Category Archives: Ecosystem

Notes from the 2015 Neurogaming Conference

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Last week, I presented a poster at the 2015 ESCoNS Summit1 and Neurogaming Conference. 2

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Here are my main takeaways from the speakers and presenters. These are rough notes, loosely organized by concept.

This post offers some unusual business models and design advice for projects that involve neurofeedback, virtual reality, biodata processing, and/or near-term artificial intelligence applications in entertainment and health industries. 3

Business models for Biosensor devices and applications

Tim Chang, Mayfield: Vitamin gummy bears are an interesting deployment strategy. It’s good for you but it’s also fun. For wellness solutions that you want to deliver, you can use games, storytelling, and make it visually appealing.

How to create a “performance enhancing” service? Here is a sort of playbook of how to pull it off:

– A device to track activity
– AI software / cloud to process it and get insights
– A human coach / inspirational figure
– A social support community

I’m a big believer in this hybrid model. You can have machine learning and AI but you also need humans. You’re not scared of notifications on your watch. You need a coach to kick you in the butt, and a sympathetic peer group.

A promising business model is the “Device as a Service.” When the services become attached to a device and comes with subscriptions, App Stores, coaching, etc. For example, you could have a fitness tracking service that is $100 / year. It comes with a device for free, and an app store where developers can add upgrades.

“Future media will consist of the buying and selling of experiences

Augmented Reality – challenges and potential

Brian Selzer, Daqri:

What makes AR different from VR, and how important is that difference? The key word for me is context. VR is an experience –  a context you can completely control. That’s why we’ll see the first big successes come out with VR, with games and experiences.

When you open up the experience with AR, you need to relate the application  to the environment. That is very challenging. You need to deal with the physics of light and object recognition. The difference between AR and VR is the level of transparency. Eventually, I suspect that we’ll be able to tune the transparency dial in headset displays: to go from complete transparency (AR) to complete immersion (VR).

The VR Industry is about to explode

Walter Greenleaf, CSO, Pear Therapeutics: The VR industry is about to Boom. Smartphones will be the VR platforms of the next few years. Everyone who has a smartphone 5 years from now will be using a virtual environment.

Fortunately, because we’ve seen this technology coming, the principles and heuristics for VR have been worked out. The enabling technology is here. Now we can slap on the paradigms that we’ve spent a long time developing in research labs.

Sensors everywhere

We will always have more data than we know what to do with

Stan Williams, Neuromorphic Computing Lead, HP Labs: We will probably always have more data than we know what to do with, because we will continually add more sensors to the world. There’s two levels to that:

  • The more we learn the more we figure out there is to learn.
  • The horizon of what we think is possible is receding from us faster than we’re moving forward.

The simple estimates of how much data were crunching a few years ago are probably off by a few orders of magnitude. The industry will need to find a way to integrate information from a huge amount of sensory data, plus a large amount of processing at many different levels.

AI as a personal trainer

Liesl Capper, Leader, Watson Life, IBM: Human interaction with AI personalities is enabled by the willing suspension of disbelief.” If you put enough stuff together that gives the illusion of human intelligence, people will accept it because they want to believe that someone is taking them on and caring about them.

Tim Chang, Mayfield: (On AI-assisted living) AI transforms the feedback loop and the ability to model anything. The more I use these neurogaming systems, the more the cloud is forming a model of me.

 Design Projects and Business Ideas

Here are two project ideas that occured to me at the conference. If you succeed with one of these, you’re welcome. Email me if you’re interested in this kind of thing so I can connect you with other people.

 “Stickers:” Portable Biosensor Hardware Design

One of the main roadblocks to integrating realtime biodata with other applications is that the design of the EEG or heart rate monitoring hardware is too big and noticeable.

You could enable more casual biodata monitoring with “wireless biosensor stickers.” One for reading EEG on the frontal lobe, one for heart rate variability, and one for skin conductance. They could wirelessly transmit data to a cell phone. Technical challenges to developing these would include battery life for the stickers, and the ability to transmit a strong enough signal. Design challenges would be creating a sticker that contains wires and a small battery, that doesn’t look goofy on your forehead.

