Mattel Mind Flex was one of the most remarkable devices at CES 2009. Simpler but coneptually similar to the Emotiv headset expected to be out soon, Mattel’s device measures brain theta waves and lets you control a small ball with this output as you change the theta waves by thinking. Unless I’m mistaken a lot of folks think these devices are silly gimmicks when in fact I’d argue that this type of controller represent the single most important change in history in the way humans interface with machines. For millions of years our relationship to tools has been primarily by hand and/or foot, generally using sights and sounds and touch to manage our relationships with the tools we use. In this sense computer control, like hammer and nail control, comes from our physical interactions with the device.
Brain wave control, although still fairly primitive, is likely to accelerate the process that is going on right now at a pace too slow to be popularly recognized for what it is – the merging of human and machine. From heart pacemakers to glasses to BrainGate, the distinction between human and machine is breaking down slowly. I think that it will break down very rapidly as soon as technologies exist to enhance intelligence via this type of direct brain interface. How long will it take to refine this such that we can pull up the internet in our mind and access information at computerized rather than junky organic neuron speeds? I’d wildly guess 5-10 years though part of this answer will come from popular use and “hacks” with things like the mindflex and the Emotiv headsets coming out this year (yes, I’ll be getting one!).
The extension of this approach to interaction with machines may lead to the technological singularity predicted by an increasing number of technologists and futurists though I remain somewhat skeptical that conscious computing will quickly lead to the massive universal intelligence explosion predicted by Kurtzweil and others.
Hasbro appears to have won a battle with Facebook application “Scrabulous” which has been wiped off of Facebook. One of the most popular applications on the massive Social Network, many thought Hasbro would buy Scrabulous from the two founders. That may still happen but Scrabulous’ negotiating position has been severely weakened over the past month as Hasbro first launched an “official” Scrabble on Facebook and now has won the copyright battle and had the competitor removed.
As I’ve noted many times before the prevailing notions of copyright among onliners differ quite a bit from those held by most judges and the legal world at large and this will continue for some time. Napster, YouTube, and Scrabulous may seem like reasonably clean applications for the online crowd, but in a legal sense they are on very shaky ground. Will these copyright issue clear up anytime soon? In one two letter word … [N][O]
This excellent PBS post from an MIT researcher debunks some of the mythology about gaming and youth, though to me he seemed a bit too quick to discount the growing body of research making connections between game violence and real world violence. That said, few understand how there is NOT a large body of evidence to suggest gaming is “bad”. More appropriate is the mantra “All Things in Moderation”. I’d urge parents to simply keep in touch with the games your children play, and engage them about the content
As Grand Theft Auto smashes onto the scene, breaking records for one day sales (close to 200,000,000), it’s becoming clear that gaming is a key force in the online and offline world. Parents would be well advised to learn a lot more about this so you can better understand forces that are driving your kids behavior and spending patterns as well as shaping popular culture and economics. Gaming will soon surpass motion pictures as an entertainment revenue category.
Confused about Game Consoles and Platforms? Read my son’s Video Games Guide
Ray Kurzweil is shaking up our idea of what will be with his amazing predictions about the future of computing – a future he thinks will soon lead to the emergence of computers so small and powerful they’ll drive our own thinking processes from within. Speaking to the gaming conference today Kurzweil noted that the accelerating advances in computer technology will soon allow fully immersive virtual reality experiences which will be coming to a body near you. Cool.
Video Gaming is a substantial economy. Last year saw over 18 billion in US gaming sales, about 9 billion each from games and 9 billion from the sale of the consoles – gaming computers like XBox360 and WII.
Gaming saw a whopping 28% gain over 2006 which is particularly conspicuous in a year where music sales saw a 10% decline and motion picture revenues were flat at about 9 billion.
Massive multiplayer online gaming is increasingly becoming a mainstream social activity. Leaving aside for the moment many interesting questions about how this affects the offline behavior and psychology of those who are playing these games many hours each day, there are a lot of practical business issues of great interest as well.
