First time ICE exhibitor, NeuralSolution, explains how nervous system biometric markers can identify problem gamblers
In a long and distinguished history, ICE London has won a hard earned reputation for being the launchpad for many of the gambling industry’s stand-out products and services. The 2018 edition (6th – 8th February, ExCeL, London, UK) will see the debut of NeuralSolution, a tech start up business that founder Benjamin Fry believes will be a ‘game changer’ in the way the industry and regulators address problem gambling. NeuralSolution will exhibit, alongside other organisations that put responsible gambling at the core of their offering, in the Consumer Protection Zone, hosted for the first time at ICE in partnership with GB Gambling Commission and GambleAware.
Can you provide some background to the company?
NeuralSolution was set up in 2017 as a spin-out of work from two American universities based on 35 years of leading nervous system research in the field by a pre-eminent academic. I have a background working in mental and behavioural health and my co-founder, Iryna Fedortsova has over nine years experience working in finance and operations.
In layman’s terms can you explain the proposition and what you want to gain from exhibiting at ICE?
We provide a platform for understanding and predicting human behaviour from nervous system biometric markers. We are the only solution in the world to be able to take these markers from a non-contact sensor (proprietary camera technology). There are many possible applications and identifying and intervening on problem gambling is one of them.
Our goal at ICE is to communicate to the industry that there is a NEW technology, this is not emotion recognition – it is a deeper layer than that in the human architecture – which can help them to assess problem gambling live in the room. This can be applied to any machine or table game, so that problem gamblers can either be stopped (or stakes reduced) on machines, or spoken to on table games.
We want to partner exclusively with one large gambling organisation to bring this system from academia to their casinos and machines. We specifically think that this will be a very valuable competitive advantage for consortia bidding for contracts and licences, such as in Japan, where harm from gambling is a major public concern.
Can you explain ‘emotion recognition technology’?
This is not about emotions. Emotion recognition is a big new buzz word in tech and marketing. Our technology will actually disrupt that emerging market.
We measure markers in nervous system activity. If you take the analogy with a computer, the nervous system is like the PCB of the human. It runs in the background without any conscious control and much of our behaviour is derivative of it. For example our response to danger, in our bodies, comes about 0.5 seconds faster than our cognitive realisation of the danger. You can put as much software as you like on a computer, but it is all derivative of the hardware limitations. It is the same with the human; emotion and cognition are derivative of the activity of the nervous system. Accessing these neural states is the ultimate bio-hack.
Where do you see it working – what gaming sectors and jurisdictions are you targeting?
This system requires a bespoke camera. At this point, this camera is not compatible with laptop and phone cameras and therefore this is an off-line system. This may change in the future as technology converges.
Anywhere where a small webcam-type camera can be installed can use this system. It can be on the casino floor. It could be integrated with existing hi-res CCTV systems, or installed separately. It could be installed to every slot-machine or equivalent, and could issue live alerts to users or even change their stakes or speed of turns.
We can use this world-wide. We are particularly interested in the public health debate in Japan about setting up a new casino zone there and how that balances with the territory’s concerns about problem gambling. We believe that this system would be a major advantage to a bid for these licences.
Is anyone else doing anything similar to your knowledge?
Many solutions look similar, in that they use biofeedback measures and/or cameras. However the specific understanding of how to measure, interpret and value these systems to reveal the actual nervous system activation is unique to these researchers; a combination of neurobiological and anatomical understanding, and engineering ability.
We are not measuring heart-rate, or emotions. This is like the difference between knowing the rate of fuel flow in a car’s fuel system, versus measuring the car’s speed. You can imply the latter from the former, but not the other way round, and only one will predict what happens next. This is a more fundamental and powerful circuit in the human body.
How would you respond to people who might say it’s all a bit big brother?
We would say that they are right, hence its value. We have a clear ethical framework and mission statement on our website. We will only develop and licence this technology ‘for good’. We would argue that reducing harm from gambling is a social good.
Do you have to seek the permission of the player to be monitored?
This will be an emerging conversation based on use-case and territory. It also depends if data is anonymous and/or stored. There are many factors to consider. We believe that off-line gambling is an easier market for this issue than many because of the ubiquity of security systems and gamblers acceptance of high-intensity monitoring in casinos as a norm.
Is this an acknowledgement that other harm minimisation initiatives such as education and exclusion don’t work?
We are not commenting on these initiatives specifically. However I run a residential mental and behavioural health clinic where we see many examples of the consequences and symptoms of a poorly functioning nervous system. We successfully treat people for whom the more typical initiatives of education and abstinence have not worked across a range of problem behaviours. It is not possible just to use the pre-frontal cortex to change the drivers of the nervous system. Once the system is activated, these parts of the brain which run education and choice based approaches come off-line. This is why addiction treatment is difficult and problematic in general. We intend to intervene on these neural states, thus giving these other approaches a greater chance of success for the problem gamblers who may already have accessed such programmes.
Our system hopes to provide a more nuanced approach to “exclusion”. The goal is to exclude people while they are in an addictive state. So this could be a play-by-play exclusion, and could only apply to stakes which are harmful, thus allowing for more access for non-harmful gambling and a more objective guide for managing exclusion.
What are your timescales – are you ready to begin a roll out?
We are ready to develop the laboratory solution into a commercial solution. We need an industry partner with whom to develop this roll out. We are seeking access to a live testing market and to benchmark against existing harm minimisation strategies across a range of possible installations.
What’s the business model is it purchase or rental?
The plan is to develop a bespoke solution for one partner. The Neuralsolution will be exclusively licensed to our partner for a defined period of time in return for their collaboration in developing it to be market ready.
NeuralSolution is exhibiting in the new Consumer Protection Zone at ICE London, on stand CPZ1
About the Interviewee
Benjamin Fry, NeuralSolution CEO, is the founder of Khiron House and the not-for-profit Get Stable. Both are innovative companies in the UK working in mental and behavioural health. He studied Physics and Philosophy at Oxford, has an MBA from Oxford Said and a MA in Psychotherapy and Counselling. He is also a published author and experienced television presenter