Last week, video game industry mainstay Gabe Newell spoke to New Zealand’s 1News at length about his company’s endeavors with brain-computer interface (BCI) technology, and what he believes is their place in the future. 

Valve president Gabe Newell  (The International)

Newell is the head of Valve, a major PC gaming company behind the digital distribution platform Steam, as well as games such as Half-Life and Counter-Strike. For several years, teams at his company have been working with open-source BCI headsets with the goal of creating more personalized, immersive experiences. 

OpenBCI’s prototype gaming headset

Through this technology, developers would be able to read, in real time, how players’ brains are responding to certain parts of a game. Not only this, but these experiences could be fine tuned to a player’s mental state; if the person is getting bored, for instance, the game could get harder. 

In his interview, Newell stated that he believed that this technology would be so captivating that, “the real world will seem flat, colourless, blurry compared to the experiences you’ll be able to create in people’s brains.” 

Newell also spoke about the possibility of editing human emotions through this technology, and said that future BCI technology could be used to write emotions into people’s minds. Players could become more immersed in a given experience, feeling the emotions that developers want them to feel, be it fear, joy, or sadness. 

Valve’s head experimental psychologist, plays a game while wearing a BCI array (Mike Ambinder/Valve Corporation)

Safety concerns were also of note as he said, “There’s nothing magical about these systems that make them less vulnerable to viruses or things like that than other computer systems. Nobody wants to say, ‘Oh, remember Bob? Remember when Bob got hacked by the Russian malware? That sucked – is he still running naked through the forests?’ or whatever. So yeah, people are going to have to have a lot of confidence that these are secure systems that don’t have long-term health risks. “

Another dark side of Newell’s BCIs is their potential capacity to induce pain beyond what a person’s physical body can experience. “You could make people think they [are] hurt by injuring their tool, which is a complicated topic in and of itself,” he said. 

 

Possible uses for BCI technology range far beyond video games. While they have been utilized for years in the medical field, Valve employees and other big names in technology have spoken about other uses. These include improving sleep, typing with your mind, even therapies to help individuals handle their emotions. 

Cochlear implants are one example of current medical BCI technology (Johns Hopkins)

What’s Gen Z’s take? With all these factors weighed together, AHS students weighed in on whether or not they would try Valve’s BCI tech.

While she felt that using the technology for prosthetics and different therapies could be beneficial, Senior Gillian Tokar was strongly against the idea. She wrote that, “I am really uncomfortable with companies being able to change emotions and thoughts. Companies are for profit businesses and giving them the ability to use that to manipulate and market to consumers in this way is super concerning.” 

However, junior Killian Horrigan felt differently, and said, “As long as they didn’t put advertisements in my head, it would be really cool to be able to type just by thinking, or open up ALMA just at the thought. You could play games by moving as though you were in the game.” 

Sophomore Laurel Purcell was also up for trying the BCI tech. She expressed that, “I want to learn about how we can improve our everyday lives in this way. Plus, I think that it could be an amazing way to enhance experiences in ways that we have never thought of. It seems like something cool that would be fun to try. However, it also seems a little scary that they could rewrite your thoughts.” 

Senior Maddy Perry decided against it, and said “I don’t want to risk anything bad happening. I’ve seen too many movies and shows that have relatively the same idea and I didn’t like how it ended.” She added that she might consider trying it after there had been tests on humans without long-lasting negative side effects.

 

While this technology isn’t going to be available in the near-future, its possibilities and implications are something to ponder, even just for the science-fiction-ess of it all. If you could take Newell’s brain-computer interface for a spin, would you? Leave us a comment below! 

 

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