A Gamer’s Take on Brain-Computer Interfaces

January 28, 2021

Gabe Newell is the head of gaming giant Valve, the company behind Steam and the games Half-Life and Portal.  But it’s ok if you thought that the picture was of the actor portraying [enter the name of your favorite movie or TV show wizard here].  Gabe won’t mind because he is a billionaire.

Gabe shared his vision of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) and the future of gaming and beyond in a recent interview with 1 News.

Partnership with OpenBCI
Valve is currently working with OpenBCI which is an open source project that provides anyone with a computer and biosensing tools necessary to sample the electrical activity of their body, according to their website.

OpenBCI is building the Galea headset and open-source software to make it easier for developers to understand the signals coming from people’s brains.

‘Meat peripherals’
They are not fingers or eyes, folks.  In a line sure to be a classic, Gabe explained that "our ability to create experiences in people's brains, that aren't mediated through their meat peripherals [e.g., fingers, eyes], will be better than is [currently] possible."

Wait there’s more:  “The real world will seem flat, colorless, and blurry compared to the experiences that you'll be able to create in people's brains.  But that's not where it gets weird. Where it gets weird is when who you are becomes editable through a BCI. 

Something straight out of a Philip K Dick novel
Newell thinks that we will at some point in the future be able to choose our daily moods.  He thinks that how we feel day-to-day will no longer seen as "a fundamental personality characteristic that is relatively intractable to change" and will shift to "feed-forward and feedback loops of who you want to be."

This is literally the description of the fictional digital bedside device, the Penfield Mood Organ in Philp K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, aka Blade Runner.  But let’s give Gabe credit where credit is due.

Read-write functions  

What they’re working on now – “reading” the brain:

  • "modified VR headstraps" that include "high-resolution read technologies." Valve wants to capture users' brainwave activity as they play the game. Then, they can either work on reducing button-tap latency or understanding how players' moods shift during a game. 

Brain-writing functionality:

  • It’s nowhere near experimental let alone commercial viability and many years or decades away. Newell says "nobody wants to say, 'Oh, you know, remember Bob? Remember when Bob got hacked by the Russian malware? Man, that sucked; is he still running naked through the forests?'... People are going to have to have a lot of confidence that these are secure systems that don't have long-term health risks."

That’s exciting but also Big Brother level stuff.  There are a load of kinks to be worked out in the future as that kind of gaming system becomes technically possible.

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