Daya over at Webguild suggested recently that the next generation of social networks may be inspired by these multiplayer online video games. This is a really interesting idea for game developers – could you maintain the excitement of the game play but have players socialize after the game was over in the same way they socialize on Myspace or Facebook? I think it’s a tall order. There is limited socializing in the game space to set up games, play, collect a team, yell at your teammates or opponents, etc, but from a business and social perspective this is probably not significant as social activity outside of the (highly relevant) gaming activity.
An amazing killer application – pun intended – would harvest the motivation, intellect, and creative thought that goes into playing online games and use this for more practical applications – perhaps in real time as tens of millions play the games. Unfortunately the most viable applications for the current crop of mostly violent games would be military, leading to a very sinister vision of teenagers around the world unwittingly (or even volunteering?!) to help direct battle in real places. But I’m thinking more along the lines of some fuzzy logic applications where problem solving at the game level could be used for problem solving in some business applications. Probably not practical – especially as computers become better equipped to create content and analyze opportunities.
This just in from the “Seasonality matters” department: My Elf Yourself post of about 11 months ago has risen to the top of the list of viewed posts even though it’s old and not particularly insightful.
Elf Yourself is Office Max’s very clever (or very annoying, depending on your mood) animation routine that lets you upload a picuture of your face and paste it on an elf which dances around.
Here’s a great summary of the expected return on a Powerball ticket *even when a big jackpot is in play*. I have not checked the math but assume he’s done his homework to note that it’s not a good idea to buy tickets even when, as is the case at this moment, a huge jackpot is in play (unless the lottery has proportionate entertainment value for you).
Note that the before tax returns might actually be positive in extraordinary cases (as I think exist right now), but after Uncle Sam nabs his chunk of huge winnings you’ll be down on this “investment”.
Over at Techmeme I’m struck by three stories that nicely showcase the importance of *community* to dot commers and to the expanding online universe.
The most interesting is that Yahoo Answers is going social, offering social networking as part of the answers concept. I was bullish on Yahoo Answers a year ago and it appears they’ve done a great job at growing this project. Incredibly the number of answers users is comparable to the number of Myspace people. This is not entirely apples to apples comparison because I’m guessing the Myspacers spend a lot more time online at Myspace, but if Answers can get the community ball rolling there is huge potential to become something of a “thinking persons” (or at least a “questioning person’s”?) Myspace.
The second item is Kevin Rose reporting that Digg has a *million* users. That is quite a milestone (though a long way from the approximately 60-100 million users claimed by Yahoo Answers and Myspace. I’ve never really understood the appeal of Digg as more than a superficial way to identify oddball news, feeling that dedicated diggers tend to prefer goofy stories rather than substantive ones, but the concept is brilliant and provocative.
Third, and perhaps most significant, is SONY’s Playstation 3 virtual world that launches this spring. Critics are raving about SONY’s brave new world, some suggesting it’s superior to the top virtual world “Second Life” which suffers from technical complexity, a steep learning curve, and a lot of skeptics who think second lifers are just escaping their first lives. It seems to me the Playstation world could become the “Myspace” of virtual worlds and captivate the teen crowd that already is practically living online ( WI or XBOX could also get smart super fast and get their own virtual world going. Both appear to be on the road for more widespread adoption as gaming systems than Sony’s PS3, though this can all change quickly).
I *hate* the ringtones business because it represents so much of what is wrong with the internet and wrong with people. Here’s one post about some of the millions of problems that plague the Ringtones Scam industry – a very sad excuse for a business enterprise.
However, with Apple jumping in to the Ringtones biz I’m hoping Apple may bring some standards because they don’t seem like a company that would do the Ringtones “business as usual” scam which is to offer what looks like a free ringtone and then hook unsuspecting or stupid teens into a “contract” that dings their parents cell phone bill indefinitely.
I’m ranting about this after running into a banner I clicked on out of curiousity which led to a “Zoltar Ringtones” scam with the fine print below the fold that, to the extent I could figure out what the heck it was saying, was going to bill me 5.99 per *week* plus other charges.
This is a dispicable industry, and it’s amazing to me that it has not yet been regulated appropriately. The solution is simple – nobody can enter into these contracts without a *written* signature from the credit card holder.