Your Toy Is Reading Your Mind

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Get the tinfoil hats ready. Engineers are working on toys that can read your mind. Really.

SAN JOSE, Calif. – A convincing twin of Darth Vader stalks the beige cubicles of a Silicon Valley office, complete with ominous black mask, cape and light saber. But this is no chintzy Halloween costume. It's a prototype, years in the making, of a toy that incorporates brain wave-reading technology.

Behind the mask is a sensor that touches the user's forehead and reads the brain's electrical signals, then sends them to a wireless receiver inside the saber, which lights up when the user is concentrating. The player maintains focus by channeling thoughts on any fixed mental image, or thinking specifically about keeping the light sword on. When the mind wanders, the wand goes dark.

Engineers at NeuroSky Inc. have big plans for brain wave-reading toys and video games. They say the simple Darth Vader game — a relatively crude biofeedback device cloaked in gimmicky garb — portends the coming of more sophisticated devices that could revolutionize the way people play.

Technology from NeuroSky and other startups could make video games more mentally stimulating and realistic. It could even enable players to control video game characters or avatars in virtual worlds with nothing but their thoughts.

An interesting idea. But it raises a rather serious question. Who is in control of whom? Think about that for a second. If you have to concentrate in a certain way to make the toy perform, who is being trained? Interesting, isn't it?

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