Mind-reading computers becoming ‘increasingly necessary’

The U.S. National Science Foundation is funding research that may enable computers to respond to a user’s levels of frustration or boredom. In other words, we’re talking about “mind-reading” technology.

Tufts University researchers are exploiting near-infrared spectroscopy technology that uses light to pick up on emotional cues by monitoring brain blood flow.

Of course, for now you need to wear a funky headband to make it work (the headband uses laser diodes to send near-infrared light through the forehead at a relatively shallow depth – only two to three centimetres – to interact with the brain’s frontal lobe).

“New evaluation techniques that monitor user experiences while working with computers are increasingly necessary,” said Robert Jacob, computer science professor and researcher. “One moment a user may be bored, and the next moment the same user may be overwhelmed.

“Measuring mental workload, frustration and distraction is typically limited to qualitatively observing computer users or to administering surveys after completion of a task, potentially missing valuable insight into the users’ changing experiences.”

Jacob is working with Sergio Fantini, biomedical engineering professor at Tufts, on the project, which is funded by a US$445,000 grant from the NSF.

The Tufts group will present early test results at the Association for Computing Machinery symposium on user interface software and technology, to be held October 7 to 10 in Newport, R.I.

Mind-reading technologies aren’t as rare as you might think. Earlier this year, a company announced a special helmet that enables video game players to communicate via their brainwaves with games.

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