Snapchat has announced the acquisition of NextMind, a neurotech startup based in Paris, to aid in its long-term augmented reality research efforts.
Snap does state, though, that NextMind’s technology “does not “read” thoughts or send any impulses to the brain.” So there’s that – but the concept that your brain will someday, subconsciously govern your digital experience, and that huge tech firms would have a direct line into your skull, does seem a little scary.
According to Snap:
“Before joining Snap, NextMind developed non-invasive brain-computer interface (BCI) technology to enable easier hands-free interaction using electronic devices, including computers and AR/VR wearables and headsets. This technology monitors neural activity to understand your intent when interacting with a computing interface, allowing you to push a virtual button simply by focusing on it.”
Meta is working on the same thing and has been since at least 2017 on brain-to-screen connection. Meta did, however, abandon its entire digital mind-reading effort last year in favor of wrist-based gadgets “driven by electromyography.” That could be the key to exploring more advanced AR and VR environments more naturally and intuitively, with Meta acquiring CTRL-Labs to further develop this element in 2019.
As Meta’s head of VR Andrew Bosworth put it at the time:
“The vision for this work is a wristband that lets people control their devices as a natural extension of the movement. Here’s how it’ll work: You have neurons in your spinal cord that send electrical signals to your hand muscles telling them to move in specific ways such as to click a mouse or press a button. The wristband will decode those signals and translate them into a digital signal your device can understand, empowering you with control over your digital life.”
NextMind is essentially doing the same thing, albeit it uses electrode sensors on your head to track the same types of information coming directly from your visual brain. This may be the future, and with no keyboards in the virtual environment and gadgets that can detect your brain signals to promote such a connection, it makes sense.
The brain’s natural tendency is to defend it at all costs, so the tech platforms will have a tough time selling it. There’s also the issue of long-term impact: if we don’t need to move to make things happen, will we be one step closer to the inhabitants on the spaceship in Wall-E, who spend their days sitting in their motorized recliners with a screen in front of them?
Of course, some factors will be taken into account over time, and we must first focus on the fundamental functioning before moving on to the consequences.
In any case, as we go into the next level of digital controls and interactive processes, it appears that you’ll be letting computer corporations inside your brain, albeit in little doses.