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.”
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.”
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: