Hack the Brain Prague featured several fantastic presentations by Beatrice de Gelder, Pier Luigi Capucci, and Brendan Allison.
Beatrice de Gelder
Beatrice de Gelder lectured about the neuroscience of perception, an area that is also of great interest for the arts. She also pointed out strongly that, for this project, we might consider talking about “hacking the body” instead of “hacking the brain” as it is so difficult to think of the two as separate. This is an idea we observed in the hackathon projects that attempted to utilise the brain as a muscle to move images or to make objects move.
Another interesting element of Beatrice de Gelder’s presentation was about how much similarity can be observed in brain activity when a person is thinking about a melody and when she is actually hearing it. She showed us her research related to this concept in which she researched how much people become immersed in their avatar during gaming situations. From this, effects such as game addiction can be researched from a neurological point of view.
During the many projects she described in her presentation, it was interesting to see how much food for thought and food for art they all contained beyond the BNCI projects developed in de Prague hackathon.
In case you are interested in collaborating with Beatrice de Gelder’s Emotion and Cognition lab at Maastricht University, you find a link here to artist residency program.
Pier Luigi Capucci
After introducing NOEMA (a platform devoted to relationship and influences between culture, science and technology), Pier Luigi Capucci presented a brief anthology of artistic interactions with neuroscience and neuro-technologies. It’s great to see the richness of more than half a century of these projects. Take, for example, Alvin Lucier’s 1965 project, Music for solo performance, wherein he uses a musician’s brain waves to make a percussion instrument work. The work not only questions (already in the 1960’s) the authorship and authenticity of the music performer, but also does the same thing that was done by a number of teams in the Prague hackthon [http://www.alvin-lucier-film.com/solo_performer.html]. The performance was later re-enacted by Andrew Brause in 2006.
In 1994, Ulrike Gabriel and Bob O’Kane made an installation, terrain_01, in which the alteration of two people’s brain activity drives the activity of small solar powered mobile robots. The calmer the participants are, the more lively and synchronised the robot activity.
Awarded the Off-Arco prize in 2007, Janez Jansa and Reinhold Scherer (in collaboration with other media artists, neuroscientists, and supported by G-Tech) made BrainLoop, an installation in which a performer moved through Google Earth using brain activity read by a BCI.
Steel Sky (2009), from Christopher de Boeck, does something other than using brain activity to move something else. The visitor/participant wearing a BCI walks underneath a ‘roof’ of steel elements that sonify his or her neural activity.
Capucci mainly showed us projects about artistic uses of BCI. Apart from these, there are also interesting artistic interactions with neuroscience that go beyond BCI. Among these are, for instance, Guy Ben-Ary’s project, CellF, a neural synthesizer made of the artist’s own neural cells grown in a petri dish.
Brandon Allison, member of the advisory board of Hack the Brain and working with both G-tech and UC Davies California, explained – with some hilarious examples – the differences and similarities between professional scientific BNCI and the ones on the consumer market. He also mentioned how BCI are starting to become fashion items.
Showing us a number of future non-medical applications of BCI, Allison clearly explained why BCI will be used a lot in gaming applications in the near future. Interestingly, he described designs that will make you navigate applications similar to Google Maps using BCI (something that was done by artists 10 years ago). The use of BCI to navigate through World of Warcraft has also been tested.
The somewhat ethically problematic application of measuring alertness using BCI was, interestingly, one of the hackathon projects. In the project, if drowsiness occurs, the BCI wearer is alerted by signals. Gamer fanatics would love something like this to stay awake for another 24 hours. And it could be beneficial for exhausted truck drivers needing to avoid accidents. But what, for instance, if it was mostly used to push productivity to new limits? For future hackathons it would be interesting to look into how measurement of emotional states can produce a driving output for gaming situations.