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Hardware Science

"Brainput" Boosts Your Brain Power By Offloading Multitasking To a Computer 121

Posted by samzenpus
from the let-me-give-you-a-hand dept.
MrSeb writes "A group of American researchers from MIT, Indiana University, and Tufts University, led by Erin Treacy Solovey, have developed Brainput — a system that can detect when your brain is trying to multitask, and offload some of that workload to a computer. Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), which is basically a portable, poor man's version of fMRI, Brainput measures the activity of your brain. This data is analyzed, and if Brainput detects that you're multitasking, the software kicks in and helps you out. In the case of the Brainput research paper (PDF), Solovey and her team set up a maze with two remotely controlled robots. The operator, equipped with fNIRS headgear, has to navigate both robots through the maze simultaneously, constantly switching back and forth between them. When Brainput detects that the driver is multitasking, it tells the robots to use their own sensors to help with navigation. Overall, with Brainput turned on, operator performance improved — and yet they didn't generally notice that the robots were partially autonomous. Moving forward, Solovey wants to investigate other cognitive states that can be reliably detected using fNIRS. Imagine a computer that increases the size of buttons and text when you're tired, or a video game that slows down when you're stressed. Your Xbox might detect that you're in the mood for fighting games, and change its splash screen accordingly. Eventually, computer interfaces might completely remold themselves to your mental state."
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"Brainput" Boosts Your Brain Power By Offloading Multitasking To a Computer

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  • I think this is how the borg began!
    • Considering how much more capable even an average person's brain is than any computer we can build today, this is a bit silly. Enhancing the brain by waking some of the ~90% which is unused would almost certainly yield more practical results. Consider the numerous, very complicated instructions the brain is able to run just to walk, ride a bike, or breathe. If we can gain conscious control over that kind of functionality, we'd be formidable.
      • by characterZer0 (138196) on Monday May 14, 2012 @12:48PM (#39996239)

        the ~90% which is unused

        Citation needed.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I think it got twisted to "we only use 10% of our brains" when the original probably was "we only know the function of 10% of a human brain, we don't know what the rest does". And we're seeing the repeat of the same phenomenon with the DNA fragments that we don't understand yet.

          Even NDT succumbed to this notion when he asked Dawkins, [something along the lines] "If human and chimp DNA differ by only 1.5%, imagine how much advances we can make if we improved by another 1.5% in same direction". Dawkins respon

        • by mwvdlee (775178) on Monday May 14, 2012 @02:43PM (#39997645) Homepage

          The "We use ~10% of our brain" statement is true for any specific moment in time.
          A fraction of a second later you'll be using a different 10% though.
          So over a period of time, you'll use most of your brain.

          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by ciderbrew (1860166)
            I'm not using the sarcastic comment section of my brain right now. You're soooooo lucky. Hmmm... Still can't think of any sarcasm. Thinking of Boobs again. That's got to be more than 10%. Superman Vs boobs?(13%) Hmmm. Must do some work (0.05%) ... Battery screen time drain (65%)
          • The human brain is a neural network that provides ample resources to ponder any concept one may choose to contemplate to a much higher degree than any other animal. Unless someone is claiming they are simultaneously contemplating more than 10% of all the concepts mankind can possibly conceive of the entire universe, the notion that we can use 10% of our brains at once is actually a staggeringly high number.

            Here's a figure that's much harder to explain: the human brain uses 20W of power at all times. Calcu

      • by Psion (2244) on Monday May 14, 2012 @12:49PM (#39996259)
        It is my understanding that the idea we use only 10% of our brain is a myth. [wikipedia.org]
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          But somebody proved that your brain actually overclocks when you are in a stressful situation. They took a LED display, had it flicker between two states at 30Hz. Normally, these would be indistinguishable to anyone in relaxed situations. Then they had the volunteers experience a sudden shock (sliding down one of those fairground attractions. If time really slowed down, the volunteers would be able to read the LED display.

