Are We All Cyborgs Now? The Future of Brain Training
We live with our tech, and find solutions to so many of life’s problems in the digital world. Connectedness has become the new normal, be that streaming your Hearthstone play or just checking out Facebook. But what happens when you forget someone’s name in the real world? Can tech step in here too? The idea of Brain Training, or using games to enhance cognitive ability, is long-standing and gaining recognition.
Let’s face it, using Lumosity every day is quite different to being an actual cyborg. And no one’s going to turn into Lucy from Luc Besson’s 2014 blockbuster by devoting a bit of spare time to training their memory. But if you think about it, the idea that using an automated system, or a game like Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training on Nintendo DS is quietly revolutionary. The user is letting tech affect and interact with the formation of new neural connections. It’s exciting, and opens up so many possibilities. There’s a lot of interesting research out there, suggesting that there are long term benefits, especially for older people. This study saw improvements in participant’s ability to carry out daily activities after several rounds of training, over five years. Sales figures suggest that this is a popular idea, with the Nintendo offering selling 120,000 copies in the US during the first three weeks after release.
It’s not just the Nintendo DS that offers such software though as the PS Vita has been quite well served in this genre not surprisingly with Sony’s own Smart As, and the PSP conversion of Brain Challenge from Gameloft which is, as you would expect from a PlayStation Store download, PS Vita compatible. If that’s not to your taste, there’s also Practical IQ from Namco Bandai, also for the PSP and again available from the PSN Store.
Back to the Analogue World
The thinking about brain training games is persuasive, and let’s admit it, it’s fun! The satisfaction of knowing that your brain is apparently sharper than the next guy can’t be underestimated. But do we need these specific kinds of stimulation to keep neuro-plasticity, and is it really better to use tech? The history of what is now called brain training dates back to the Victorian era, when Pelmanism was all the rage. A system that used the psychological theories of the day, questionnaires and visual games, it didn’t last, but was incredibly popular. Though this particular way of trying to improve cognitive ability was never put through scientific testing, in the modern sense, the analogue world does have a lot to offer our neurons. Studies suggest that learning a new language as an adult can help the brain stay active in later life. Or, if you’re looking for a more enjoyable option, what about games like poker that by needing smart thinking and fast reaction times are said to actively combat the world’s IQ decline. And there’s nothing like a quick round of cards with friends to get the adrenalin going and the senses alert.
So what can we expect next? The latest wave of tech developments is certainly promising: augmented reality and VR could be what we need to take the cognitive skills which can be learnt in the real world, and make them portable, accessible, amped-up. There’s no doubt that Smart As for PS Vita is an interesting foray into the brain training market. Working on a handheld device, and incorporating Facebook and augmented reality, there are more possibilities to engage with others. Similarly, the Fit Brains Trainer app includes games to measure emotional intelligence. Mirroring the wearable fitness tech revolution, this kind of app has paved the way for cognitive fitness to be seen on a par with physical fitness.
Experts are on the fence about brain training, and this is as it should be. Science is impartial and exact, and gaming communities come along for the ride, having a great time and hoping for a positive effect. As the tech world develops over the next decade, who knows where the quest for a fitter brain will take us. Cyborgs are probably not coming any time soon, so in the meantime, a Sherlockian mind palace will do.