Wednesday, September 26, 2007

EEG for the Wii and in your basement

There's a company, Emotiv, that's building an EEG interface for the game systems. Any company with a science-fiction-y vision statement sounds like a good time to me:

Communication between man and machine has always been limited to conscious interaction, with non-conscious communication -- expression, intuition, perception -- reserved solely for the human realm. At Emotiv, we believe that future communication between man and machine will not only be limited to the conscious communication that exists today, but non-conscious communication will play a significant part.

Our mission is to create the ultimate interface for the next-generation of man-machine interaction, by evolving the interaction between human beings and electronic devices beyond the limits of conscious interface. Emotiv is creating technologies that allow machines to take both conscious and non-conscious inputs directly from your mind.

They even have a cyborg-looking woman on the page.

Their claim is to detect emotion states of the player. Do you really need EEG for that? What about something less sexy like skin conductance? Facial expressions or more? I guess a big metal helmet detecting your brain must be inherently fun.

Along similar lines, the Internet has lots of advice on homemade EEG, with impressively detailed how-to instructions. Other sites seem to focus less on reading your brain's outputs, and more on modifying its state/signals. For example, apparently you can hack your brain with an iPod. Sign me up, what I've always wanted.

(To be fair, here's a more complete page on entrainment. The Emotiv link is from folks at neurodudes.)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Dollar auction

I got nervous and panicky just reading about this game. I wonder if I could con some people into playing it.

Economics professors have a standard game they use to demonstrate how apparently rational decisions can create a disastrous result. They call it a "dollar auction." The rules are simple. The professor offers a dollar for sale to the highest bidder, with only one wrinkle: the second-highest bidder has to pay up on their losing bid as well. Several students almost always get sucked in. The first bids a penny, looking to make 99 cents. The second bids 2 cents, the third 3 cents, and so on, each feeling they have a chance at something good on the cheap. The early stages are fun, and the bidders wonder what possessed the professor to be willing to lose some money.

The problem surfaces when the bidders get up close to a dollar. After 99 cents the last vestige of profitability disappears, but the bidding continues between the two highest players. They now realize that they stand to lose no matter what, but that they can still buffer their losses by winning the dollar. They just have to outlast the other player. Following this strategy, the two hapless students usually run the bid up several dollars, turning the apparent shot at easy money into a ghastly battle of spiraling disaster.

Theoretically, there is no stable outcome once the dynamic gets going. The only clear limit is the exhaustion of one of the player's total funds. In the classroom, the auction generally ends with the grudging decision of one player to "irrationally" accept the larger loss and get out of the terrible spiral. Economists call the dollar auction pattern an irrational escalation of commitment. We might also call it the war in Iraq.

From here through here.

Is it ever rational to enter the game? What seems frightening is the aspect of losses -- if you're in the lead, any move by anyone else pushes you into the bad losing position of 2nd place.