          • by gl4ss (559668) on Monday May 14, 2012 @05:35PM (#39999555) Homepage Journal

            But somebody proved that your brain actually overclocks when you are in a stressful situation. They took a LED display, had it flicker between two states at 30Hz. Normally, these would be indistinguishable to anyone in relaxed situations. Then they had the volunteers experience a sudden shock (sliding down one of those fairground attractions. If time really slowed down, the volunteers would be able to read the LED display.

            adrenaline works.. no news there really.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Enhancing the brain by waking some of the ~90% which is unused would almost certainly yield more practical results.

        We use 100% of our brains. [snopes.com]

      • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Monday May 14, 2012 @12:55PM (#39996351)

        Considering how much more capable even an average person's brain is than any computer we can build today, this is a bit silly.

        The average person is also "more capable" than a tanker truck, but I know which one I'd prefer if I needed to move 5,000 gallons of liquid across the state.

        Enhancing the brain by waking some of the ~90% which is unused would almost certainly yield more practical results.

        Which 90% would that be?

        Consider the numerous, very complicated instructions the brain is able to run just to walk, ride a bike, or breathe. If we can gain conscious control over that kind of functionality, we'd be formidable.

        If you gained conscious control over that particular functionality, you'd probably die in short order. Especially if you were trying to multitask.

        There are a lot of things that the brain does very well. There are a lot of things the brain presently does better than any computer -- but that list is getting shorter every day. More to the point, computer capabilities are improving much faster than human capabilities. TFA suggests one way to take advantage of this.

        • by nschubach (922175) on Monday May 14, 2012 @01:24PM (#39996733) Journal

          Which 90% would that be?

          The Second 90%. The Third and Fourth 90% are still theoretical.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          There is actually conscious control over breathing- it just isn't required. Otherwise half the meditation techniques in the world wouldn't work because we would always have the same resting rate for breathing (excluding changes from exercise and other factors).

        • You are missing part of the equation. We are developing computer power to serve the interests of PHBs and above.

          So, the wonderful achievement of science, like many before this like tcp/ip, will end up in something like:

          *clippy 2020 pops up*

          - "hey, Assassins|jon, I notice your brain is fatigued after the 5 games you played in a row. Let me switch you from "COD XXXII- the Dominicans strike again" to "Teletubby landscapes III...".

          - FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!

          - "... and report you for doubleplus ungood thinking. En

        • by bd580slashdot (1948328) on Monday May 14, 2012 @03:01PM (#39997915)

          Our pattern recognition abilities are still better than computers, although the gap is closing. Much of our pattern recognition capabilities are not conscious but can be utilized anyway.

          I think most people mean the 90% we "don't use" is part of our mind that is not conscious. That's pretty accurate in a way.

          There's a good BBC Horizon episode called "Out of
          Control" How Big is the Unconscious Mind? It gives some awesome examples of harnessing the power of our unconscious mind.

          One intriguing example is using a person wired up to measure brain response to identify objects of interest to the military in satelite imagery. These are very high resolution images and take a long time to analyze using normal means. But you can use the pattern recognition powers of the unconscious mind to speed up the process without compromising accuracy. One image is cut up into many smaller images and these are then shown in rapid sucession to the analyst. Some images trigger neural patterns which are associated with interest, object recognition and so on. These images are then set aside and further analyzed using traditional methods including brute force human scanning of the images. Accuracy stays good and output is increased.

          Cool huh?

          Horizon magnet link:
          magnet:?xt=urn:btih:34619356B292593508809F809F313CE4C064FC9A&tr=http%3A%2F%2Ftracker.publicbt.com%2Fannounce&tr=udp%3A%2F%2Ftracker.openbittorrent.com

          and torrent:
          http://torcache.net/torrent/22DA604A946D2E38C1076574447029393F90320E.torrent [torcache.net]

          Oh yeh ... a weird thing about breathing is that it's the only autonomic function that is fully wired with somatic nervous control too. Our breath works unconsciously but unlike other autonomic functions like heartbeat and so on it can be consciously controlled without lots of practice. This can be used to practicle advantage. By using the breath as an object of attention during meditation and by consciously controlling our breathing we can help to reprogram the autonomic functions of our bodies. This happens because both sets of nerves are firing together (the somatic and the autonomic) so the autonomic system is trained too.

