Project Black Mirror

Since the end of October, a group of young programmers have been blogging about their attempt to control Siri (that voice-activated iPhone app) using their thoughts. They call their effort Project Black Mirror. The basic premise is to measure the pattern of their brain waves, and then to design a program that can "detect the signature patterns that indicate a certain word is being thought of" and pass this information along to Siri, which executes the command. On their blog, they provide more details about exactly how they're going about this:

1. ECG pads provide raw skin conductivity / electrical activity as analogue data (0-5v).
2. This is plugged into the Arduino board via 4 analogue inputs (no activity = 0v, high activity = 5v).
3. The Arduino has a program burnt to it’s EPROM chip that filters the signals.
4. Josh trained the program by thinking of the main Siri commands (“Call”, “Set”, “Diary” etc.) one at a time and the program where we captured the signature brain patterns they produce.
5. The program can detect the signature patterns that indicate a certain word is being thought of. The program will then wait for a natural ‘release’ in brain waves and assume the chain of commands is now complete and action is required.
6. The series of commands are fed to a SpeakJet speech synthesiser chip
7. The audio output of which simply plugs into the iPhone’s microphone jack.

On November 10, the group claimed they were already successful enough to justify seeking out funding from Kickstarter — and they posted a video they said they were submitting to Kickstarter to demonstrate the technology. Here's that video:

After the posting of the video is when people really started paying attention to Project Black Mirror, and a lot of people in the tech community soon pointed out it had to be a hoax. The Verge summarizes some of the arguments:

For starters, Project Black Mirror claims to be using ECG pads to measure the brain's electrical activity — but ECG pads measure heart activity; EEG pads measure brain activity. Also, the scale for measuring those inputs is apparently off by an order of magnitude. Project Black Mirror says they measure brain activity on a 0 to 5v scale, while brain activity is typically measured in microvolts. According to InteraXon COO Trevor Coleman, "there is no way they could detect any meaningful brainwave signals through that setup."

And there's a more detailed breakdown of the arguments at geekosystem.

So it seems pretty clear Project Black Mirror is a hoax. The motive for the hoax, however, remains unclear. It doesn't seem as if the group actually has taken anyone's money. So presumably this wasn't just a scam to make money.


Posted on Tue Nov 15, 2011


Perhaps the goal wasn't the cash, but rather the I-fame that such a 'hack' would have generated. We all remember how much traffic and buzz the "Popcorn" hoax generated! (That was where the video makers apparently used cell phone signals to pop a few kernels of popcorn.)

These kind of hoaxes are a daily occurrence here on the web. That's why, in this age of photo-shop and such one should take everything they see and hear with a shaker of salt!
Posted by daveprime  on  Thu Dec 01, 2011  at  09:11 AM
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