If you’re weirded out by Google Glass, don’t look now–in Japan, product designers are strapping iPhones to their heads and using their own EEG signals to record animated GIFs. This “working prototype,” called Neurocam, was developed by the same company that invented brainwave-powered Hello Kitty ears. (That shouldn’t be a surprise.)
I reached out to the team at Neurowear because the product looks bizarre enough to be a hoax. A person named Kana responded that Neurocam is very real, albeit very experimental: “We’re using the iPhone so that both the analysis and video recording can be done on a single device.This is still a concept model so there is a possibility to turn this into a wearable camera.”
The device uses a headband to sense your brain’s electrical activity through the scalp. Then an attached iPhone uses an algorithm to parse the electrical signals for signs of “interest” about something in your visual field. If this interest-signal passes a certain threshold, the Neurocam triggers the iPhone to record a five-second GIF video clip–capturing whatever it was that caught your eye, without you having to lift a finger (or even consciously think about it).
The science behind this seems pretty mushy–when I asked Kana for more information about just how Neurocam divines this “interest” signal from coarse EEG input, she said they couldn’t disclose any details. But that’s okay, because the most interesting thing about Neurocam isn’t its automagical photo-taking capabilities. Rather, it’s the fact that in Neurocam’s experimental configuration, the iPhone literally acts as a window into your head, like a tiny outboard monitor broadcasting a Being-John-Malkovich-style camera angle to anyone who cares to glance at it.
Obviously this design was meant to make it easier for the Neurowear team to monitor the device’s output during their experiments. But what if such a product really did enter the real world just like this? It flips the privacy-violating creepiness of Google Glass on its head: with Neurocam, everything you’re looking at or filming is conspicuously displayed to others on the iPhone’s screen. And if that screen also displays any kind of notification for when you’re “interested” in something, that’s a whole other level of real-time psychological disclosure for everyone to see.
If Neurocam ever makes it to the mainstream market, it’ll no doubt be redesigned into something much saner. Which is almost a shame, because a head-mounted camera that makes the wearer think twice about what she may or may not be exposing would be an intriguing social experiment indeed.