          • One intriguing example is using a person wired up to measure brain response to identify objects of interest to the military in satelite imagery. These are very high resolution images and take a long time to analyze using normal means. But you can use the pattern recognition powers of the unconscious mind to speed up the process without compromising accuracy. One image is cut up into many smaller images and these are then shown in rapid sucession to the analyst. Some images trigger neural patterns which are associated with interest, object recognition and so on. These images are then set aside and further analyzed using traditional methods including brute force human scanning of the images. Accuracy stays good and output is increased.

            ...until the surveillance targets find out, and start papering the landscape with centerfold pictures as decoys.

        • Maybe if we leave the brain stem (the part that is the life support in humans) alone and look at the 'higher' brain functions. It might hold some truth. Perhaps that is where the 10% part came from. There are many people who (at a young age) lost major parts of their brains. They lead active lives when they got older. The people who lost half of their brain are not 100%, but they can do most things just fine. The people who lost less do better. I am talking about young people here. Infants and people under

          • Most things, not all things. Certainly less than someone with 100% of their brain. If they were using less than 100% of their brains, there should be some part we could just cut out, with no ill effects. However, overwhelmingly, if you cut out any part of someone's brain, they do not take it well.
      • by mcavic (2007672)
        It's not very useful by itself. But as a research tool, it could lead the way to much more important discoveries.
      • by bdwebb (985489)
        The issue at hand is that actual Multitasking is not one of the things that we do well (or even can do as far as all vetted research shows). Specifically with multitasking, if the program can detect when a user is attempting to do this and to send instructions to speed things along to the secondary entities you are attempting to manipulate, it could increase efficiency.
      • by osu-neko (2604)

        Considering how much more capable even an average person's brain is than any computer we can build today, this is a bit silly. Enhancing the brain by waking some of the ~90% which is unused...

        Anyone who ever even believed that myth for a minute isn't qualified to judge what is or isn't silly with regards to cognition. (For the record, you use 100% of your brain. You use 30% alone for the initial processing of the image coming in from your eye, and that's not counting anything like recognizing shapes or the like, that's simply forming the picture.

      • by Jeng (926980)

        Enhancing the brain by waking some of the ~90% which is unused would almost certainly yield more practical results

        No, if you increased your brain usage by ~90% the amount of excess waste heat would vaporize your blood and make your head explode.

        • by Rakishi (759894)

          Sounds like a DARPA grant idea in the making.

          Also, to be pointlessly pedantic, you'd be increasing the heat output by 900% not 90%.

        • YOUR HEAD A SPLODE! [homestarrunner.com] top 4 features:

          1. Like, it looks so awesome, girls would probably try to make out with the screen
          2. The player wouldn't control me BECAUSE YOU CAN'T CONTROL ME!
          3. And you'd have to block my perplexing 3d geometric attacks or face certain 3-D doom!
          4. Naturally there would be some problems with bad translation.
      • by Vo1t (1079521)
        this is not true, read "Thinking Fast and Slow" by Kahneman. There are experiments that show that quality of human thinking degrades very quickly when multitasking. Therefore some system that can detect such situation would be very good for activities that require long attention span and are prone to interruptions.
      • by Meeni (1815694)

        breathe. If we can gain conscious control over that kind of functionality, we'd be formidable.

        You have to go past your children tantrums, they never worked with Mom, they won't work with Slashdot...

      • by sjames (1099)

        There are 2 types of human multitaskers out there, those who suck horribly at multitasking and those who KNOW they suck horribly at multitasking. It is entirely believable that offloading simple things to avoid multitasking could vastly improve human performance.

        The 10% thing is a myth BTW.

    • by No2Gates (239823)

      No, this is how the Matrix was born.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Meh. If it means i get a crack a 7of9, sign me up for assimilation...

    • It sounds closer to the Binars of 11001001 [memory-alpha.org]

      Their most definitive characteristic is that they are interconnected with a master computer on Bynaus.

      When a Bynar is born, a surgeon removes the child's parietal lobe and replaces it with a synaptic processor.

