|Holy crap! Is that Morgan Freeman?|
For only $249 the company FOC.US is selling a headset that will run an electric current through your brain (specifically, the prefrontal cortex). Their website says it will "increase the plasticity of your brain. Make your synapses fire faster." They're marketing it as a way to improve your videogame skills for the "ultimate gaming experience."
It also comes with an iPhone app to control your jolts. And it's in your choice of red or black.
|"Now I can kick my boyfriend's ass at Call of Duty."|
Now, I'm not going to knock the uses of electrical brain stimulation. This is an area that's currently undergoing a lot of research as a way to treat disease and help people recover from strokes and other causes of brain damage.
But, on the other hand, let's keep a few things in mind:
1. This is electricity, for fuck's sake. It's dangerous.
2. We used to execute people with this.
3. If winning at Halo is that important, you need to get out more.
I'm sure people from FOC.US will point out that their gadget uses a low level of juice, which isn't going to hurt you (on the other hand, I have no idea if it will help. The last video game I mastered was Atari Adventure).
I have to be a bit skeptical about its benefits. I mean, the internet is full of people selling herbs, magnets, and who knows what else as ways to improve your performance at work, the gym, and in bed. Most of them have nothing more behind them than some half-assed data and anecdotal claims. While I think the jury is still out on cortical electricity, that doesn't make their claims true.
Another issue is that for many people, after you've plunked down a boatload of money for a game system, they don't have $249 to blow on this gadget. So what do they do?
Well, according to a recent editorial in Nature there's concern that people will start doing this as a do-it-yourself project. You could wire up with some batteries at home, or whatever you can find in the garage. There are even companies selling DIY kits for it online. This is where I think the editorial has its best line:
"That’s ‘could’ as in ‘you might be able to’, by the way; not ‘could’ as in ‘it’s a good idea’."
Granted, that's never stopped anyone from doing stupid stuff. Bigger, in the general perception, must be better. If a little battery can improve your score, then shouldn't plugging into your home's AC current be great? By the time you're playing an X-Box hopefully your parents have pulled those plastic things from the outlets that kept you from sticking a fork in them. The target audience here isn't known for being averse to risk.
What could possibly go wrong?
|"Mario and Luigi, here I come!"|
I also have to worry about how far this could go. What if electricity does clearly improve brain performance? Can't you just see pushy parents wanting to plug their kids in to get a better SAT score? Or a med school gunner wearing some shockware into a test, disguised as earplugs?
This could end up as the academic equivalent of athletic steroids. The next cheating scandal could be some guy tossed out of a math competition for illegal wiring.
|Lance was stripped of his high school math letters when it came out he'd been "volting."|
So, in closing, my point is this: low-level trans-cortical electrical may have medical utility (personally, I suspect it does). But if that "may" makes you want to shell out more money just to beat your brother at Grand Theft Auto V, then I've got some buildings in Rungholt to sell you.
|"Superman warned me the electrodes would do this. Why didn't I listen?"|
Thank you, SMOD!