Home » Ariel Garten: Redefining Consciousness at TEDxToronto (Transcript)

Ariel Garten: Redefining Consciousness at TEDxToronto (Transcript)

These graphs are compelling, they’re undulating, but from a human’s perspective, they’re actually not very useful. That’s why we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to make this data meaningful to the people who use it.

For instance, what if I could use this data to find out how relaxed I am at any moment? Or what if I can take that information and put it into an organic shape up on the screen? The shape on the right over here has become an indicator of what’s going on in my head. The more relaxed I am, the more the energy’s going to fall through it.

I may also be interested in knowing how focused I am, so I can put my level of attention into the circuit board on the other side. And the more focused my brain is, the more the circuit board is going to surge with energy. Ordinarily, I would have no way of knowing how focused or relaxed I was in any tangible way.

As we know, our feelings about how we’re feeling are notoriously unreliable. We’ve all had stress creep up on us without even noticing it until we lost it on someone who didn’t deserve it, and then we realize that we probably should have checked in with ourselves a little earlier.

This new awareness opens up vast possibilities for applications that help improve our lives and ourselves. We’re trying to create technology that uses the insights to make our work more efficient, our breaks more relaxing and our connections deeper and more fulfilling than ever.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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