  • Lulz... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Immostlyharmless (1311531) on Monday May 14, 2012 @12:37PM (#39996121)
    If this comes to pass I can just see the 'splash' screen of just about every male on the planet, and it sure as *hell* ain't gonna be a 'fighting game'.
    • by P-niiice (1703362)
      Problem is, Live will know that and charge for it.
    • Re:Lulz... (Score:4, Funny)

      by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Monday May 14, 2012 @12:45PM (#39996205)

      If this comes to pass I can just see the 'splash' screen of just about every male on the planet, and it sure as *hell* ain't gonna be a 'fighting game'.

      If I can offload all these 'impure thoughts' I may be able to finally get some real work done. I just hope the computer it gets offloaded to isn't a prude ;-)

      • Re:Lulz... (Score:5, Funny)

        by Immostlyharmless (1311531) on Monday May 14, 2012 @01:03PM (#39996457)

        If I can offload all these 'impure thoughts' I may be able to finally get some real work done. I just hope the computer it gets offloaded to isn't a prude ;-)

        Odd, I generally offload my impure thoughts to a Kleenex, does wonders for my productivity.

        • I was about to reply the same thing. Masterbation can keep you from being controlled by your hormones. Example: About to cheat on your wife? Beat the meat and see if you still think it is worth it.
          • In other words, "I can take control over my body's insatiable desire for smoking cigarettes by smoking a cigar."

            • by rrohbeck (944847)

              That's one way, except that it causes cancer.
              Going out for a run would be a better alternative. Once it feels like you're going to tar the trail with your lungs you don't want a cigarette any more.
              And the nicotine addiction goes away after a while - as opposed to your sex drive.

              • Perhaps I should've better used, "To control my addiction for whiskey, I'll drink beer."

                The fact is you are substituting the urge for sexual release with sexual release. Regardless of whether or not it's with a partner, it's still satiating the desire. To those claiming masturbation gives them control over the urge, have them abstain from masturbation and they will realize it has only enforced the drive, not delivered them from it.

      • "It looks like you want to work, would you like me to offload your 'impure thoughts' for you?"
      • by belthize (990217)

        I think I'll off load the real work to the computer so I can get on with the more interesting bits.

  • to understand what they are talking about. And I am even singletasking.

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      In short it's a headband that detects when your brain is occupied with something other than the task at hand and switches to autopilot for the time being.

      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

        Which means that businesses will use this to find out how often their employees aren't engaged in their jobs and terminate the slackers.

  • If systems oriented to our state were available, it doesn't really provide as much opportunity for growth. If its always oriented to what we know and want, it wouldn't suggest alternatives to explore. Besides, when I play a game, I usually start out stressed, in order to releive that stress. You wouldn't want your initial state to be used. The adrenaline from playing is what actually gets me pumped.
  • the hard part (Score:5, Interesting)

    by samjam (256347) on Monday May 14, 2012 @12:47PM (#39996225) Homepage Journal

    The hard part was finding an experiment where they could use the phrase "offload some of that workload to a computer" without a needing cogitative brain interface for the experiment.

    • It's a big stretch even then. More like "computer detects state of brain, and then takes over control of a very specific task the the test subject is also doing as a part of the experiment."

      • by olau (314197)

        I thought the same. But on the other hand, there's also a tendency that once people figure how to do something previously thought to be requiring fancy intelligence, people diss it with a but that's just ...

        I have a ph.d. friend (in psychology) who was working on a pattern recognition problem. Basically show people some patterns, scan their brain to see how they react, then do the same while keeping the patterns secret to the researchers and try to figure out which patterns people are looking at. He ended h

  • Moving forward, Solovey wants to investigate other cognitive states that can be reliably detected using fNIRS. Imagine a computer that increases the size of buttons...

    Um, WRT to those "buttons", all successful technology is first rolled out for pr0n...

    • by rrohbeck (944847)

      And everything that increases the size of something is first marketed for... you've seen it.

  • Here's my question: Why?
  • I don't even know what this means
  • They are offloading multi-threading, multiple robots in a maze doing the same task.

