Cognitive enhancement devices - can accessories really make you smarter?

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We're being launched into the days of smart technology, where our phones are better than computers, we're wearing devices that can monitor our every move and even our fridges are connected to the internet. 

It isn't surprising that manufacturers have been toying with devices designed to make you smarter, and we managed to get hold of a Foc.us gaming headset. This uses an electrical current to stimulate particular parts of your brain to 'improve' your thinking power. 

However, a recent policy paper by researchers at Oxford University's Oxford  Martin School has urged for greater regulation for devices such as this.

In this video, Computer Weekly interviews Adrian David Cheok, professor of pervasive computing at City University. Cheok tries out a cognitive enhancement device (CED) to see how it makes him feel, and whether it does indeed make him 'smarter'.


During the testing process, Cheok stated that the device made him feel as though his brain was more stimulated, and he did perform better with the headset on. But he also said that it left him with a strange sensation in the area the headset was touching, as well as sensitive skin.

These devices are currently used by consumers in gaming and education in order to enhance their performance.

But according to Hannah Maslen, lead author of the Oxford Martin paper entitled "Mind Machines: The Regulation of Cognitive Enhancement Devices", this device by Foc.us is the first commercially branded cognitive enhancement device, and people have previously attempted to make these devices themselves. 

Maslen emphasised that consumers should be provided with "evidence based information so that users will be able to decide for themselves if the risks are worth taking."

Currently though, there is a distinct lack of regulation around devices such as this, which according to Maslen and other authors of the report could be dangerous, as these devices change the electrical activity of the brain. 

In Europe, these devices are only required to pass product safety requirements, even though the electrical signals used by these devices have the potential to alter the brain's electrical activity. 

Similar devices are under trial in the medical industry to attempt to treat illnesses such as depression and Parkinson's.

But because CEDs do not provide any kind of medical diagnosis or therapy, they do not come under the Medical Devices Directive, and can therefore not be governed by the same rules.

In the paper, Maslen and fellow authors Thomas Douglas, Roi Cohen Kadosh, Neil Levy and Julian Savulescu, outline a pathway to designing a regulatory model for the use of CEDs.

They recommend that devices such as this should come under the EU Medical Devices Directive as they provide some of the same medical risks as similar devices used for medicine. 

When it comes down to it, it's all about consumer safety. Maslen says: "It's about making sure that devices that we're sold are as safe as they can be."
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This page contains a single entry by Clare McDonald published on August 4, 2014 4:56 PM.

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