Imagine you are waiting to be interviewed for a job that you really want. You’d probably be nervous, fingers drumming the table, eyes restlessly staring around the room. The door opens and a man appears, he is wearing a lab coat and he is holding an EEG headset in both hands. He places the set on your head and says “Your interview starts now.”
This Philip K Dick scenario became reality for intern applicants at the offices of TBWA who are an advertising firm based in Istanbul. And thankfully a camera was present to capture this WTF moment for each candidate so this video could be uploaded to Vimeo.
The rationale for the exercise is quite clear. The company want to appoint people who are passionate about advertising, so working with a consultancy, they devised a test where candidates watch a series of acclaimed ads and the Epoc is used to measure their levels of ‘passion’ ‘love’ and ‘excitement’ in a scientific and numeric way. Those who exhibit the greatest passion for adverts get the job (this is the narrative of the movie; in reality one suspects/hopes they were interviewed as well).
I’ve seen at least one other blog post that expressed some reservations about the process.
Let’s take a deep breath because I have a whole shopping list of issues with this exercise.
I’ve written a couple of posts about the Emotiv EPOC over the years of doing the blog, from user interface issues in this post and the uncertainties surrounding the device for customers and researchers here.
The good news is that research is starting to emerge where the EPOC has been systematically compared to other devices and perhaps some uncertainties can be resolved. The first study comes from the journal Ergonomics from Ekandem et al and was published in 2012. You can read an abstract here (apologies to those without a university account who can’t get behind the paywall). These authors performed an ergonomic evaluation of both the EPOC and the NeuroSky MindWave. Data was obtained from 11 participants, each of whom wore either a Neurosky or an EPOC for 15min on different days. They concluded that there was no clear ‘winner’ from the comparison. The EPOC has 14 sites compared to the single site used by the MindWave hence it took longer to set up and required more cleaning afterwards (and more consumables). No big surprises there. It follows that signal acquisition was easier with the MindWave but the authors report that once the EPOC was connected and calibrated, signal quality was more consistent than the MindWave despite sensor placement for the former being obstructed by hair.
With regards to the development of physiological computing systems, whether they are BCI applications or fall into the category of affective computing, there seems (to me) to be two distinct types of research community at work. The first (and oldest) community are university-based academics, like myself, doing basic research on measures, methods and prototypes with the primary aim of publishing our work in various conferences and journals. For the most part, we are a mixture of psychologists, computer scientists and engineers, many of whom have an interest in human-computer interaction. The second community formed around the availability of commercial EEG peripherals, such as the Emotiv and Neurosky. Some members of this community are academics and others are developers, I suspect many are dedicated gamers. They are looking to build applications and hacks to embellish interactive experience with a strong emphasis on commercialisation.
There are many differences between the two groups. My own academic group is ‘old-school’ in many ways, motivated by research issues and defined by the usual hierarchies associated with specialisation and rank. The newer group is more inclusive (the tag-line on the NeuroSky site is “Brain Sensors for Everyone”); they basically want to build stuff and preferably sell it.
The UK version of Wired magazine ran an article in last month’s edition (no online version available) about Emotiv and the development of the EPOC headset. Much of the article focused on the human side of the story, the writer mixed biographical details of company founders with how the ideas driving the development of the headset came together. I’ve written about Emotiv before here on a specific technical issue. I still haven’t had any direct experience of the system, but I’d like to write about the EPOC again because it’s emerging as the headset of choice for early adopters.
In this article, I’d like to discuss a number of dilemmas that are faced by both the company and their customers. These issues aren’t specific to Emotiv, they hold for other companies in the process of selling/developing hardware for physiological computing systems.
The Emotiv system is a EEG headset designed for the development of brain-computer interfaces. It uses 12 dry electrodes (i.e. no gel necessary), communicates wirelessly with a PC and comes with a range of development software to create applications and interfaces. If you watch this 10min video from TEDGlobal, you get a good overview of how the system works.
First of all, I haven’t had any hands-on experience with the Emotiv headset and these observations are based upon what I’ve seen and read online. But the talk at TED prompted a number of technical questions that I’ve been unable to satisfy in absence of working directly with the system.