The power of thought

‘Show your mouse the finger’, written by Angus last week, talked about the types of cool futuristic gadgets and interfaces that made up Spielberg’s futuristic vision of the world in 2054 in the film Minority Report. I actually think that we may not have to wait another 45 years to realise some of the technologies used in the film.

The University of Bristol has just developed software reminiscent of this film, which captures eye movement data from people engaged in activities such as window shopping and, from analysis of the data, they can monitor what grabs people’s attention in shops. Just think about how this type of technology could influence the world of training (and in particular e-learning) and how powerful instant feedback on what elements of a particular course are grabbing the attention of the learner would be.

My nephew’s attention has certainly been grabbed. He’s already talking excitedly about a range of games that go one further than the mouse-less technology Angus talked about and don’t even use hand gestures. This Christmas he’s coveting a range of games based on thought control. These games feature wireless headsets that claim to have the ability to sense signals generated by brainwaves that are then filtered and processed to control the device or computer. These new games rely on technology licensed from biosensor companies that capture brain activity according to whether the user is concentrating or relaxing. So a grimace or a smile can fundamentally change the end result of the game. It’s all to do with BCI – brain computer interface. So we are not only seeing technological advancements in eye movement but also now in facial gestures. What next? It’s still only 2009.

Well how about a world where the power of thought alone could transmit information? Where just thinking about an action would cause a light to be switched on or (dare I say it) a click and reveal decision to be made. If a wireless headset is capable of detecting different expressions and muscle movements to control a video game on a PC, just think what the world would look like if the thoughts of one person could be communicated to another across the internet and without either of them using a keyboard, hand gestures or facial movements – that is, if we moved from brain computer interface to brain to brain interface. The University of Southampton has taken a giant leap forward recently in managing to translate thoughts into binary signals or commands that a conventional computer can understand. It’s a matter of transmitting thoughts from the motor cortex of one person to the visual cortex of another for that ‘eureka’ moment. Of course, there are a few things that can go wrong at this stage – the transfer of thinking is not immediate and thoughts are subject to interference and distraction for instance – but experiments conducted so far prove that the power of thought alone can potentially achieve brain to brain communication. This brain to brain interfacing is certainly expected to have applications for gaming – and therefore possibly learning.

So what could this mean for e-learning? What sort of learning experience will my 15 year old nephew have when he signs into his first e-learning module in years to come? The possibilities held by the future seem endless and I for one believe that it won’t be too many years from now that we are able to track how engaged a learner is through some of these types of scientific developments.

The big question is, what do you think e-learning will look like in 2054?