game, you get stats and feedback about how you did. You have graphs and charts that tell you how your brain was doing. Not just how much rope you used or what your high score is, but what was going on inside of your mind. And this is valuable feedback that we can use to understand what’s going on inside of ourselves. I like to call this “intra-active.”

Normally, we think about technology as interactive. This technology is intra-active. It understands what’s inside of you and builds a sort of responsive relationship between you and your technology so that you can use this information to move you forward.

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So you can use this information to understand you in a responsive loop. For example, a thought controlled computer can teach children with ADD how to improve their focus.

With ADD, children have a low proportion of beta waves, or focus state, and high proportion of theta states. So you can create applications that reward focused brain states. So you can imagine kids playing video games with their brain waves and improving their ADD symptoms as they do it. This can be as effective as Ritalin.

Perhaps even more importantly, thought-controlled computing can give children with ADD insights into their own fluctuating mental states, so they can better understand themselves and their learning needs. The way these children will be able to use their new awareness to improve themselves will upend many of the damaging and widespread social stigmas that people who are diagnosed as different are challenged with.

We can peer inside our heads and interact with what was once locked away from us, what once mystified and separated us.

Brainwave technology can understand us, anticipate our emotions and find the best solutions for our needs. Imagine this collected awareness of the individual computed and reflected across an entire lifespan. Imagine the insights that you can gain from this kind of second sight. It would be like plugging into your own personal Google.

On the subject of Google, today you can search and tag images based on the thoughts and feelings you had while you watched them. You can tag pictures of baby animals as happy, or whatever baby animals are to you, and then you can search that database, navigating with your feelings, rather than the keywords that just hint at them.

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