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Virtual Reality, Mind Tweets, and Robot Eyes… Oh My!

Alright all you invention junkies. Time Magazine recently released their list of the 50 Best Inventions of 2009.

A lot of these are just radically new technologies that have yet to be practically applied or monetized.

But I’ve provided here a few of my favorites from the list.

Microsoft’s Project Natal —  Forget the Wii-mote. This multi-camera, voice-sensitive system is designed to do away with the one element of video games that has been there since the beginning: the controller.  With Microsoft’s new technology, all you need is your body and your voice. The system interprets your movements and noises, and your video-game avatar moves, grunts, in kind.

I recently had a long conversation with a friend about “Virtual Reality.”  If the conversation had been a song, it would have been called “What happened to Virtual Reality?”  For any of you who remember the 90’s– Virtual Reality was supposed to be a total sensory immersion, a fabricated computer world so convincing that it would nearly fool your brain into believing it was real. For most of the decade, and part of this last decade, Virtual Reality was always “just around the corner.”  And of course, it never came. The technology was never really there.

So Microsoft’s Project Natal, while it very well might turn out to be clunky, awkward proprietary technology, still just might be a step in the right direction. It’s not sensory immersion. But there’s definitely something immersive about using your body–and your body alone– to control a game.

“USING EEG TO TWEET” — “Mr. Watson, come here. I need you.”  That was the first thing Alexander Graham Bell ever shouted into a telephone. Maybe “Using EEG to Tweet” will become equally infamous. EEG, by the way, refers to Electroencephalography, which according to Wikipedia is “is the recording of electrical activity along the scalp produced by the firing of neurons within the brain.”

If that doesn’t mean anything to you, this might: that tweet wasn’t sent by using a keyboard. It was sent by a man who was thinking about the individual letters of the tweet while hooked up to a special machine which interpreted his changes in brain activity and punched out the characters.

Cool stuff. Though I wouldn’t get too excited- this sort of technology is still so primitive, it could be decades before a practical application became available to consumers. For heaven’s sake, Voice Activation hasn’t even caught on with the main stream yet.  (If I seem overly cynical about all of this, I might point you to this book, entitled “Where’s My Jetpack?: A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future That Never Arrived.” It’s not that I’m not constantly amazed by technology. Every day I’m impressed. But I’m still waiting for my jet-pack, and solid-state hard drives just don’t provide the same thrill.)

The Electric Eye Here’s one that even I can’t be cynical about.  Brought to you by the blindingly bright folks at MIT, this is a microchip that would be implanted on a patient’s eyeball. It is supposed to help the blind regain partial sight.  Human trials, they hope, are only a few years away.

Alright- I’ll be going over a few more of the inventions tomorrow. But if you just can’t wait, check out the TIME slideshow for yourself.  Oh yeah- and disagree with me? Find an invention you like better than the ones I’ve mentioned so far?  Leave a comment! There’s nothing I like better than an open discussion.

Check out my NEXT POST on Time’s Best Inventions.

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