Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Mind reading computers?

It's a long way off, but the framework is beginning.

From Science Daily:
Tufts University researchers are developing techniques that could allow computers to respond to users' thoughts of frustration -- too much work -- or boredom--too little work. Applying non-invasive and easily portable imaging technology in new ways, they hope to gain real-time insight into the brain's more subtle emotional cues and help provide a more efficient way to get work done.
They are using:

functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) technology that uses light to monitor brain blood flow as a proxy for workload stress a user may experience when performing an increasingly difficult task...

The fNIRS device, which looks like a futuristic headband, uses laser diodes to send near-infrared light through the forehead at a relatively shallow depth--only two to three centimeters--to interact with the brain's frontal lobe. Light usually passes through the body's tissues, except when it encounters oxygenated or deoxygenated hemoglobin in the blood. Light waves are absorbed by the active, blood-filled areas of the brain and any remaining light is diffusely reflected to the fNIRS detectors. "fNIRS, like MRI, uses the idea that blood flow changes to compensate for the increased metabolic demands of the area of the brain that's being used," said Erin Solovey, a graduate researcher at the School of Engineering.

So far, all they have been able to measure reliably is no workload, low workload, or high workload. However, if they are able to fine tune this tool, it could someday be used to control workflow based on the user's brain patterns. It should at least make for a nice biofeedback tool.

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