A couple of years ago we organised this CHI workshop on meaningful interaction in physiological computing. As much as I felt this was an important area for investigation, I also found the topic very hard to get a handle on. I recently revisited this problem in working on a co-authored book chapter with Kiel on our forthcoming collection for Springer entitled ‘Advances in Physiological Computing’ due out next May.
On reflection, much of my difficulty revolved around the complexity of defining meaningful interaction in context. For systems like BCI or ocular control, where input control is the key function, the meaningfulness of the HCI is self-evident. If I want an avatar to move forward, I expect my BCI to translate that intention into analogous action at the interface. But biocybernetic systems, where spontaneous psychophysiology is monitored, analysed and classified, are a different story. The goal of this system is to adapt in a timely and appropriate fashion and evaluating the literal meaning of that kind of interaction is complex for a host of reasons.
Special Issue Editors
- Hugo Gamboa (Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal)
- Hugo Plácido da Silva (IT – Institute of Telecommunications, Portugal)
- Kiel Gilleade (Liverpool John Moores University, United Kingdom)
- Sergi Bermúdez i Badia (Universidade da Madeira, Portugal)
- Stephen Fairclough (Liverpool John Moores University, United Kingdom)
Deadline for Submissions: 30 June 2014
Physiological data provides a wealth of information about the behavioural state of the user. These data can provide important contextual information by allowing the system to draw inferences with respect to the affective, cognitive and physical state of a person. In a computerised system this information can be used as an input control to drive system adaptation. For example, a videogame can use psychophysiological inferences of the player’s level of mental workload during play to adjust game difficulty in real-time.
Following on from my earlier adventure with the stress tester, sat right next door was a love tester, presumably developed by the same company given it was using the same chassis as the stress tester*. The love tester is probably one of the most familiar, and oldest, commercial biofeedback games around. Its function is to assess the sexual magnetism of the player using a comically named rating scale e.g. “Cold and Clammy” for no magnetism, “Out of Control” for lots. A love tester is basically a gag device which uses physiological input to provide some authenticity to the assessment. Their a common prop in media where making fun of the sexual prowess of a character is needed (e.g. The Simpsons); you can often find a love tester in a bar or the funfair if you want to try one out,
On my way to work this week I spotted an old coin-operated stress tester. I haven’t seen one of these devices in a while. They use to be a common sight at shopping arcades, typically sat next to a weighing scale machine, I suppose offering an impromptu medical check-up while your out and about. Hopefully nobody took this thing seriously as it’s a complete sham!
Dark Escape 4D at Mr T’s, Blackpool
Holidays and arcades are one of my traditions. Come every holiday I hole up in the nearest arcade and play games until my fingers go numb, usually from the re-coil of the light-gun games. Sadly, in my experience, arcade culture in the UK has diminished significantly as the novelty and variety of yesteryear is simply not there any more. Most arcades tend to host a mixture of dated racing and light-gun games (I’m looking at you Time Crisis), which, while were fun at the time have lost their charm. During my recent holiday, much to my surprise, I came across a brand new arcade game which really piqued my interest: Dark Escape 4D by Namco.
And why did this game catch my attention so, well because it was a biofeedback game, a biofeedback game at the ARCADE!
Building a rudimentary galvanic skin response sensor
Recently I’ve been developing mechanics for a range of biofeedback projects, one of which was featured, over the summer, in an art exhibit at FACT Liverpool. These projects have been developed with the general public in mind, and so I’ve been working with consumer electronics rather than the research grade devices I normally use.
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.
There has been a lot of tweets and blogs devoted to an article written recently by Don Norman for the MIT Technology Review on wearable computing. The original article is here, but in summary, Norman points to an underlying paradox surrounding Google Glass etc. In the first instance, these technological artifacts are designed to enhance human abilities (allowing us to email on the move, navigate etc.), however, because of inherent limitations on the human information processing system, they have significant potential to degrade aspects of human performance. Think about browsing Amazon on your glasses whilst crossing a busy street and you get the idea.
The paragraph in Norman’s article that caught my attention and is most relevant to this blog is this one.
“Eventually we will be able to eavesdrop on both our own internal states and those of others. Tiny sensors and clever software will infer their emotional and mental states and our own. Worse, the inferences will often be wrong: a person’s pulse rate just went up, or their skin conductance just changed; there are many factors that could cause such things to happen, but technologists are apt to focus upon a simple, single interpretation.”
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.