Offed With Your Head

Science, technology, and life.
July 24 2008 9:31 AM

Offed With Your Head

The Human Nature article on Slate 's cover today is about a military drone-piloting system that looks like a video game but kills real people . You control it with joysticks and buttons. The company that developed it, Raytheon, sees it as a logical progression for recruits who come into the military knowing how to play games like Doom and Halo.

The question is: Will the transition be too smooth? Will these young pilots, reclining comfortably in their "virtual cockpits" in Nevada as their drones fly over Iraq, feel as though they're playing a game?

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.


Now imagine taking this merger of games and killing one step further. Imagine controlling the drone directly with your mind. Imagine firing the missile just by thinking it.

Imagination is a dangerous thing. It can already fire weapons in video games. Here's the report from this weekend's Sunday Telegraph :

British scientists are turning the vision into reality with a device that allows objects to be manipulated with brain waves. The prototype ... can already be used to play simple computer games. By imagining a movement, the wearer of the hat-shaped device can tell the computer to move an object around a screen or a robot around a room. ...
The development came as the video games maker Nintendo disclosed that it wanted to build on the success of the motion-sensitive technology used in the best-selling console, the Wii, by developing games that can be controlled by thought.
To pick up the signal from the brain, the scientists use a cap fitted with electrodes that detect changes in the electrical activity produced by the neurons. When a person wearing the cap imagines a particular action, such as moving a hand, it produces a distinct pattern of signals that a computer learns to recognise.

While Nintendo works on deploying this technology, two other companies are already there, according to the New York Times :

Put on the headset, made by Emotiv Systems in San Francisco, and when a giant boulder blocks the path in a game you are playing, you can levitate it not by something as crude as a keystroke, but just by concentrating on raising it, said Tan Le, Emotiv's president. The headset captures electrical signals when you concentrate; then the computer processes these signals and pairs a screen action with them ... Emotiv plans to have its noninvasive, wireless EPOC headset ($299) on sale in time for Christmas, Ms. Le said. ... So far, [Emotiv's R&D manager] said, all 200 testers of the headset had indeed been able to move on-screen objects mentally.
Another headset, the Neural Impulse Actuator ($169), just released by the OCZ Technology Group in Sunnyvale, Calif., has three sensors in a headband that pick up electrical activity primarily from muscles and convert it into commands ... Players of shooting games, for instance, may use eye movement to trigger a shot, shaving milliseconds off of their response time and sparing their hands.

Scientific American has more on how the Emotiv headset reads your mind .

So now we're looking at two mergers: mind-controlled action with video games, and video games with killing. Firing weapons with your mind used to be imaginary . Now, like so many imagined things, it's becoming real.



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