Creativity Creative Thinking

What Mind-Controlled Drones Mean for the Future of Digital Marketing

5 Minute Read

A technology that was once the realm of apocalyptic sci-fi movies about robot-led military missions is now becoming ubiquitous. In the content creation world, drones are the new tech toy of choice for photographers and videographers looking to capture those birds-eye shots without the expense of hiring a helicopter.

With the Federal Aviation Administration gradually loosening up on the rules surrounding drone flights (both commercial and hobbyist) in the United States, companies are starting to seriously consider how the new technology can and will become central to their businesses. (Think aerial shots for real estate companies, for instance.)

A BI Intelligence report from earlier this summer predicts that revenues from drone sales will top $12 billion by 2021, and shipments of consumer drones will more than quadruple over the next five years as prices come down and the technology makes it easier for beginners to learn how to fly them.

But while most drones currently come with a video-game-style controller, one scientific study has taken drone operation technology one step further. It offers a look into a fascinating new territory that will shape creative thinking and the future of digital marketing.

We can now control drones with our minds

We Can Now Control Drones with Our Minds

Panagiotis Artemiadis, director of the Human-Oriented Robotics and Control Lab at Arizona State University, has demonstrated that it’s possible for us to control not just one but multiple drones with our minds.

A net-like cap of 128 electrodes is placed over the head to record electrical signals from the brain. When the wearer moves or thinks in certain ways, the pattern of electrical activity is recorded by a computer. These patterns can then be used to program certain movements for the drones. For example, when a user thinks about spreading the drones out, that particular brain activity can be used to program the drones wirelessly to move a certain distance away from one another. Then, every time the user thinks about spreading the drones apart, the drones spread apart.

The fascinating advantage of this new interface is that multiple drones can be controlled at a time, which can’t be done with a joystick. The fact that our brains are already prepared to be able to control a swarm or a collective of things is surprising, given that we’ve only ever had to control two arms and two legs with our brains. It sheds new light on what could be possible if we remove the mediating elements (joysticks, keyboards, cameras, etc.) and just go directly from the brain to the action and the content we are creating and consuming.

Mind-controlled Drone on a beach

The Future of Brain-Computer Interfaces

In a recent TED talk, Ray Kurzweil offered a glimpse into what the world will look like when we make a serious transition into human-computer hybrid thinking in the near future. He predicted that what we now refer to as the cloud—where we store documents, photos, and have access to an internet full of knowledge—will become a seamless part of how we use our brains. For example, rather than searching on a computer and clicking to open a photo, we will just think of the photo or the memory and experience it organically. Or rather than using a keyboard to search on Google, we will form the question in our minds and get the answer immediately.

Kurzweil said:

The last time we expanded our neocortex was 2 million years ago when we became humanoids and developed these large foreheads. But the frontal cortex is not really qualitatively different. It’s a quantitative expansion of neocortex, but that additional quantity of thinking was the enabling factor for us to take a qualitative leap and invent language and art and science and technology and TED conferences. No other species has done that. And so, over the next few decades, we’re going to do it again. We’re going to again expand our neocortex, only this time we won’t be limited by a fixed architecture of enclosure [the biological skull]. It’ll be expanded without limit. That additional quantity will again be the enabling factor for another qualitative leap in culture and technology.

The practical applications of successful human-computer interfaces have already been demonstrated in prosthetics—people are learning to use new artificial limbs that are connected directly to the brain. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are pioneers in the field, helping people like Les Baugh who lost both arms as a teenager regain the use of these limbs through brain-controlled prosthetics. Both his story and the technology are incredible.

Though brain-computer interfaces are obviously still in their infancy, researchers are proving there is a whole world of advanced functionality to explore that could be as major a paradigm shift as the internet was for revolutionizing the way we operate as humans. That means that the future of digital marketing could look very different very soon.

What Will Mind-Controlled Content Look Like?

Technological advances like these are redefining how we understand our possible interactions with the external world, and this includes content and digital storytelling. So creators, marketers, and business leaders ought to be paying attention.

Imagine interactive content on another level where your media could respond to the thoughts and feelings of your audience, where you could change your digital storytelling individually to suit each person. Imagine being able to create art that represented exactly what was on your mind and how you moved through the creative process in a purer way. Imagine being able to communicate one brain to another so you could directly feel how your audience feels. Imagine the possibilities for crowdsourcing user-generated content as one big human collective consciousness, and the impact of that on creative thinking. Imagine getting real-time feedback on the details of your content marketing strategy to determine the best approach for reaching and engaging deeply with your audience.

The future of digital marketing through human-computer interfaces will likely hand over increasing amounts of control to the user in a landscape where storytelling is a more fluid, changeable concept that is created just as much by the consumer audience as by the company or agency.

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Nicola is an international award-winning writer, editor and communication specialist based in Toronto. She has stamped her career passport all over the communication industry in publishing, digital media, travel and advertising. She specializes in print and digital editorial and content marketing, and writes about travel, food, health, lifestyle, psychology and personal finance for publications ranging from the Toronto Star and WestJet Magazine to Tangerine Bank and Fidelity Investments. Nicola is owner and principal of communication consultancy Think Forward Communication, and Editor-in-Chief at Nicola revels in the visceral, experiential side of travel, and will passionately argue for its psychological paybacks, especially after a few glasses of wine. You can contact her at

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