“‘Snow White is Dead’ is what we ended up calling ‘neurofiction,’” author Hannu Rajaniemi explains in Wired’s podcast. “It’s an interactive fiction piece, but without conscious choice.”
The 38 years old Finnish science fiction author, along with data scientist friend Samuel Halliday, got his hands on a simple wearable brain scanner and started wondering how he could use the technology to tell more engaging stories.
So in 2012, they came up with a story that could be read wearing the wireless headset, and branch and change depending on whether the reader showed more affinity for life or death imagery.
Think of it as a modern version of the text-only interactive games of the late 70’s, or a Choose Your Own Adventure eBook, but where your brain’s electrical activity determines the choices.
The project has been open-sourced to encourage innovation, meaning with a $400 piece of hardware, some machine learning and writing skills, everyone can venture into the depths of the design space created by emerging brain-computer interface technologies.
A window to your soul
While there is a lot of fuss these days around whether we can make artificial intelligence (or AI) truly intelligent, giving ‘brains’ to machines might not always be enough. For instance, a brain without eyes can perceive much less of its environment.
This is where connecting machines to our brain can become extremely powerful, and not just for medicine. And with the soaring number of patents awarded for “neurotechnology” since 2010, its safe to say a lot of corporations think so. Enabling machines to get a better understanding of the way we think and feel could give them an artificial form of emotional intelligence.
Electroencephalography (EEG) itself has been use for decades to diagnose and study conditions such as epilepsy, sleep disorders and brain death. Recently, however, its use has expanded outside of the realm of medicine and into the for-profit world.
One of the first application to emerge from the rise of brain-wave measuring devices and wearable tech was neuromarketing, where volunteers would put on an awkward swim cap covered with sensors in a Clockwork Orange type of experiment, in order to measure -more of less accurately- the cognitive and affective responses to advertising.
Now, if the added value for the consumer might be a little bit harder to see with marketing, storytelling in general could benefit greatly from having access to a window to your soul.
Telling better stories
In the entertainment world, this gives storytellers such as film and game makers a whole new set of possibilities. Developing adaptive and personalized storylines according to the audience’s reaction isn’t a fantasy anymore.
Can you imagine yourself, a few years from now, going to see the same movie three times in theatre and each time, discovering a different possible ending because the audience’s vibe wasn’t the same?
Similarly, artists such as Lisa Park have been exploring how connecting mind and machine can lead to beautiful and authentic music pieces: “I started working with EEG headsets because I questioned, ‘how can I take this invisible energy and emotions and make it visible?” said Park in an interview.
Aside from entertainment, education is another area that could greatly benefit from these technologies going mainstream. I don’t know about you, but as a child, I would gap out very quickly once I understood where the teacher was going. Education at the time was meant leveling down to the lowest common denominator which, as a result, left the restless minds feeling quite stuck.
Today, education has learned its lesson, and a lot of new philosophies have emerged, making learning much more experiential, and using storytelling to captivate and encourage creativity.
Much like marketing, schools are now trying to differentiate themselves by delivering a unique experience. People such as Pierre-Majorique Léger work on improving educational apps by analyzing massive amounts of bio-physiological data, such as eye movement and pupillary response.
Generated while users interact with a product or an app, the data serves to determine whether an experience is intuitive and fun, or too complicated to understand. For example, the absence of light is not the only factor which can cause pupil dilation; difficult mental tasks produce the same effect, and can easily be measured using eye tracking glasses.
With VR and wearable tech entering the world of storytelling, the next few years could see the dawn of real audience-centric content, from entertainment to education… and beyond.