    They are not offloading multi-tasking, like I'm currently simultaneously thinking about:
    1) /.
    2) a really slow data importer I should be fixing, but my brain needs to decompress to unconsciously determine the solution.
    3) pr0n, of course.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I see you are writing a letter. Would you like me to:

    - interrupt your work flow and blink at you blankly
    - auto capitalize, and bullet whatever you are typing
    - hide your menu items based on usage

    etc, etc...

  • Because when I am heavily multi-tasking and am concentrating intensely, it would really help to get some unexpected interface changes and "helpful" suggestion pop-ups.

    Clippy: I see that you are trying to work. Would you like me to interrupt everything and change your workspace?

  • Computer: It appears you have an erection. Would you like some porn?
    Human: I have only 8 more minutes before Wapner, make it quick.
    Computer: I will provide you with the top 3 most downloaded clips of the day.
    Human: Sure.
    Computer: No increase in breathing or heartrate detected, switching to kink mode:
    Computer: Kink mode activated.
    Human: Umm...
    Computer: Response noted. Increasing blood supply to right forearm.
  • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Monday May 14, 2012 @01:10PM (#39996533)

    Not to pick nits, but offloading functions to a computer does nothing to boost brain power. Brain power remains constant in this scenario. However, the productivity and ability of the individual is enhanced, but technology has always done that.

    • by houghi (78078)

      the productivity and ability of the individual is enhanced, but technology has always done that.

      You must be new to the Internet.

      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

        The phrase "the productivity and ability of the individual is enhanced, but technology has always done that." applies to a lot more than computers.

    • Yeah, This.
      Flipping on the autopilot doesn't instantly improve the pilot's skills.
  • So now I can play WoW and offload having sex with the wife?

  • Baked (Score:4, Funny)

    by kiehlster (844523) on Monday May 14, 2012 @01:19PM (#39996665) Homepage
    Now, over time, the infrared waves of the fNIR scanner will bake the brain and thus the computer control will take over all tasks over time and the humans will no longer be needed, nor mentally active.
  • Sounds useless to me (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheLink (130905) on Monday May 14, 2012 @01:44PM (#39996993) Journal
    Sounds useless and contrived to me. It detects high "brain cpu" load for a specific task and then takes over controlling the robots. The computer might as well take over most control of the robots in the first place, since it HAS ALREADY BEEN PROGRAMMED to be able to do that!

    If you really want computers to augment humans,
    once you have a wearable computer+sensors that are sufficiently advanced you can have them do the following:
    1) Continuous video+audio recording in high res of past X minutes, and low res for longer periods. This way you don't have to miss stuff - you can tell the computer to switch to high res till further notice (the past X minutes would already be in high res) and then save it. Eidetic memory for the masses!
    2) Continuous background image recognition (look for faces or objects - military version = gun muzzle detection, vehicle detection, anti-camouflage )
    3) Continuous background audio recognition (voice etc[1]).
    4) GPS+ map + compass direction feedback.
    5) Work with "area/location computers" (so that you can more easily control/access location specific stuff - lights, jukebox, climate control, menus, ordering systems).
    6) Many more stuff - see below too.

    If brain computer interfaces become safe, reliable and good, you could use stuff like "thought macros". For example a fancy computer program would let me link certain thought patterns with certain actions or objects.

    That way I can do: [start command][recall object]<some thought pattern>[go][end]. And then the computer recalls the relevant object which could be a video, photo, sound, file or whatever.

    I can also do [start command][recall previous][go][send to]<thought pattern of friend>[go][end]. Or get the computer to help calculate stuff, search databases. Or even do "rain man" counting (you could get the computer to highlight/mark the objects it is counting so that you can countercheck that it is counting correctly - humans are OK at detecting if something should be highlighted by the computer and isn't - counting large numbers of stuff fast isn't our forte ).

    Thought patterns in square brackets are commands. Though patterns in angle brackets are various thought patterns you choose to associate with a person or item.

    Someone smart can probably work out the details and improve on the idea - I hope someone does soon - I'm getting old waiting for the future to arrive. Put it all together you'd have humans with eidetic memory, telepathy, telekinesis, and other super/magical powers. The technology is already mostly there - we've already got some sort of telepathy with mobile phones etc. Heck in the 1990s I was hoping wearable computing would take off and we'd already have this "magic" by now.

