Gabe Newell, co-founder of Valve, sat down with IGN for a chat about the company, the promise of VR, and Newell’s most bleeding edge project as of late, brain-computer interfaces (BCI).

“Personally, the area I’m spending a lot of time on has been growing out of a bunch of research that occurred a while ago in brain-computer interfaces,” Newell tells IGN. “And I think that’s kind of long-lead stuff. That’s kind of the background thread that I get pulled back into when other things aren’t demanding my attention.”


“In the brain-computer stuff, we’re way closer to ‘the Matrix’ than people realize. It’s not going to be The Matrix […] it’s a movie that misses all the interesting technical subtleties and just how weird the post brain-computer interface world is going to be. It’s going to have a huge impact on the kinds of experiences that we can create for people.”

Valve Psychologist: Brain-computer Interfaces Are Coming & Could Be Built into VR Headsets

In the face of projects such as Elon Musk’s Neuralink, which one day aims to create BCI implants for healthy, neurotypical users, talking about the possibility of ‘merging with AI’ is a complicated subject to address right now, Newell admits. “It would be like trying to describe the Internet to someone who’s never used the Internet before,” he says.

Some things will be easy though, Newell maintains, citing some strangely unintuitive findings he experienced personally:

“I think connecting to people’s motor cortex and visual cortex is going to be way easier than people expected and doing things like […] reading and writing to somebody’s motor cortex is way more of a tractable problem than making people feel ‘cold’. And you never would have guessed that. And I never would have guessed that before going into it. It turns out your brain has really good interfaces for some things and really badly designed, kludgy interfaces for doing other things. And the fact that your immune system gets involved in your perception of temperature means there’s all sorts of weird parts of your brain that participate in the sensation of being cold, whereas your motor cortex [or] your visual cortex are much more tractable problems.”

Digital Frontier: Where Brain-computer Interfaces & AR/VR Could One Day Meet

We’re going to learn a lot about how we will develop with BCIs, Newell underlines, and how they will take a role in gaming. He caps it with some prophetic words, directed at basically everyone in the entertainment industry.

“It’s an extinction-level event for every entertainment form that’s not thinking about [BCI]. If you’re in the entertainment business and you’re not thinking about this, you’re going to be thinking a lot more about it in the future.”

And where will Valve be in 10 years? Newell hopes Index will be a good step for the company to develop as a team who can use the hardware stack as a design palette – and, he snidely slips in at the end, brain-computer interfaces too.

You can catch the whole interview below:

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  • Ad

    This kind of dystopia is for people like Facebook, I really wish he would turn against it.

    • R3ST4RT

      Psh! Connect my brain to a computer for full-dive? Hook me up! I may become a mindless drone or get my brain hacked, but at least I’ll have “guns. Lots of guns”.

    • NooYawker

      Do you want FB to be the company to the one controlling this tech?

      • KodaiRyu

        Well Elon Musk might partnership with FB because of his neuro thingy so RIP.

        • kontis

          Musk hates FB and Zuckerberg and mocks them quite often. He ordered all his companies to delete all FB accounts. Funnily, he even (accidentally) destroyed Zuckerberg’s satellite.

      • Ad

        That’s the equivalent of saying we should invest heavily in killer robots, AI policing, facial recognition, human cloning, and biological weapons because we don’t want China to get there first. Gabe should be a pioneer against dangerous tech.

    • kontis

      Progress is inevitable, All you will get by “turning against it” is becoming irrelevant. It doesn’t work. If you ban something in your country other countries will move ahead.

      • Ad

        1. You can form international conventions on these things, that’s why nuke development largely stopped and star wars didn’t happen, human cloning isn’t happening, etc.
        2. Look up the actual luddites because I don’t think you understand how this works.

  • I wouldn’t trust brain-computer interfaces until they’re at least on version 3.

    Meaning I’ll never get one from Valve.

    • silvaring

      Great comment! :)

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  • BlindMaphisto

    I’m down for the big brain gang bang. Beam me up Scotty.

  • NooYawker

    Alyx is the best… that’s all I heard.

  • Immersive Computing
  • sam

    20% of the US population watches porn. It’ll work.

  • kontis

    Keep in mind that GabeN said almost exact same things about BCI being so advanced in an interview ~10 years ago.

    He also said back then that Apple would dominate living room gaming and Playstation and xbox wouldn’t keep up.

    So GabeN is not some kind of prophet with super special insider information. He is a genius innovator with a lot of good predictions, but also a human so he makes many mistakes like everyone.

    • MosBen

      I was going to say the same thing. I definitely remembered reading similar comments from him right around the time that we were first starting to talk about this era of VR.

      • kontis

        He actually talked about it even before any AR/VR talks and before Abrash’s posts or collaboration with Oculus.

        I think there was a video at a school or something. He suddenly went off topic and started talking about BCI. I remember it because it was really exciting and surprising information.

    • AJ_74

      He also said in early 2017 that VR could turn out to be a complete failure, and he was right.

      • you’re dumb

        are you really unironically saying this in 2020?

  • Lulu Vi Britannia

    Yeah, no. BCI is cool, but we are REALLY, REALLY FAR from an actually usable state. Current BCI systems are mere prototypes, that can only read simple inputs after a long session of training, and definitely can’t write anything.

    For those who don’t know how it works: the BCI device makes a map of your brain, showing its active zones. That brain map is used as an input.
    For example, let’s say we have only 10 neurones. If neurones 1, 2 and 3 are active, the BCI recognizes it and reads it as a specific input (let’s say: “left click”). If neurones 4, 5 and 6 are active, it’s read as another input (let’s say: “right click”).
    And so on. The main problem, among many others, is the fact that mapping the brain accurately is close to impossible without surgery. External BCIs barely work.

    Also, it’s not that easy to see what neurone is active. Neurone 5 can be mixed up with neurone 6, and while neurones 1, 2 and 3 are active, the other neurones can be active too, meaning it would be another input.

    So no, we’re not “closer than what people think”. We’re exactly where people think we are: mere prototypes that can barely be used for simple tasks.

    It’s still a cool tech though!

    • Jacob209

      Yea, I’ve heard the complete opposite of what you are saying. Especially this bit : “External BCIs barely work”. That’s just not true at all.

      • Lulu Vi Britannia

        Right. I forgot hearing people say “it works” is how you do research.
        External BCI aren’t accurate, because the skull is a HUGE barrier for electricity. External BCIs have a very blurred view because of that, which is enough for very simple brain maps, but really just barely works. Also, there’s a terrible latency, as well as all the other issues I already mentioned.

  • Well, with all respect for GabeN and Valve, but everyone with a basic knowledge of BCI knows that the motor system is quite easy to decode, while some other things are complicated, or better, we don’t even know how they actually work. In fact we have already various studies with smart prostetics and also Elon Musk plans to put the first Neuralink sensors into the somatosensorial and motor areas of the brain

  • AJ_74

    Can we just talk about the fact that, thus far, VR has been one of the largest tech busts in the history of tech busts?