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Our dog and our cat - approximately the same size - like to lick each other's face. It looks like they're making out. It's extraordinarily cute, except when they lay across my chest and do it. That's only cute until one of them licks my chin as if to get me in on the threesome. That's when things feel awkward. (So far I've declined the invitation.)

Anyway, it makes me wonder if my body has an easily measurable response to cuteness. I know I become instantly happier when I see animals doing adorable things, but is there a cheap and easy way to monitor my brain's change in happiness? For the sake of today's post, let's say we can measure a person's happiness, arousal, relaxation, and other positive physical reactions in real time. And let's assume that while the cost of such monitoring equipment might be expensive today, the technology will eventually drop to a consumer level. You'll put on a hat with sensitive brainwave sensors, connect the hat to your computer via Bluetooth, and you're all set.

This is where things get interesting. Imagine software that monitors changes in brainwaves and learns by trial and error which kinds of images and videos work best for a given individual. Maybe your favorite "awwww" experience comes from videos of penguins shuffling around while I prefer waterfalls and rainbows. The software starts with a random slideshow of images on the Internet and records your brain's reaction for each. You just relax and let it happen. Over time, the software learns what relaxes you, what arouses you, and what pumps you up for exercise.

Now let's add a few layers. Sound is next. The software would experiment with music, engine noises, nature sounds, and more. Again, the software would measure and record how each sound influences you.

Next we do smells. I think the technology already exists to generate different odors. Imagine the software releasing a pumpkin pie scent, vanilla, perhaps some new car odor, and each time it measures your brain's response.

Now let's say you're sitting in a high-end massage chair that has dozens of settings. The chair goes through each possible setting while the brainwave hat figures out which combinations of pulsing and vibrating and intensity works best for you.

Let's assume the software only allows you to experience one sensation at a time during the learning phase. So the slideshow wouldn't be happening at the same time as the massage chair or the smell or music. Once the software learns your response to each isolated stimulation, it can later intelligently combine them for a stronger total experience.

We know people need lots of variety in stimulation to avoid getting bored, so after the software learns your preferences it continuously seeks out different versions of the same general stimulation by data mining other people's preferences across its database. The software might learn that people who get aroused at the sound of a Ferrari engine noise also like images of skiing. A simpler example is that people who like one baby picture will probably like another.

So far, this all sounds feasible, if not today, certainly in your lifetime. The real question is how much control could the software exert over a typical person? I think you'd be surprised.

Visual images alone would have only a limited impact on a person, but adding the massage chair, smell, and sound at the same time would be an immersive sensory experience. I think the total package would have an impact comparable to a powerful narcotic, and it might be just as addictive.

In today's world, finding pleasure is a somewhat random process guided by a little bit of planning. If you know you like nature, you can plan a hike, but sometimes the weather is bad and a rattlesnake ruins your happy-go-lucky mood. In the future, technology will be able to figure out what you like best and provide it in a setting with no offsetting negatives.

That's something to look forward to.
 
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+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 25, 2012
Much of this has already been done. Folks have 'instrumented' audiences to tell which movie scenes have the most impact, so they can be used for the film's trailers. The sports world is monitoring eeg/emk/ekg and dozens of assorted parameters to define being 'in the zone' as well as to give feedback to the athlete for improvement. Similarly with music. A problem being slowly solved is removing the 'artifacts' from the data from active participation by the 'target'. Read: moving causes little muscle voltages that get added into the eeg (brainwaves) data, as well as the heart beat getting added in. This will be solved. Getting the price down requires massive adoption by a significant population. It will be used to manipulate people, but will also be useful for people to gain awareness that they are being manipulated.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 25, 2012
How much more accurate would this be than our own perceptions? I know that I like dogs better than cats and that pumpkin spice and Kenny G annoy me. I don't think I need a big bluetooth hat to tell me. On the other hand, I could really get to like the chair...
 
 
Jul 25, 2012
OR - Once we figure out how to measure a person's happiness, arousal, relaxation, and other positive physical reactions, the next thing we do is figure out how to directly manipulate those reactions. Then we can stimulate those reactions when the person is exposed to other stimuli, which creates a pavlovian association so those reactions appear when the stimuli is found in the wild.

It could be used to make garbage collection relaxing or accounting arousing. Doing laundry and dishes would be exciting! Imagine a feeling of peace and contentment every time you're cut off in traffic.
 
 
Jul 25, 2012
If something like this were to happen, I'd have a hard time imagining that the various aspects of the "adult" industry wouldn't be the first content providers for it.

Think virtual reality broth.ell.
 
 
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 25, 2012
You don't have to isolate the inputs, and given the "boredom effect," it would be wasteful to do so. All you have to do is use statistical analysis to determine which combinations are generally positive and which are negative. You can create a "grid effect," and seperate the input effects from there. Sorry, I'm a stats nerd and in classes on this exact subject...
 
 
Jul 25, 2012
shrugs this is essentially a more near-future version of Scott's earlier prediction that once holodecks are perfected we'll never want to leave them.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 25, 2012
I think you have discovered the ultimate drug.
If it's some sort of tank or room, who'd ever want to leave it?
 
 
Jul 25, 2012
I guess this explains why there's no sign of extraterrestrial intelligence -- they're all cocooned into their feel-good machines
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 25, 2012
You would love these....
http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/ef66/?srp=1

I just saw them yesterday, they are cat ears that monitor your brain waves and express how you are feeling.
 
 
Jul 25, 2012
gonna have to thumbs down this one. i believe that this is more than plausible, i just don't think its good. unlike some who think that people would inherently reject false happiness in favor of reality, i think people would (and do) jump on it like a monkey on bananas. therefore, i think you might be describing the machine that will enable the next wave of evil in the world. think "the matrix" meets stalin, only the people in the tubs of goo enter willingly.

 
 
 
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