Battle ChIldren

About the author

There are plenty of pictures of the author on other parts of this website. So, here’s a picture of my two nieces. No, they are not like the children in this story.

Battle ChIldren by Brendan ZaChary AllIson

“As you get older, fights get less frequent but more violent. This is only for self-defense.” Master Pfu’s voice was almost inaudible. Like him, the six preteens in the room wore white gis and thick headbands that covered their eyes and were studded with electrodes. The kids wore black belts, while the Master’s belt was solid red. “Try again. Pair up. Blind dodging.”

The kids stood up from their squatting positions and paired off, moving more gracefully and smoothly than most black belts without blindfolds. The pairs of kids started punching at their partner’s faces. Five of the kids dodged before each punch began, while one got punched repeatedly. The Master somehow made it to that kid and grabbed him before he fell. “Matte!” The kids stopped. The Master’s voice dropped to barely audible again. “And you’re out of the program, Niels.”

“Why?” yelled the beaten kid. Blood dribbled from his nose onto the mat. “Even you couldn’t read him!”

“I could,” replied the Master. “I did. Watch.” He turned to Niels’ former partner. “Lüder: attack me.”

Lüder launched a myriad of multimodal attacks – punches, kicks, knees, elbows, head-butts, foot sweeps. The Master dodged them all, moving a half second before each one began. “Matte!” he said quietly. Lüder stopped. “Everyone, observe the screen. It’ll display the last ten seconds.” The Master didn’t move, but a sequin on his headband briefly flashed and a screen in the room showed Lüder’s last attacks. The screen also spawned a window that said “READINESS POTENTIAL” at the top. The window showed raw and processed EEG that changed as Lüder moved and planned. Another window had Lüder’s brain. The cerebellum and areas M1, PMA, SMA, and BG kept lighting up. “This is what I read.” Another sequin lit. The screen repeated what it just played, except this time, every attack from Lüder was preceded by a ghosted image of the next attack that started about a half second before it. “You see? He was telegraphing louder than a bell.”

One student stood and faced the Master. “That’s how you beat the Ultimate Knife-Fighting Champion?”

“Yes, Hans. 80% of the nonpoor population uses BCIs, and most of them have privacy settings that you will learn to overcome in your 2 PM neurohacking class. That’s over 7 billion people who you can beat in any fight. And remember, this is only for self-defense.” 

Author Commentary

I wrote a precursor to this story several years ago. It wasn’t going anywhere, so I decided to put this concept in a short-short.

Like some other examples, this one isn’t really meant primarily as a story. I’m trying to get a concept and corresponding visual effect out there.


The basis for detecting movements before the movement begins dates back to the 60s. For example:

1) Lüder Deecke and Hans Kornhuber published a very influential paper in 1964. Participants were asked to move their index finger while their EEG was recorded. EEG signals began to change over a second before the movement began. Presumably, these changes indicated preparation for a voluntary movement. They referred to these changes as the Bereitschaftspotential or Readiness Potential in English. More recent work has been able to decode more varied and specific movements.

2) W. H. Grey Walter reported an invasive BCI in a talk to the Osler Society in 1963. He never published this work, and was a known prankster. Thus, Jacques Vidal is generally credited as the inventor of the BCI (and term BCI) in his 1973 paper. However, my former boss (Gert Pfurtscheller) was a postdoc in his lab back then and said it was feasible. Walter implanted an invasive electrode in a patient’s motor area and recorded brain activity while the patient advanced a slide projector by pressing a button. Then, Walter closed the loop on this BCI – the slide projector advanced based on the patient’s brain activity, not a button press. Walter said he had to add a 300 ms delay so the slide projector seemed to advance when the patient pressed the button. In other words, the system could figure out the patient was going to push the button 300 ms before the button press occurred.

A lot of subsequent work has confirmed the basic idea that both non-invasive and invasive means can reveal details of movements before they occur. The challenge here is: how would people access that information in others? In this story, BCIs are ubiquitous and can be hacked.


This is one of the darker implications of ubiquitous BCIs.

Comments and Replies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s