Virtual Reality Anything

The KZero report on the Virtual Reality Consumer market estimated that the Virtual reality market would take in $90m in revenue in 2014, $2.3bn in 2015, $3.8bn in 2016, $4.6bn in 2017 and $5.2bn in 2018. Cumulatively across the period of 2014 to 2018 we have forecasted the consumer virtual reality market to be worth $16.2bn.

Note the projected leap from $90 million to $2.3 billion from 2014 to 2015. Oculus, Samsung, and possibly others are planning each a consumer VR headset release in 2015. Since this report was released in early 2014, I would suspect the projections to be pushed back about a year.

Even stupid apps will probably get a lot of downloads while the rest of the developer world realizes VR is a thing and catches up.

Potential VR Design Projects: If I had a Unity developer and 6 months, and I was optimizing only for earning money within the next 18 months, I would aim to create 4-5 stupidly simple games for the mass market to play on a VR cell phone.

If I wanted to feel like the product itself was slightly useful for the world, but still earn money, I would explore applications in psychotherapy, social skill training, and data visualization. Email me if you have ideas or want to connect with others who are interested in therapeutic, educational, or dataviz applications of VR.


  1. “The Entertainment Software and Cognitive Neurotherapeutics Society (ESCoNS) is the premier academic society for scientists and game researchers who are at the forefront of researching novel ways to develop scientifically valid neurosoftware for the treatment of brain disorders”.
  2. The Neurogaming crowd is an eclectic mix of brain-training research from academia, EEG headset companies, other biosensor hardware makers, virtual reality developers, psychotherapists, and educators. It’s very much in the vein of the more immediate potential applications of (what I’ve described as) “cognitive technology.”

    The word “neurogaming” sounds a lot like hype-ish neurobunk, and is used as catch-all term for a large collection of biosensor + media technologies. The word “cognitive technology” describes a similar set of technologies with applications beyond gaming, which is why I prefer it.

  3. A few notes:

    – Sentences that are not in quotation marks are my own paraphrasing of the speaker.

    – Note that these are comments from people who are selected for being a good speaker at a tech conference, and so are backed by the experience / perspective of the speaker rather than research / other forecasting methods.

    – I put more weight on the business advice, and varying amounts of weight on the tech design or tech forecasting comments, depending on the speaker.

Cognitive Technology: a beginning and a question

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What is Cognitive Technology?
The current stated goal of the Cognitive Technology group is to “create tools to understand, extend, and improve human cognition.” This statement is quite broad (intentionally so). This post will discuss what this means so far, and how we can further refine the target.

The word “cognitive” represents an interest in a range of technologies, from low-level monitoring and stimulation of neural circuits, to higher-level interfaces such as virtual reality. As the technology becomes more powerful, I anticipate these levels will become more connected to each other, and I want to start a design conversation about how to pursue that in safe and extremely positive ways.

Cognitive Technology could be described as an extension of Cognitive Science. It asks a question: “How can we apply the knowledge from cognitive science to create tools that help improve mental ability?” Many people are working on different parts of this question, but we aim to intentionally pursue interdisciplinary research and development.

Understand, Extend, and Improve
How does the brain work, and how can we improve it?

We can create tools to understand the brain. Brain technologies are like telescopes that give us a window into the brain. As we create better telescopes, we will get a clearer picture of how the brain produces thoughts and feelings. In turn, more understanding will give us more ideas of areas we could extend and improve the brain.

We can create tools to improve the brain – to become better at problem solving, more focused, aware of cognitive biases, empathetic, and creative. The knowledge gained in the cognitive sciences and neuroscience can be applied to intentionally improve the way our brains work.

We can create tools to extend the brain. Through informational tools, haptic devices, immersive environments, robotics, and other actuators, we can amplify the amount of information coming out of the brain and use it to increase our abilities.

What’s Next?
The above writing expresses my current view of an “applied” approach to brain technology. In the future, I hope to get more information, find critical flaws in the way I think about this, and adjust course many times. Please, make suggestions or point out holes in these viewpoints – your feedback is incredibly useful.

In the next post, I will discuss (and look for feedback on) a general approach for taking actions in a large possibility space. Then we can think about how to apply this approach to future group activities in brain technology.

– Stephen