    The main hindrance to progress I see would be copyright and patent law. You'd be crippled by DRM and you wouldn't be able to walk into a cinema without all that stuff being forced off.

    [1]Military versions could also do sniper location assistance from "crack-thump", possibly more accurate if sharing data from teammates - assuming all clocks are high res and synchronized - and teammate positions are known accurately (could be possible with UWB).
    • by CCarrot (1562079)

      If you really want computers to augment humans,
      once you have a wearable computer+sensors that are sufficiently advanced you can have them do the following:
      1) Continuous video+audio recording in high res of past X minutes, and low res for longer periods. This way you don't have to miss stuff - you can tell the computer to switch to high res till further notice (the past X minutes would already be in high res) and then save it. Eidetic memory for the masses!
      2) Continuous background image recognition (look for faces or objects - military version = gun muzzle detection, vehicle detection, anti-camouflage )
      3) Continuous background audio recognition (voice etc[1]).
      4) GPS+ map + compass direction feedback.
      5) Work with "area/location computers" (so that you can more easily control/access location specific stuff - lights, jukebox, climate control, menus, ordering systems).
      6) Many more stuff - see below too.

      Sounds like you've either already read, or should read, Elizabeth Moon's "Vatta's War" [goodreads.com] series... :)

      It's a great 5-book sci-fi series in which these sorts of brain/computer interface devices are quite commonplace. Artificial eidetic memory, command codes for database access, environmental controls, communication, memory storage, etc. It's very well written: if you haven't read it already I suggest giving it a try!

      #1 = Trading in Danger
      #2 = Marque and Reprisal
      #3 = Engaging the Enemy
      #4 = Command Decision
      #5

      • by TheLink (130905)

        Nope haven't read about it. Thing is I'm more interested in using something like it than reading about it. As I said I've been waiting for such tech since the 1990s. And that's like 20 years already.

        It wasn't even a great leap back then- quite obvious actually. In the 1990s there was decent progress into brain computer interfaces for animals. Mobile phones were around already, and there were even wearable computers. And the WWW too. Put it all together with a super PDA UI.

        So it was the step that we just hav

  • With this technology we could start arresting criminals even before they commit the crime! Imagine the money saved by not having to investigate anything or in medical bills of the potential victims!
  • But horrifically naive.

    Video games and toy robots aside, I can't think of any particular situation where this would provide a benevolent use, but I can imagine endless possible scenarios in which it could be used for malevolent purposes... Come to think of it, the example of a "Xbox... detect[ing] that you're in the mood for fighting games, and chang[ing] its splash screen accordingly" kind of exemplifies my point, since the reason it would react in such a way would be for marketing and advertising purpose
  • Let the little human pretend he's in control, but put those functions back on a CPU the moment he starts slipping up.

    Seriously, if a task can be offloaded to a computer, that's where it belonged in the first place. [Outside some sort of educational/cultural endeavor for the brain in question.]
  • "I see you're trying to do several things at once. Which jobs may I screw up for you?"
  • Eventually, computer interfaces might completely remold themselves to your mental state.

    enhance your calm, citizen?

  • I never referred to my studies as "bra input" like they did but I guess that's what it takes to get funding. All my research has been self-funded...
  • It's a bit misleading to call fNIR a "poor-mans" fMRI. They are very different beasts that address different problems. NIR sits somewhere in-between EEG and fMRI. It's faster than fMRI (but not as fast as EEG) and has better spacial resolution than EEG (but not as good as fMRI). The real weakness of NIR is that it can only measure a few centimeters into the brain. But at least you don't need to sit in a claustrophobic magnet.

    • MRI was invented in the building I am currently in. The NMR spectroscopist, and the IR spectroscopist not fifty feet from where I am sitting both just had massive heart attacks when that sentence was written.
  • ...I have a chance of WINNING a game of starcraft 2???.
    Sign me up.

  • Eventually, your mental state might completely remold itself to computer interfaces.

    Fixed that for you.

  • As if I don't have enough problems with people trying to scan my data to hit me with targeted advertising...

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